Iowa In My Mind

My local quilt guild has an annual challenge. At our July meeting, members bring their entries to share. This year’s challenge was to create a quilt inspired by Iowa. “What does Iowa mean to you? Corn and prairie grass? The Old Capitol Building? Family and friends? In 2016, Iowa will be 170 years old and we thought we should show everyone what Iowa means to us through our quilts. There is no size or technique limit to this quilt.”

I created the quilt below. You can click on it to open in a new tab and see the detail, including the words.


Iowa In My Mind. Approx 31.5″ x 20″. July 2016. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The quilt was inspired by Iowa, but also by my son and how he sees Iowa. As an Air Force pilot, early this year he flew across the state. Later while we instant-messaged, he described his view:

it was funny looking north across Iowa
I could see the thousands and thousands of straight lined fields
well, the roads around the fields
‪each field being exactly the same size‬
everything just in its perfect place
we spent a night in Maine
the people there reminded me of Iowans
so friendly
fairly chatty, but with nothing too significant to chat about
th‪e land is not like that everywhere,
and the people are not, either‬
but the Iowa in my mind is

I wanted my design to include his thoughts. In addition, I had already pieced the background fabric and thought it could be a good starting point for construction. When considering how to use that background fabric, I thought of creating a quilt in the shape of the state. I asked Jim if he could make an outline for me of the state, which I could use to shape my quilt. He did.

Though the words are the centerpiece of the quilt, I wanted to include more details that would be meaningful to Son and to others. The wind turbine refers to his work on wind energy while in college, and the fact that Iowa leads the nation in the percent of energy created by wind. The left and right bindings are blue to indicate the rivers bordering the state. The line dividing north and south is Interstate-80, created with a hand-stitched yellow dotted line, as well as machine-stitching for the outer lane markers and quilting. Other quilting includes both straight lines for the rows of crops planted in fields, and the curves of hills across large parts of the state.

Using a pieced background, including words (Sharpie marker), bias binding, painting, fused appliqué… Most of the elements of this quilt were new to me. While I had trouble figuring out how to execute many, I kept plugging away until it told me it was done.

And boy howdy, good thing it finally told me! I finished on Monday morning. My guild meeting was Monday evening.

With no size or technique limit, the challenge entries were varied and impressive. When the group spent time examining the quilts and artists’ statements, I simply felt pleased with what I’d accomplished.

And then the winners were announced. I won! I won the Viewers’ Choice award. Honestly I can’t tell you when I’ve been so pleased with anyone else’s assessment of my work. Until I shared the photo with Son. Son said, “That’s probably the coolest quilt I’ve ever seen!” 🙂 And that was even better.



47 thoughts on “Iowa In My Mind

  1. Janie Kemp

    Melanie, thanks for pointing out the link to this quilt in your other post.
    I’m so happy I read your story about this prize-winning Iowa quilt.
    And I agree, your son’s comment about the quilt is the best there could ever be!

  2. Alice Samuel's Quilt co.

    Yayyyy! I’m so happy you won! I told you it was going to be amazing and your son is right, it’s one of the coolest quilts ever not just because it’s gorgeous but because of what it means to you … 😉

          1. Alice Samuel's Quilt co.

            I found it but I think I have to email you still. I have a 5″ square i need to showcase in the corner of a star block and the finished corner block needs to be 10.5″ that’s my challenge.

  3. iquiltsewwhat

    I recently drove through Iowa on my move to MI. I fell in love with it and dreamed of calling the moving truck to tell them to drop off our things in Iowa instead of MI!

  4. shoreacres

    What a wonderful piece, Melanie. I spotted I-80 right away, and the rivers! Clever you, to do them that way. And I smiled at the squares in the sky, echoing the squares on the ground. I can’t believe that i still remember that a square mile is a section — 640 acres. The first time I saw Iowa from an airplane, it looked remarkably like your quilt — minus the windmills, of course, which came along long after I was gone. Congrats on your winning, too. You certainly deserve it.

  5. allisonreidnem

    Wonderful quilt and congratulations on coming first ☺ We arrived at a holiday cottage yesterday and spent the evening putting together a jigsaw puzzle of the USA. For Iowa the puzzle has icons of a farmer on a tractor, a corn cob and a pig (it is a child’s puzzle !). Your quilt tells me a lot more about Iowa! Thanks to the puzzle I’ve shed some of my ignorance re. the positioning of the States in relation to one another!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      It sounds like a fun puzzle. I have to admit my geography knowledge isn’t very great. The Iowa icons on your puzzle are fine but of course only tell part of the story. We DO have A LOT of pigs, about 20 million at a time. 🙂

  6. Sue

    This is just wonderful, Melanie. You had a challenge and rose to it! Also a special mother-son connection here. I’m very impressed, and you really deserved that prize. Well done!

      1. Sue

        Oh, dear, is he overseas? God bless him and you. I’ll think good thoughts. I’m sure it is scary for you. I can relate, have dear son of my own, who has some times been far away, though not at present.

        1. Melanie McNeil Post author

          He has been deployed “overseas.” Supposed to come back to USA today. I thought we’d hear from him by now. I don’t think there is any issue with Turkey but I just want to know where he is. Thanks for indulging me. And thanks for the good thoughts.

  7. snarkyquilter

    I’ll join my congrats with those of others. Good idea to do the lettering on separate bits of fabric. That way if your pen slipped the whole thing wouldn’t be ruined. Did you print/paint some of the solid green squares on? They add more complex notes of green and some texture. And the different colored binding was a stroke of genius.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks, Joanna. I did paint the green squares on. That’s something I wish I’d played with a bit more, but it worked out okay. Most of it is plain ol’ liquid craft acrylic paint. I also brightened the little squares below the highway with oil paintstix. I didn’t end up completely happy with either the dull or the shimmer/bright, but decided to stop messing with it. Thanks about the binding. Once I knew I would use the state outline and also knew I would quilt it as a traditional sandwich (and would need regular binding of some sort,) I knew I’d do the side bindings as the rivers. It’s a unique thing about Iowa, and was important to include. 🙂

  8. KerryCan

    You won!! That is such a nice bit of “gravy” to add to everything else this quilt meant to you! I love this about quilting–that we can so readily include the symbolic and personal and meaningful in the work we do!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      YES, on including personally meaningful elements in our work. YES, I try to do that in varying ways, especially if making something for a particular person. It is a big bonus, isn’t it? Thanks.

  9. katechiconi

    Sometimes quilts can wait a long time before they speak their requirements, so it’s a good job your skills were up to achieving this one’s demands in time! It’s beautiful, meaningful, intensely personal, and appealing even to someone halfway round the world. Good work, and congratulations.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks, Kate. I feel a little surprised that what I envisioned actually is what I got! Of course, my vision was pretty murky on some parts, so actually doing was from momentary inspiration, rather than making it look just like a plan in my head.

  10. Jeri Niksich

    I was born & raised in Iowa until I was 16, when I left for warmer weather (year round lol) in Texas. Your quilt made me home sick too, it depicted my memories of Iowa very well (except the wind turbines…..after my days there) You deserve 1st place it’s a wonderful detailed quilt, you and hubby done a great job on the shape of the state which to say the least is very odd shaped. Thank you for the memories that you brought back to me.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thank you, Jeri. Jim printed and assembled my outline map for me. I used it to create ever-smaller outlines on the fabric until they finally matched up pretty closely! It is an odd shape, but I think most of the states are. Thanks again.

  11. mothercat2013

    That is such a cool quilt, I’m sure it will become a family heirloom in time 🙂 Congrats on winning the Viewers’ Choice award (icing on the cake!), you deserve to be really proud of what you achieved: well done!

  12. Paula Hedges

    Being an Iowan born and raised on the Mississippi, your completed quilt made me a bit homesick, so I’d say you captured it very well. Thank you so much for sharing and congratulations for being awarded Viewers’ Choice! Iowans know a good thing when they see it!

  13. TextileRanger

    I’ve been wondering how you were coming along with this project! I especially like the different colored bindings and how they curve and flow. I know that can’t have been easy!
    Congratulations on winning Viewers’ Choice, too!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Other than figuring it all out (!!!) the binding, especially on the east coast, was the hardest to do. BUT I will never be afraid of curved edges again! 🙂 Thanks much.


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