Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sister Shadow Play

Carol, my youngest sister, came down to Calgary from Edmonton for a few days over the Christmas holidays. In spite of very cold temperatures (between -20 and -30 C), the days were nice because the sun was out, so we bundled up and went for a walk.

In the winter, days are short, the sun is low, and shadows are long, even at midday. DH had given me a new camera, so I was in "new camera testing" mode. As we walked around the bend so that the sun was at our back, our shadows stretched way out in front of us. I said to Carol "stop!" - and she did. I snapped our picture.

The Concept

When I looked at it on the computer, my quilting brain thought it saw a quilting opportunity. Very easy shapes and an interesting concept. So during the weeks that I was working away on Craig's quilt (Sedimentary Dreaming), I was thinking about Carol's quilt - now known as Sister Shadow Play. I must give credit where credit is due. I came up with "Sister Shadows" - Kristie thought of "Shadow Play" - so I combined them for "Sister Shadow Play," which I think is just about perfect!

I wanted the quilt to be "frosty" because it was frigging cold out! I had picked up a 1/2 yard of a funky blue print in the Port Angeles Jo-ann Fabric store that could be interpreted as wintery so I started with that. (A 1/2 yard isn't very much - I've learned when buying fabric on spec, get a minimum of a meter/yard.) I found blue and green with a silver design at Fabricland that coordinated with my Jo-ann's print. So I had my starting point in terms of fabric. I also had some silver piping that I'd picked up years ago because it had been marked down (this will be a reoccurring theme - as I mentioned in my first post - those "cheap" Scottish genetics are hard to overcome!). Silver equals "frosty."

There are three basic areas in the picture: the pathway, the surrounding field area and the shadows. I wanted them to sort of blend, but at the same time I wanted them distinct.

I used a wimpy black Sharpie (I have to get a new one) to outline the shadow and the path on a print of the picture, then traced the outlines (more or less) onto grid paper. This gave me a good visualization of what I was trying to achieve. The field would be one set of blocks, the path another and the shadows would be applique.


I started to look for a block design for the field. I wanted something reasonably simple, yet something suitable for my "frosty" theme. After much looking, I found a block in 500 Quilt Block Designs, a book I had out of the library.

Here are a few pages as an illustration of the types of blocks this book contains. There are many - but no dimensions - just pix, although there is an apparently suitable grid at the beginning of each section. But I didn't use that - I just went ahead and did what I needed to do.
The block I chose was the top left block on the right hand page, above - # 1693, below. It is called "diadem."

A diadem is a type of crown, specifically an ornamental headband worn by Eastern monarchs and others as a badge of royalty.

Here it is a bit bigger:

I thought this sort of looked a bit like a snowflake or some frosty entity. It is straight lines and in a square. My thinking was that the relatively large square at the centre of the block would maximize the effect of the funky blue print, of which I had very little. I sketched Diadem onto grid paper, then drew the pattern pieces out the size I wanted.

Here is the assembled block with some friends. As I said, this is the "field."

I also needed the "path." Originally, I thought I'd use only the blue and green (I had very little of the funky print left - it went into the Diadem blocks). I decided there would not be enough contrast with just those two. I went digging into my "stash" and found an "icy" blue that was darker. This would work well - the path is pavement so the darker colour would add "pavement" to "frosty." So I had the fabric part figured out.

The next challenge was a block design that would pull it together. I wanted a different block so there would be no confusion between "field" and "pathway." I also wanted a fairly consistent pattern - the path is relatively homogenous compared to the field. Eventually I settled on equilateral triangle - two inches on each side. I thought that would be a good size, the result would be a small enough pattern that it would contrast with the relatively larger Diadem blocks, which are six inches finished, but not so small that cutting and sewing them would be an absolute pain (although it was to a certain extent!). And consistent.

Again, I drew a pattern on grid paper. Here is the collection of pattern pieces:

This is the "path."

The next challenge was deciding how best to assemble the sections. I decided to put blocks together for the "field" top part of the quilt first. With only 1/2 yard of the funky stuff to work with, I think I had enough for maybe 18 blocks - to be honest, I didn't count - I just made as many as I could because that fabric was the constraint.

Six blocks across the top seemed a reasonable size for me, so I put together two full rows of six, then three on the third row, two on the fourth, one on the last.

Next I put together the triangles: rows and rows and rows of them! I didn't make entire rows where they would meet up with the Diadems on the top.

When the Diadem and the triangles were all assembled, I cut a curve in the Diadem section such that it hit all the "edge" blocks. I stitched silver piping to the curve, turned the seam under, lined up the Diadem section on the triangles (all right side up), then top stitched the Diadem section very close to the piping through all layers (Diadem, piping, triangles). I flipped it over and trimmed out the jagged edge of the triangle section from the big curve at the top.

I had to reserve out enough Diadems to make the small lower section. This involved "recycling" some of the cut away parts of the larger upper section (that's how little fabric I had of the funky blue print!). I followed the same process as above - I cut the curve first on the Diadem section, stitched on the piping, turned the seam under, top stitched to the triangles.

The trick for all of this is to be sure the horizontal seams are all parallel. I think I did OK on this given my tiny working area.

This is what it looks like on the wrong side once it's all assembled:
Here we are on the right side.

I was hum-ing and ha-ing about how to do the shadows - both in terms of fabric and method. I landed on this sort of grey-blue batik (I would have used the dark triangle colour, but my entire meter ended up in the triangles, so I had to go back to the store.) I cut out the basic shapes of the shadows, pinned then basted them on and finally did a smallish, tight zig-zag stitch.

Yay! The top was done!

Quilting, Backing, Binding

Then "all" I had to do was quilt the darn thing. I had bought miles of the frosty blue for the backing and binding. I assembed the three layers. Thankfully, this one is small enough that I could do this on the dinning room table (see my compliants in Sedimentary Dreaming). I quilted it on my machine, starting with echo quilting around the shadows. From there I went on to the standard "stitch in the ditch" method and along the piping edge.

I cut a three inch wide binding, pressed it in half, machine stitched on the top, then hand stitched it to the back. Yes - Carol gets hand stitching!


The above pix is intended to show the echo quilting, though not really sure that it does. It actually shows up better down below.

And here, ladies and gentlemen, is "Sister Shadow Play" !

Once again - I need better pix. I'm going to make DH hold it up in proper lighting for me - but who knows when I'll be able to trap him into doing that!


  1. I very much enjoyed the story of how this quilt came to be. I never thought I'd be a quilter either. I thought it was too fussy for me. A friend introduced me to it about 4 years ago and the rest is history.

  2. Thank you for sharing the story of your quilt, it is terrific! I love how you have done it.