Ode to Spring Quilt Series

 You might recall that I dedicated January of this year to finishing my big pile of unfinished projects. I was plowing along nicely, but the weather didn’t cooperate.

When I decided to embark on the UFO-busting project back in December, I imagined myself sitting in my sewing room on cold, wet winter days, looking at the rain and enjoying the warmth of hearth, hot beverage and cloth. In reality, however, January was dry and warm, spring like. Some days the temperature even went up to the higher seventies. So I couldn’t just stay inside the entire time. The garden was calling. I went out to garden.

When in the sewing room, though, I stuck to UFOs. Until February came by, that is. Another month of warm and dry. I kept finishing UFOs, in between gardening days, but the spring flowers blooming in my garden–in the middle of winter, no less–also propelled me to start a new quilt series. I worked on it in between UFOs, and called it Ode to Spring.

Ideas for quilts come about in different ways. Some quilts I plan long in advance, and take even longer to execute. Interdependent, for example, took almost six months to complete. Sometimes I plan a quilt series, but it takes several years before I actually get to it, if at all. I’ve been meaning to make a series about The Seven Lives of Trini, following the quilt I made for my sister, to try different techniques. I might eventually get to it. Or not… Some quilts happen quickly. Something triggers an idea, and I have to make it a reality right away. Let the Mending Begin jumped into my head while listening to Joe Biden’s victory speech, for example, as did Enough!, which followed yet another mass shooting. They both came together rather quickly.

Somewhere in my very messy sewing room there lies an actual list, pen on paper, with quilt ideas I want to try. Some have been on the list for a while. I thought I’ll refer to that list (if I can find it, that is), once I complete the UFOs. But then the Ode to Spring series popped out, as if from nowhere, and pushed itself to the top of the list. I wasn’t planning to make this series. I’m not exactly sure where it came from. All I know is that it was there one day, forcing me to take a break from the UFOs, becoming the first new series of 2021.

The quilts in this series are flower-inspired yet abstract. They are all 13″ x 17.” While making them, I enjoyed playing with vibrant fabric colors, and also indulged in my new, colorful 12-weight thread. All four quilts incorporate a strip of yellow silk I had left over from one of my UFO totes. They all have six repeating leaf shapes, and are all quilted in various-sized straight grids. One day I will mount them all onto canvases…

Magenta Arctotis

Amethyst Centaurea

Golden Arctotis

Red African Daisy

And here they are, all together. Ode to Spring quilt series, my first series of 2021.

Which of the four do you like best?

The Tree Bark Quilt Series

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!

The Process

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.

The Quilts

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?

Nevertheless, It Persisted

A couple of weeks ago my family and I went on our first local hike of the season. We’ve been reading about the California superbloom that followed last winter’s record-breaking precipitation, and hoped to catch a glimpse of some local wildflowers. Sadly, we soon realized that the wave of bloom hasn’t yet reached this far north. We did see one or two large flowers, as well as fields of tiny, hardly-noticeable ones. But this was not even close to what we expected.

Still, being outdoors is always rewarding. We enjoyed the freshness of the air, the awakening of winter-dormant plants, and the many different greens. Our hearts widened by the sight of a rambling river, one that actually had plenty of water, for after several years of drought we were already used to dry river beds.

And then, as we turned a bend, I saw this:

I stopped and looked at this tree for quite some time. Its strong visual presence was striking. The tree masterfully occupied the space around it, like an actor on a stage. It was as beautiful as a statue. I admired the perfect symmetry between its bare canopy and its roots. I enjoyed its dark silhouette against the sky.

There were also some sinister notes, however. It looked as if the rug was pulled from under this tree’s feet, so to speak. Perhaps the strong rains that filled the river with water also caused a mud slide that carried half of the hill away. The scene created a sense of a brewing calamity. A part of me didn’t want my kids to stay close to this tree for too long.

Yet, despite the unfortunate circumstances, this plant kept clinging to its spot. It kept hanging on with all its might. It held as if its life depended on it, which it did. The tree defied losing half the hill. It braved the exposure of half of its roots. Nevertheless, it persisted. And its budding leaves proved that it was prevailing against the odds.

I could not help but admire this tree. I thought that perhaps we all have something to learn from it.