Tag Archives: Folk art

Hands and Hearts — A Quilt From the Whole Family

Do you remember this piece? I made it in April as a “sketch,” just something to try forming shapes and colors and lines into a picture in appliqué. It’s a representation of a Claddagh ring. The traditional Irish symbol represents love (heart,) loyalty (crown,) and friendship (hands.)

The pretty heart in the middle was printed like that from fabric I bought eleven years ago. I drew the hands and crown from the basic Claddagh ring symbol. And then I encircled it with a ring of batik. It is all on a black Kona cotton background.

At the time I wasn’t sure what I’d do with it, or if I would do anything more. I considered the possibility of creating a small wedding gift for Son and his fiancée. But I didn’t have a plan.


Then about a month before the wedding, I started hankering to make that gift. I thought it would be meaningful to represent the closest family members in a personal way. Including Jim and me, our daughters’ families, and the bride’s parents and sibs’ families, there are 20 of us. Because there were already hands in it, I wanted to use a handprint from each. That required swift help from the bride’s family, as well as from our daughter who lives far away.

I asked for a photo of each family member’s hand, on a piece of white copy paper with all the edges showing. That would allow me to standardize the sizes to scale them as needed. Either hand, left or right, would do just fine. Here is my hand.

I cropped the images to standardize size around the paper, and Jim cleaned them all up to create a good outline for each, and to remove the wrists. (OW!)

He and I agreed on a size as compared to the hands in the Claddagh ring, and as they would appear on my monitor, and we re-scaled them all to that. I flipped each image and then traced each hand as it appeared on my monitor (basically as a light box) onto a separate piece of fusible web.

I’d already decided to use a different fabric for each of the family units (Jim and me, bride’s parents, older daughter and family, etc.) There were six different families, and six different fabrics used for the hands.

Besides manipulating the hand images, there also was the matter of the Claddagh ring. First, the pretty pink heart in the center somehow picked up a minor stain. Second, it was appliquéd on a relatively small piece of fabric. I wasn’t sure how big the quilt would be, but knew I needed more than the 15″ or so that the ring was on. Also, I thought the green batik ring by itself was a little stark, and I wanted to add leaves around it to create a wreath. Ultimately, I redid the Claddagh ring completely on a new background, large enough to contain whatever else came next.

I zigzagged the ring with leaves and the other components of the Claddagh symbol down to the background before dealing with the 20 hands. Then I began arranging the hands. Jim had already done a mock-up in Photoshop for me, so I had a pretty good plan to use. I put the parents’ and siblings’ hands in the first ring around the Claddagh, and then organized the sibs’ partners and children in the outer ring.

Here are a few pictures of the process as it developed. One of the families has seven members, so distributing those hands in a balanced way led many of the other decisions. Also, the tiny hands were paired with larger ones. Even when all the hands were in place, there were gaps that looked awkward. I filled them with more hearts cut from the same fabric as the center heart. Finally, I drew Celtic knots to add to the corners. Click on any picture to open the gallery. 

I knew that I wouldn’t stitch all the hands down with the domestic machine, as I was afraid that manipulating the fabric so much would loosen the adhesive and make the whole piece look worn and tired. Instead, I did raw-edge appliqué around the hands and across the palms when I quilted.

Besides the appliqué-quilting on the hands, I also did a small free-hand design within the black background, and once I got it off the frame, I went back to the domestic machine to zigzag the Celtic knots into submission.

Rather than applying a basic double-fold binding, I faced it with black to give the edge a smoother finish. When it was all done, I used a black Pigma pen on the muslin backing to write the names on each of the hands, and complete the labeling with the name of the quilt, the bride and groom, and the wedding date. Again, click either photo to open the gallery and see larger. 

I love that the quilt comes from the contribution of all the family members, and that Jim worked so closely with me on its design. The style is unique, maybe even quirky, certainly bordering on folk art. It’s also very personal, just as intended.


My running list of finishes for the year:
1. Fierce Little Bear
2. VA hospital quilt
3. VA hospital quilt
4. Charlotte’s Kitty
5. The Old School House
6. Georgia’s graduation quilt
7. Where Are the Birds? (landscape tree quilt)
8. ¡Fiesta!
9. Hands and Hearts
10. Shirt


Power Builders 04.10.15

This is Week #10 of my Power Builders creative links. If you’d like to see last week’s, you can find it here.

I call this series “Power Builders” because that’s what these little items do for me. They make me more powerful in my art and in my life. I hope they do the same for you. Some of the links will be about how other creative people use their time, structure their work, find inspiration. Some may be videos, music, or podcasts to inspire you. Some of it will be directly quilt-related but much of it will not. What you see in Power Builders will depend on what I find. Feel free to link great things in comments, too.

Few things are more inspiring than seeing the creativity of others. Today’s post will highlight a few museums to inspire you. 

1) From Craftsy, a list of quilt museums across the U.S. I’ve had the privilege of visiting a few, including the International Quilt Study Center & Museum in Lincoln, NE. “The center houses the world’s largest publicly held quilt collection. The more than 4,500 quilts and related ephemera date from the early 1700s to the present and represent more than 25 countries.” Kalona, IA’s Quilt & Textile Museum is a stone’s throw away from me. And I recently enjoyed a visit to the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, KY. From the site, “The Museum’s vibrant and breathtaking exhibits are rotated 8-10 times per year. The primary gallery, with over 7,000 square feet of exhibit space, features quilts from the Museum’s collection which includes over 320 works of art. The Museum’s additional galleries feature touring and thematic exhibits of unique and diverse works of art.”

The Craftsy post includes links for museum and exhibits in other parts of the country, as well.

2) We’re all familiar with names of huge museums in big cities. Have you ever wondered about smaller gems? Your local university may have one. collegerank.net lists the “50 most amazing college museums.” The University of Iowa is on that list, partly for the world-class African art collection. (Unfortunately, we still don’t have our art housed in town, because the 2008 flood destroyed the museum. All the art escaped safely.) Other worthy museums include those highlighting arts of various periods and origins, geology and natural history, design, archealogy and anthropology, among other subjects. Check the list, check your local colleges and universities. You may be surprised at the wonders you’ll find!


Rusty, the giant sloth in the University of Iowa’s Natural History Museum.

3) From Icarus to Space X, we continue to be fascinated by flight. The age of air and space travel has spawned an enormous amount of art of all kinds. See what some of the fuss is about at museums devoted to the history of flight. The big one, of course, is the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum. But don’t limit yourself to it. Across the country you can find other venues, including the Tillamook Air Museum in Oregon, the Strategic Air & Space Museum in Ashland, NE, and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force, in Dover, OH.

4) Quilting is often considered a folk art, but there are other arts in that category. Woodworking, ceramics, metals, textiles, all display the ingenuity of humans to design and create the useful arts. Wikipedia provides a list of 31 folk art museums, including some near you. All entries on the wiki page link to other wiki pages. Dig a little deeper (google them yourself) to find out more.

What has inspired you this week? Let us know in comments.

My Harlequin Medallion Quilt

Last October I showed you a quilt I’ve long admired. It’s the Harlequin Medallion Quilt, part of the collections of the American Folk Art Museum.

Harlequin Medallion Quilt.

It was a bed cover, about 87 x 96 inches, made of a glazed wool called calimanco. The quilt dates from 1800-1820. From the museum’s description:

It is constructed in the center-medallion format that was popular before about 1840 but anticipates the elaborate pieced patterns of later quilts. Its bold, geometric composition of large triangular pieces in bright, saturated colors appears very contemporary, belying the still commonly held notion that early American homes were devoid of color. In fact, this type of bedcover often displays beautiful shades achieved with natural dyes.

I decided to make the quilt using contemporary cottons and in a smaller scale, intending to use it as a wall-hanging in my dining room. I scaled it to about 57 percent of the original, to finish at 50 x 55 inches. Though my first EQ7 drawing wasn’t true in design, I was able to modify it while I worked, so the design matched pretty closely.

To achieve the texture of the original, I chose wool batting. Well, I’ll tell you right now that wool was a mistake. It has a resilient loft, is spongy, and bunches up. The loft makes it a great choice for a bed quilt or lap quilt. But it is a poor choice for a wall-hanging. The quilt is not flat, and it would not hang flat.

Quilting on my longarm took weeks, a little at a time. The wool required special handling, pinning it in place to keep it from bunching up.

I used a straight ruler and ruler base to mimic the concentric square quilting of the original. Using rulers is new to me, and it took a while to adjust to the change in method and all the starts and stops of stitching. Ironically, this would be one quilt that would have been easier on a domestic sewing machine.

Since my intention was to hang it, I used an unbleached muslin for the backing. And I used three, maybe even four different colors of bobbin thread. The back was a mess.

Attitude is everything, right? The back was a mess; it wasn’t going to be a wall-hanging. But it was a worthy experiment, anyway. I learned a lot with the rulers. I learned a lot with the wool. But if I wanted to use it as a lap quilt, the back had to be prettier.

A false back was the solution. I found a great print in the same colors, basted it on, and then bound the whole thing. It hides the muslin. And though it adds weight, the quilt will be extra cozy for cold winter afternoons. Eventually I’ll use perle cotton and tie the back through the muslin, to secure it.

It isn’t what I planned on, but I’m happy with it. Now the challenge will be developing something else for the dining room wall.

Harlequin Quilt 1800-1820

For books, like with everything else, I try to control how much I own. I don’t have a huge stash. I don’t buy extra gadgets and notions. My quilting books all live in one small bookcase. But even with pretty good impulse control, one of my biggest weaknesses is for quilt history. And one of the best books ever for quilting history is American Quilts: The Democratic Art, 1780-2007, by Robert Shaw.

I page through this book now and then, sometimes reading the text carefully, and sometimes just looking at the lush photos of important American quilts. One page I always stop at has the picture of a striking work of art. Its graphic simplicity looks quite modern, though it was made in the early 1800s.

Harlequin Medallion Quilt. Part of the collections of the American Folk Art Museum.

This link takes you to more information about the quilt. (And if you love historical quilts as I do, here is a link to the museum’s collection of quilts and coverlets.)

The description notes the artist is unknown (label your quilts!) but the quilt dates from 1800-1820. It’s made from a glazed wool known as calimanco.

It is constructed in the center-medallion format that was popular before about 1840 but anticipates the elaborate pieced patterns of later quilts. Its bold, geometric composition of large triangular pieces in bright, saturated colors appears very contemporary, belying the still commonly held notion that early American homes were devoid of color. In fact, this type of bedcover often displays beautiful shades achieved with natural dyes.

I thought a lot about this phrase: “It is constructed in the center-medallion format…” If I were to make the quilt, I would make hourglass blocks, so the notion of it being a medallion quilt confused me a little. I think the distinguishing feature is that from a design standpoint, it is not simply one block (or two), repeated. All sixteen blocks are needed to create the center graphic impact.

To see more, click here