You Can Do That?

A friend of mine, Joanna the Snarky Quilter, said something recently that resonated with me. Because I won’t be able to find a quote, I’ll tell you what I remember: just because a quilt is “done” doesn’t mean you can’t still change it.

Long ago, a woman Jim taught with told the story of rearranging her home’s living room. Her young daughter came home and saw the changes. Very confused, the girl asked what happened. The mom said she’d moved the furniture, to which the girl replied, “You can do that?”

I had the same feeling when I read Joanna’s claim. You can do that? Of course! Why not?


Last spring I took a workshop with a quilt artist named Cathy Geier. She showed us very simple techniques to transform printed fabric to create a landscape quilt, using glue, markers and crayons, scissors, a little fusible web, and quilting.

Here was my result. This was my first “collage” quilt and I’m pretty happy with it, and with what I learned. One thing that’s odd is it feels kind of sterile. I considered naming it “Where Are the Birds?” because there is no sign of animated life anywhere. Another part that makes me less happy (and I know this wouldn’t bother many people) is that it doesn’t feel like my quilt, because I didn’t design it. Maybe that’s just weird of me to feel this way… But maybe because of that, I like the back that shows the quilting as much as the front.

The gallery below shows a squared-off photo. Click either image to see bigger and with right proportions.


Last year I found a line drawing of a deer’s head that I modified and drew on tracing paper. I considered a variety of ways to use it as an appliqué pattern. I could just use a solid cut-out on a solid background to maximize the impact. That’s still an option, but last week I tried using more of a fabric collage technique. Again, remember I’m still figuring out appliqué as a technique and as a way of using space.

I started by fusing fabric onto the paper.

This was not a good plan. Honestly I FORGOT it was tracing paper, because it looks almost exactly like parchment paper. Fusible web releases from parchment paper; it does NOT release from tracing paper.

It was okay. I actually laughed. I didn’t love what I’d already done, so didn’t mind doing it over.

Once I rebuilt the deer’s head, I needed to choose a background. Here it is on a piece of fabric, printed with a forest design.

Still didn’t love it, but it’s better and at least let me imagine a direction for it. Anything very busy will obscure the deer, but anything very plain will show off the deer more than it deserves. 🙂

Then I saw Joanna’s wise words and thought, what if I put it on the trees landscape?

It is all stitched down now, using a lightning-style zigzaggy stitch from my machine that looks more natural than a plain zigzag. Here’s the truth: I still don’t love it, but I like both the deer and the landscape better now that they’re together. And I learned a lot. Win!

P.S. If you are looking for an interesting blog to follow, check out Joanna the Snarky Quilter. While she has her background in traditional quilting, as long as I’ve known her she’s moved more and more deeply into art quilting. She often shares techniques she’s using for surface design, and she shares process as she moved through projects. She’s very articulate, too, which makes for great reading.

27 thoughts on “You Can Do That?

  1. Joanne

    It’s a beautiful quilt, but I understand your need to make the design yours. It’s fun that you fused two separate learning experiences into one quilt in the end.

  2. audrey

    I thought I was going to read about how you put the deer on the back side of the quilt with the wonderful quilting detail! This is marvelous though. One of the most intriguing things I ever read about creativity was the suggestion that if you’re having a creative block, deliberately break a hard and fast rule. It apparently can create situations that unlock our problem solving skills and thus, usher in some creativity! I agree with you though about those things that don’t necessarily feel like ‘ours’. Necessary when learning–but I don’t understand how so many people can continue to work in that manner and feel creative at all!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      You and I are together on that, Audrey. I have to work hard to accept that we all have our own ways to express ourselves, and they’re all okay. I could compare it to buying a card for someone’s special occasion, or making one. If the one I purchase says what I feel, it can express my feelings, and that’s okay. In fact, I may find that it says how I feel better than something I could create myself. So maybe that’s how it is for other people’s choices in quilting. It’s not for me, but if it works for other people, I guess that’s okay. 🙂 Thanks as always for taking a look and commenting. You inspire me.

  3. snarkyquilter

    Oops, you could have always cut out the deer around the edges and sewn it on, tracing paper and all. Of course, that would totally waste the fusible, but might save time. Yes to more woodland creatures! A deer family? And thanks for the PR for the snarky quilter.

  4. Kerry

    Well that’s really cool now! I did like your trees before too. As for birds? They are on the ground feeding, or higher in the trees. How about a ladybird/bug on a leaf! 😉 Have a jolly good day.

  5. Jim R

    I’m glad the deer found a home. Every time I walked by before it seemed to look at me as wondering what to do. It had that ‘deer in the headlights’ look about it. It looks good now.🦌

  6. TextileRanger

    I really love the collage quilt and the way the quilting shows up on the back. Instead of sterile, I was thinking how peaceful it looks.
    The deer is a very eye-catching focal point — he has me looking more closely at the shapes in the background, wondering if there are any more signs of life hidden in them — a bird, a doe, a hunter?

  7. Chela's Colchas y Mas

    Wow, Wow, wow! Thank you for this post. Collage has been something I have wanted to do. I made a few attempts, but stopped. I love what you did with your landscape and deer. I hadn’t tried a different zig-zag…lots of information here. Thank you.


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