Fierce Little Bear

The first quilt I completed this year named itself, as many do. It is called “Fierce Little Bear.” The bear in the name refers to the bear’s paw block that centers it. “Fierce” and “little” describe the owner of the quilt, my niece, a petite young woman who has faced tragedy and trial with grit.

I started the project last fall with a bear’s paw block, made with fussy-cut paws. In a post called Transformation, I showed you the beginning of it, including changing corner blocks to the dark blue you see below. 

I finished the top, posting a few photos on Instagram of the progress. By mid-November I was ready to load the layers for quilting. And by five days later, I took it off again because of tension issues. This photo of picked stitches gives a small sense of the trouble. I unpicked more stitches for this quilt than … any other since the last one I finished! (I’ll tell you about it soon.)

I’ve mentioned (many times, probably!) that I’m trying to learn how to tell stories better with quilts. There are many ways to do that, including the choice of fabrics, block style, and layout. Any words or pictures added through appliqué or other means can help tell a story. Another way to tell a story is with the quilting, which was a big part of my plan with this one.

Because I wanted the quilting to be special, and because my machine was having some erratic tension, as I continued to quilt, I checked the back every couple of minutes to be sure it was going okay. Now mind you, “checking the back of the quilt” while it’s on the frame usually means getting on the floor, scooting under the frame, craning the neck while holding a light up to the back, scanning across all the work done, burrowing back out from under the layers, and standing up again. All doable, but not always comfortable.

With holiday and project interruptions, I finished quilting and binding it early in January. At that point, the next step was delivery. My niece lives near enough to see in person but far enough that it requires a special plan.

And then! Then I saw that IQF had a call for entries to the Chicago show in the spring. One of their exhibits was Midwest Traditional quilts. Well, what could be more traditional than a medallion? So I entered it, putting off delivery of the quilt to my niece. It was not accepted — I think their idea of traditional was somewhat different from mine — but I’m glad I tried.

Finally at the very end of March, Jim and I took a short trip to see my niece Emily and her dad, who is my brother. I had three quilts with me and said I just thought she would enjoy seeing them in person, since mostly she sees my work on facebook. I showed one, then another. And then I had her open the third, Fierce Little Bear. Below is a gallery of photos of Emily examining it with her husband Adam. Click on any to open and embiggen.

Here is the quilt.

Fierce Little Bear. 67″ x 67″. Finished January 2018. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The piecing design of this quilt, along with the fabrics, begins a story. The bear’s paw center is a traditional block design. Each of the “paws” is fussy-cut from fabric designed by Julie Paschkis. Here are two of them.

The combination of this fabric and the batik surrounding the center drove the color choices, including the emphases on cobalt blue, turquoise, and red. The Julie Paschkis prints also included black backgrounds, allowing use of black, also. This is a wildly unusual color combination. (And I will say, Jim and I took dozens of photos of this quilt, more than anything I’ve ever done, and in various set-ups for lighting. The colors simply do not show well together in photos, but they are quite beautiful in person. sigh…) 

The inner borders of turquoise and yellow create a faux-on-point setting, and also allow the illusion that the center block and its batik border float on top of the rest.

The middle borders are intentionally sharp and jagged, and have a subtle reference to Native American designs. And the outer border repeats the batik, tying it all together.

The quilting finishes the story. It reads from left to right as a whole picture framed by trees on either side, canopied in leaves and clouds. At the base is a field of flowers. Butterflies float next to the tree trunks. An owl hides in the tree on the left, while a squirrel is on the lower right. And a fish swims in an aqua pool. You truly can’t see the detail without close examination. Here are a few pictures to give you a taste of it.

This is a very long post and I am omitting so many pictures I’d like to include, but you have to stop somewhere. The last photo I’ll show will give you different information. It is a black and white image of the top, prior to quilting.

While I made this, I fretted a lot, hoping it would turn out well and suit my niece. She is strong and vibrant; she loves the outdoors; she is generous and kind; and she is unique. That’s what I wanted the quilt to be. Over and over I showed photos of progress to my brother, and he continually encouraged me, reassuring me that she would love it. But the colors, though beautiful, are no one’s idea of an expected combination. Finally, I looked at the top without color, in the black and white version above. And finally I was reassured that it worked. Exactly as I wanted.


38 thoughts on “Fierce Little Bear

  1. Pingback: Creative Juice #99 | ARHtistic License

  2. TextileRanger

    I love love LOVE the blue zig-zaggy border, AND the way that they enclose the cream-colored triangles. I am pretty sure that if I had ever decided to put triangles in a border, I would have just used solid-colored triangles. I think that extra step gives this quilt so much energy!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thank you, Gwen! I’ve used that kind of triangle at least a couple of times now. It’s actually very easy. I just make regular half-square triangles, and then use a stitch-and-flip corner on one side. Other people might have more efficient ways of doing it, but this has worked well for me.

      1. TextileRanger

        I see it now! I would never have figured that out, either. The way I would have done it would have been lots more work. Thanks! I hope I remember to try that some time.

  3. snarkyquilter

    That final border really puts the exclamation point on this one. And, as your b&w photo shows, the values are spot on and make your quilt so lively. I sympathize with you about your camera’s inability to show the complexity of that wonderful looking fabric.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Yes, thank you. I wasn’t sure what to do for the final border, as the batik had to be pieced a fair amount to go that far. But the print allowed for it, so it worked well.

  4. Paula Hedges

    Your quilts, especially this one, are so much more than fabric cut up and sewed back together. It seems you put so much more than tangible in each one. Love how the colors play so well together in the design and your niece’s reaction says more than words could express. When a story can’t be cut short, your hard work deserves to tell it fully. Thank you for sharing.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks for reading, Paula. As I put the post together, I realized one of the reasons I’d delayed writing about it was there were SO MANY photos! So many more than I shared. It was hard to pick ones that would convey even a bit of how I felt about it. Thanks again.

  5. Tammy Hutchinson

    Wonderful medallion! I love the colors and the contrast your fabric choices provide. Your neice sounds awesome also!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I didn’t see the exhibit they curated, so I don’t have the real thing to compare to. Since the specific design is my original, rather than a “traditional” one made in traditional colors, I’ll guess that was it. It’s okay. I’m still glad I submitted it. Thanks much for looking and commenting.

  6. adelshelly

    I wonder how much it would cost to get one of those little bubble mirrors on a stick (like security people use to check for bombs under cars)…. Could be great for checking tension on a quilt on the rack!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I do use a mirror in some places, and I’ve heard that some people use a cheap “full length” wall mirror under the sandwich to see. Honestly I don’t know if that would work for me, but it might be worth trying!! Thanks much for reading and for the comment.

  7. piecefulwendy

    What a fantastic quilt, with a neat story! I love the pictures of her studying the quilt, and then the big hug! Makes all the work we do on quilts so worthwhile. Thanks for sharing this!

  8. Jim R

    I closely followed your work on this one. It was a study in persistence. You worked hard to get the colors, fabrics, and designs the way you wanted for her. You also worked hard to overcome the long-arm issues that got in the way. How many times did you go ‘down-under’ to check the tension? It turned out just right for her. Good work.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Oh, I think I went underneath hundreds of times! But in general I ended up really pleased with how it turned out, and it also convinced me that, when appropriate, I can do a lot more complex quilting. Thanks for your partnership in this and so much of my work. ❤

  9. katechiconi

    It’s a wonderful quilt, and from the sound of it, perfectly suited to its new owner. I adore the colour scheme, I love the bear paws and the beautiful batiks. I think that hug you got is truly well-deserved…

  10. KerryCan

    It’s really spectacular, Melanie, all the more so when I consider the care and love you applied to the project, down to every little detail. Your niece must be a special woman, and she inspired a work of art!


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