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?