“Hateism II:” Experimenting with Wholecloth Quilting

The Problem

My art isn’t usually big. In fact, much of it is very small. There are several reasons for this:

  • The upholstery remnants I work with tend to be small showroom samples.
  • My sewing machine is a domestic machine that has a narrow throat, so that thick bundles of rolled home-décor textiles can’t easily fit through.
  • My sewing room is small. I don’t have the space needed for big pieces.
  • I actually enjoy the intimacy of small artworks. 
  • Small pieces allow for quick experimentation. I don’t have much patience, and am overflowing with ideas.
  • Most people have limited wall space, and if I ever choose to sell my artworks, I want them to fit in people’s homes.

However, my still-limited exhibition experience taught me that size does matter. At least in the world of art-quilt exhibitions. In a big showroom space, like a museum or a convention center, small pieces get lost. Especially if they hang on the same wall as larger works. Since I want to participate in more exhibitions, I realize I need to create at least some larger pieces… But that isn’t so simple, considering the above-mentioned limitations.

The Experiment

I really liked Hateism when I finished it. It turned out exactly as I saw it in my mind, and expressed my emotions perfectly. I felt it had a strong composition and an important message. After it was done, I looked at it, and couldn’t help but feel that it could have been a lot more powerful if it was bigger. In my mind’s eye, I saw it’s bigger version hanging in some exhibition, getting my message through. 

I knew I couldn’t create that bigger version out of upholstery textiles, because my workspace and sewing machine couldn’t handle it. It was physically impossible. But after a while I thought of a different option.

In the last few years many people in the artist groups I belong to have been making printed wholecloth quilts. I was curious about trying this, but didn’t really have a reason to. Until now…

The Process

Getting a Print Ready

Hateism was already stitched, and when I enlarged it on my computer screen the stitches were too visible for my taste. Therefore, I couldn’t use the final version of the quilt. However, I often take pictures in the process of quilt making, especially when I am trying to finalize a composition. Luckily for me, one of the last “draft” pictures was perfect for my purpose. It wasn’t identical to the final composition, but it was close enough.

I started by digitally manipulating this image. I enhanced the colors and used a filter to make it more ominous. Then I sent it to a commercial fabric printing company to print. It took a couple of weeks for the print to arrive, and when I took it out of the envelope I was … rather disappointed. Not with the print itself. That was quite close to the file I sent (with a slight variation in colors). I was disappointed because it looked so … FLAT!

After years of working with home décor textiles, I simply got addicted to their tactility. Quilting cotton is very pale in comparison. 

I put the print aside and worked on other things. I passed by it many times, over weeks and months. Bit by bit, I got used to it, until one day I was ready to turn it into a quilt. I started by fixing small problems with Inktense pencils. Then I created a quilt sandwich, and set about to give the piece the texture that printing took away.


It was hard to decide how to quilt this piece. I wanted it to be sharp and threatening, evil and ominous. Pleasing round shapes weren’t going to do it. Eventually, I decided to follow the patterns of the photographed fabrics when possible, and try to add sharp angles where it wasn’t.

I started by using a walking foot to draw long outlines in various parts of the quilt, to keep it from bunching up and distorting.

Once the quilt was stabilized, I switched to a free-motion foot, and quilted everything else with that.

Free Motion Quilting
The Experience

I’m a free-motion quilting novice, with very little experience. This piece was the largest free-motion project I’ve ever attempted. I was either rash or overly ambitious to jump right into a project of this size. I wanted it done, however, and so I took the risk. It wasn’t easy. I had a mini panic-attack at the beginning. I hardly dared breathe as I sewed. My whole body was tense, and many times I felt like I was struggling with the quilt. The process was stressful. I tried to control the machine, but too many times it had a mind of its own. Folding the quilt sandwich, even though it was “just” quilting cotton, to pass through my machine’s throat (and then turning it at different angles over and over) was challenging. Sometimes the quilt bumped into things and the needle jumped out of place. I worked for many hours each day, and by the time I was done for the day my arms were shaking and felt as if they were about to fall off.  

After a couple of days I whined in my SAQA artists’ Facebook group. Many experienced free-motion-quilters were kind enough to give me some valuable advice. The following day I implemented some of that advice, and that helped a lot. 

The Pattern

I ended up doing very dense stitching. First, I tackled the background. For the side strip on the right, I followed the pattern of the fabric. For the remaining background, I decided to try something more angular.

That was probably a mistake, because the print is so strong that my quilting is hardly noticeable on the front of the finished piece (although it’s clearly visible on the back). You would need to stick your nose right into the quilt to actually see it…

This is what the background looked like once it was all done:

For the hands, I chose a different quilting pattern for each one. For some, I followed the print of the original fabric’s texture. On others, I tried to give either an animal-like feeling, a feeling of scales or shields, or a sharp/messy feeling. I wanted to express how beastly hate is.

Finishing Up

I finished the quilt with a facing, a first for me. Then I added a hanging sleeve.

My free-motion stitching isn’t perfect. Far from it. There are lots of mistakes and uneven stitches. The quilt police won’t be pleased. But, I learned a lot in the process, and also learned what I still need to learn. Another goal to add to my list!

Here’s the finished quilt. I called it Hateism II. It is 30″ x 40″, about four times as big as the original.

What do you think? Did I succeed in giving the flat print the texture it lost in the process of printing?

If you’re curious to see the two quilts side by side, here they are:

So … what is Hateism II? Is it a copy? A reproduction? A different quilt all on its own? I’m not quite sure, but I don’t know if that matters!

I hope it’ll get into a show some day, so that people can look at it and think of hate and how to combat it. There is way too much of it these days, and we all need to fight against its spread. 





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