I’ve always enjoyed textures up-close. Textures of man-made things like old structures or rusting tools, or the textures of nature: lichen, rocks, cracked earth or tree bark. But it wasn’t until I visited the island of Hokkaido three summers ago, that it occured to me that it would be really interesting to make a tree bark quilt series.
The Birth of an Idea
In Hokkaido, we visited a local museum. One of the displays included felled trunks representing the different native trees of the island. Put together, the contrasting textures were striking. When I saw them, I immediately realized they must be turned into quilts.
Alas, I when I came home I got busy and distracted, as I often do. I archived the idea of tree-bark quilts in my head, alongside many other creative ideas.
Timing is Everything
Then came the 2020 Lockdown. I spent most of the pandemic-sticken summer in my garden, surrounded by wildlife, flowers and trees. My only outings were walks in the neighborhood, on which I noticed the plants and trees in my neighbors’ yards. Some were truly beautiful, like this tree right down the road from my house:
The California wildfires, which started in mid-August, smoked me out of the garden and into my sewing room. The unhealthy air made it impossible to leave the house. That, in addition to the pandemic, was a lot to deal with. I desperately needed to treat myself, to somehow uplift my spirit. So I decided to buy myself something I didn’t really NEED but that I’ve been wanting for a while: a big box of thirty variegated 12-weight thread spools!
I didn’t use them immediately after they arrived. I wanted to first finish my pandemic quilt, and the fire-influenced quilt I started. But I saw them, and drooled over them, every time I came into my sewing room.
Then, one day, it suddenly hit me: these spools were made for the tree bark quilt series!
I decided to make six quilts in this series. Like all my work, I meant them to be a study of shapes, colors and textures. An excuse to play with forms and color combinations I don’t normally use. I wanted to utilize my new thread, and also to practice my free-motion quilting, something I haven’t done much of.
I began by searching the web for pictures of tree bark, and settled on six general types. My idea wasn’t to copy them, just to use them as inspiration. For color combinations, I was inspired mostly by pictures of Rainbow Eucalyptus and Gum trees that I found online.
I used many layers of fabric and stitched over them, raw-edge-applique style. It took a lot of playing and tweaking to get the stitching right.
I was absolutely smitten by the thread, but my machine didn’t like it at all. It squeaked. Potested. Broke the thread again and again. It did strange things with the bobin. I had to change the tension over and over. My jean needle wasn’t good enough, so I tried a top-stitch needle instead. I also had to clean the machine often, as it turns out that 12-weight thread sheds. A LOT.
Each quilt taught me something. In each, I played with slightly different techniques. They each have little flaws and blemished, but in general I’m pretty happy with how they turned out.
This is Tree Bark 1:
Tree Bark 2:
Here’s Tree Bark 3:
Tree Bark 4:
Tree Bark 5:
And last but not least, Tree Bark 6:
I hope this series captures some of the diversity that nature offers. We live in such an amazing world with so many interesting lifeforms. Maybe my work will propel people to notice, and more importantly–to CARE. Care enough to help preserve the beauty that is already here…
So what do you think? Which of the tree bark quilts do you like best?
Thank you 🙂
They are just beautiful and no one better than another, I love them all.
Aw, thank you so much!
Cool 😎 I loved reading the part about the thread and your machine. So beautiful, why didn’t I do this
It’s never too late! Go play 🙂
I like them all and really appreciate you sharing your process. This is especially interesting and helpful
Because of the social
Isolation right now, where it’s difficult to give and receive ideas and support to each other. Lovely and inspirational work!
Thanks so much! Isolation can be hard, so building connections is even more important now 🙂
Love your Tree Bark 3!! Saw it first on FaceBook, but had no idea who the artist was. Thanx for sharing nature through your eyes!
Oh my! I was searching through Pinterest and fell over the cliff with awe at these quilts! I too am a nature lover with an eye for details that stop me in my tracks. Your pictures of various bark patterns could have come straight from my overloaded picture files of trees. BTW, what are the dimensions of your art? I am a self-taught textile artist which means I
learn as I go. My medium is cast-off upholstery fabrics. What is the thread you use? Your machine? I have a very basic Janome and use basic straight stitch and simple hand embroidery stitches. Love your work! Thank you for sharing.
Hi Sandra, sounds like we have a lot in common! The quilts in the Tree Bark series are 12″ x 16.” I use a domestic sewing machine (a decade-old Babylock Decorator’s choice). For upholstery fabrics, I find that a regular polyester sewing thread works best. Cotton thread can’t always handle the thickness, and is more likely to break. That said, in this series I tried cotton 12wt threat (mostly because I couldn’t find heavy-weight poly thread), but, as I noted in the blog post, that didn’t always go well… Keep experimenting and having fun. You can do a lot with basic straight stitch and embroidery stitches!
I love them all! I just finished a raw edged tree bark quilt, using cotton fabrics. I made an owl, using blue and purple snippets of fabric sitting on the limb. I have upholstery fabric samples that would be fun to try and your art inspires me. I also love textures and tree barks in particular. I also took photos of trees in different areas that I travel and used photos as a guide. Beautiful job!
Thank you! Trees are really interesting, aren’t they? They are so different from each other, each a small ecosystem all on its own. Your quilt sounds wonderful, and adding the owl sounds like a good idea 🙂
4 is my favorite. These are gorgeous. I’d love to do this too. Would that be copying? Lately I’ve gotten real conscientious about taking other people’s ideas. The threads really do make it complete. Were they expensive threads?
In my personal opinion, we all inspire each other and build on each other’s work. It’s copying only if you recreate a work of art exactly. If you take an idea and make it your own, add your own design, chose your own colors, then you are creating something new and taking things further. Put your own spin on this a let your imagination soar! That’s what art history is all about 🙂
The threads were not particularly expensive, but my machine didn’t like them. You need to experiment and find threads that work for you (I still haven’t found my perfect heavy-weight threads).
These are fire!! I’m inspired.
Have fun making your own art! I’d love to see what you come up with 🙂
I’m doing a piece inspired by this for my A-Level textiles because I find your work really interesting and inspiring, I hope the invigilators feel the same way!
I’m honored and wish you lots of luck! I, too, hope the invigilators feel the same way 🙂