How I made ‘The Elements’ art quilt

15 08 2011
'The Elements' art quilt

'The Elements' art quilt

With this art quilt, I documented and photographed many of the steps I took to make it, and the time taken.

Total time: 15.5 hours, plus 2 hours to write this blog post

Total free motion quilting stitches: 34,069 (NOT including stitches done on sewing machine)

Step 1: Transfer the pattern to tearaway and freezer paper

  1. Tape the pattern piece to the glass door.
  2. Tape a large piece of tearaway over the pattern piece.
  3. Mark the main background sections and borders on to the tearaway and number each piece. Make sure you use an indicator to show which parts of each piece go under other pieces — I use arrows to indicate the bits that will be covered by other pieces, and ‘Top’ to indicate the top of the piece; some people use dashed lines for areas that will be covered by other fabric — use what works best for you.
  4. Tape freezer paper (shiny side down) over the combined pattern piece and tearaway and mark and number the main background sections on the freezer paper. Again, use indicators for the edges that will go under another piece of fabric.
  5. Tape another large piece of tearaway over all the other pieces and mark and number the main background sections on to it.
  6. Remove all taped pieces of tearaway and freezer paper, leaving just the pattern piece taped to the glass door.
  7. Tape a smaller piece of freezer paper over the water section (the bit with the ‘waves’) and trace separate pieces for each wave, numbering them as you go. Don’t overlap any of the pieces, even if they are overlapped in the pattern. Again, use indicators for the edges that will go under another piece of fabric.
  8. Remove the pattern piece from the glass door and flip it over. (I forgot to do this! So my tree, water reflection, and rock pieces ended up being the reverse t0 the original pattern — this wasn’t a problem as it wasn’t critical, but it did mean my piece looks a little different to the original design and I had to improvise a little to get the pieces to fit in the available spaces).
  9. Tape fusible web over the pattern piece and trace out the smaller elements (the trees, the seaweed, the rocks). Mark each tree and rock with a number. Don’t overlap any of the pieces, even if they are overlapped in the pattern.
  10. Remove the fusible web and the pattern from the door, and put the pattern away.

You should now have:

  • two large tearaway sheets, both marked with an outline of the background shapes and borders
  • a large sheet of freezer paper, also marked with an outline of the background shapes and borders
  • a smaller piece of freezer paper, marked with the shapes of the waves
  • one or more pieces of fusible web, marked with the trees, rocks, water reflection pieces, and seaweed. These are your applique pieces.

Time taken for these steps: 0.5 hours.

Step 2: Cut out the pattern pieces

  1. Tearaway: Take ONE piece of the tearaway marked with the background shapes and cut out each shape; you can cut on the lines. Leave the other piece whole.
  2. Large freezer paper: Cut out the background shapes from the large piece of freezer paper; cut on the lines.
  3. Small freezer paper: Cut out the wave shapes from the smaller piece of freezer paper; cut on the lines.
  4. Fusible web: With the shapes on the fusible web, cut them larger than the elements marked by at least half an inch (~3 cm).  Where possible, leave those to be cut from the same fabric together — it’s much much easier to fuse large pieces with one or more shapes to the fabric and then cut them out, than to cut them out then fuse them.

Time taken for these steps: 0.75 hours.

Step 3: Choose the fabrics and prepare them

Now comes the fun part — choosing which fabrics you’ll use for all the pieces!

  1. Audition fabrics for each background section and the applique pieces — they need to complement each other in colour, and be a combination of light, medium, and dark fabrics. While you’re auditioning the main fabric pieces, consider the fabrics you’ll use for the small and large borders, and for the backing and binding.You don’t have to choose these right away, but it helps.
  2. Press all the fabrics you’ve chosen.
  3. Take one of the background fabric pieces of fabric and iron the matching freezer paper piece shiny side down to the FRONT side of the fabric.
  4. Cut around the fabric piece, leaving about half an inch of extra fabric all the way around. DO NOT cut to the lines of the freezer paper.
  5. Repeat steps 3 and 4 for all the other background pieces of fabric and for the fabric you’ve chosen for the waves.
  6. Take the fabric(s) you’ll use for the trees and turn it over. Press the fusible web for the tree pieces to the WRONG side of the fabric. Set it aside to cool.
  7. Repeat step 6 for the fabric(s) for the rocks and the seaweed, making sure you press the fusible web to the WRONG side of the fabric. Set it aside to cool.

Time taken for this step: 1 hour

Step 4: Create the background pieces and applique them

  1. Take each background piece (except the very top one) and each of the wave pieces. Turn under and press the top edge of each piece so that it’s aligned with the top edge of the cut freezer paper. You may need to clip into the curved bits if they won’t turn smoothly. Leave the freezer paper in place.
  2. Place each background piece on its matching piece of tearaway (the cut tearaway pieces, NOT the big piece of tearaway), lining up the top edge of the fabric with the top edge of the tearaway.
  3. Lift the top edge of the freezer paper a little and stitch down the turned edge on to the tearaway, stitching about 1/8″ in from the turned edge. Stitch the sides too, about 1/4″ out from the freezer paper, to stabilise the fabric. Remove the freezer paper and discard it.
  4. Repeat steps 2 and 3 for all background pieces and the wave piece. With the wave piece, start from the top piece, then overlap the second piece and stitch it down, then the third and so on until you’ve stitched all wave pieces onto the single piece of background tearaway for the waves.
  5. Cut out all the applique pieces on the various bits of fusible web. Cut on the marked lines; you’ll need sharp scissors to get into the little nooks and crannies. You’ll end up with several flimsy trees and water reflection pieces, a large piece of seaweed attached to the sea floor, and several rock pieces.
  6. Lay out one of the background pieces that is to have applique pieces fused to it. Place the applique pieces on the background piece in a way that pleases the eye, remove the backing paper, then fuse them into place with a hot iron. Put the fabric aside to cool.
  7. Repeat step 3 for the other background pieces that are to have fused applique pieces.
  8. When the fabrics have cooled, stitch down the applique pieces using a stitch of your choice. I used a plain running stitch just inside the edge of the fabric (about 1/8″ or less from the edge of the fused applique pieces), in the same colour as the applique piece.
  9. Remove the tearaway from the back of each piece, as far as you can. Don’t underestimate the time for this step — it’s a great job to do in front of TV!
  10. Press each background piece.

Time taken for this step: 6 hours

Step 5: Put it all together and add surface stitching

  1. Take the whole piece of marked tearaway, and pin the top and side edges of the background pieces on it, matching up the top edges of each background piece with the marked edges on the tearaway as far as possible. Work from the top down. Remember, you won’t be able to see the top edges further down as they will be covered by the excess fabric, so take your best guess for placement.
  2. Stitch the top edges in place; stitch the sides for stability too, if you want. You should now have a single piece.
  3. Add surface stitching to the piece, as required. I used my HandiQuilter Sweet Sixteen machine and free motion stitched some 15,813 stitches to the piece during this step! I added flames to the base of the trees and earth, bark to the trees, striations to the earth above the rocks, spirals to the rocks, water effects to the water reflections and waves, more seaweed to the sea floor, etc.

  4. Press the whole piece, then square off and cut to size.

Time taken for this step: 1.5 hours

Step 6: Add borders

  1. Rotary cut the narrow and wide border fabrics.
  2. Pin the narrow framing border, then stitch (sides then top). Press away from the piece. Make sure the whole piece is still square.
  3. Pin the wide borders, then stitch (sides then top). Press away from the piece.

Time taken for this step: 0.5 hours

Step 7: Add batting and backing and quilt

  1. Lay out the backing fabric on a flat surface, right side DOWN. It should be a good one or more inches wider than the top. I tape down the backing fabric to make sure it stays taut.
  2. If you’re using normal batting, place it over the top of the backing and tape it down too. In this art quilt, I used fusible batting (Pellon) and fused a piece larger than the quilt top to the back of the piece. I then lay that down over the backing fabric, with the top of the quilt facing up.
  3. Baste the quilt sandwich together — I use quilt basting pins. Consider also basting the sandwich together using the basting stitch on your machine, or by hand.
  4. Quilt the quilt. I started with my sewing machine, stitching in the ditch around the narrow border and along the top edges of each background piece. I then took the quilt to my Sweet Sixteen and free motion quilted the piece. I didn’t do too many to the main piece (I just outlined the applique pieces), but I quilted the wide border extensively. All up, I added a further 18,256 stitches to the quilt, for a total of 34,069 stitches done just on the Sweet Sixteen.

Total time taken for this step: 4 hours

Step 8: Add binding

I didn’t want the binding to detract from the quilt or to draw the eye, so I used the same gorgeous Aboriginal fabric as for the wide border. Then I added my label and gave it a final press and it was done!

Time taken for this step: 1.25 hours

Write up this blog post: 2 hours!

The finished art quilt:

All photos:

And it’s for sale in my Etsy store: