Saturday, July 9, 2016

Quilt an Inexpensive, Zero-Maintenance Aquarium!

Last week I showed off a new wallhanging inspired by the new bestseller, The Soul of an Octopus. That enthralling book offers (among other things) an insider's look at the New England Aquarium in Boston, my hometown.

I was in junior high when the aquarium opened in 1969. I walked in and was thunderstruck to be confronted by a giant ocean tank, which the aquarium literally named the "Giant Ocean Tank." It's four stories high. 
(Photo courtesy of W. Chappell)
Those are penguins in the bottom pool. A walkway spirals up and around the tank, and as you climb, the flora and the fauna change. It was (and remains - it was renovated in 2013 for $18 million) absolutely mind-blowing. (More images here.)

Who wouldn't want a four-story Giant Ocean Tank, aka a GOT in their own home? Of course, it would be costly, between the construction, the fish food, and bribing angry neighbors. So instead, I made a fabric version. It's a towering 15" high (dwarfing that 9" pine cone.) I call it the Giant Ocean Basket (GOB). Or maybe the Giant Ocean Vase (GOV, not to be confused with .gov). 
More views: 


Want to make your own? Follow along, let's have fun, for a fraction of 18 million clams! (Sorry). 

1. Find used jeans that are dark, medium, and light.  You can use backs as well as fronts. Cut strips from a pants leg of each, to 5" x  22.25". (I can't explain that last measurement, it just happened. You'll need it later if you don't want to solve for pi with your own measurement.)
2. Arrange with the darkest on the bottom and lightest on top. Stitch together and press seams open. 

3. Cut sea life shapes from varying shades of denim. Make up your own, or use my new ocean shape booklet
4. Place the elements on areas where they will create a strong contrast. 

Incorporate seams and bumps wherever possible. Below, a hem is used to define the upper part of the jellyfish. 
Enjoy crossing boundaries. 
In process: 
Below, I sliced a piece of seaweed vertically in half , placing one half on the left edge, the other half on the right. 
That's because I wanted the ends to come together to create a unified leaf...
5. Once you like the arrangement, use Elmer's Washable School Glue (my new BFF) to lightly glue everything in place.  Let the glue dry (ironing speeds this up).

6. Zig-zag over the edges of all the elements with matching thread. I used dark, medium, and light greyish blue cotton/poly. Or, use invisible monofilament thread. Because the denim background is thick, you don't need a stabilizer. (But if you're doing this with regular-weight quilting fabric, you probably will need stabilizer, or felt, or batting on the back). 

7. Option: Test some tulle. Tulle gives everything a similar consistency, as if the elements were under water and/or behind glass. I tested white, pale blue, navy, and black tulle. Most colors greyed things down. But the navy and the black tulle made the elements pop! The results are unpredictable, so bring your project to the fabric store with you to test the tulles. You'll notice that the colors come in shiny and matte. In keeping with the window-water theme I picked shiny. (It's not very shiny.)

9. Pin the tulle on top, smoothing out from the center so it's very flat.

10. Pin on a backing. I used charcoal grey felt. There's no backing fabric. (But you can use traditional batting and a fabric backing, if you prefer.) Repin the sandwich - tulle, denim, felt - all the way around the edges.
11. Freemotion quilt around each element, using a straight stitch and invisible monofilament thread. Watch your creatures pop!  

12. Quilt waves across the background. 

13. Straight stitch just inside the edges of the outer rectangle, all the way around. 
14. Cut the backing and tulle down to the same size as the front, then zig-zag over the edges, all the way around. 

15. Here our ships part ways - pick the destination that's right for you! You could: 
  • Sew a sleeve on the back, and hang it flat on a wall. Ideally a wall on a staircase, so the view changes as you climb up or down. Explain to everyone that it's your new zero-maintenance, Petite Ocean Tank (POT?). 
  • Add four rectangular sides and a backing, to serve as a cover for a square foam pillow. That way it could be a sort of rectangular aquarium that could sit upright on a couch.
  • Use a traditional pillow form, and add a lapped pillow backing. 
  • Join the top and bottom horizontal edges; inset denim circles into the right and left sides; then stuff it for use as a bolster. Dramatic enactment:
  • Stand it up, on its own, in an arc, as a tabletop aquarium.
Look, it really does stand by itself! (Except in case of earthquake, helicopter, or if someone walks through the room):
On the back, there are traces of the creatures quilted into the felt. I cut a hole under the octopus' eyes to give it an anatomically misplaced mouth, into which I stuffed bits of felt to make the octopus rounder. 
17. Stitch up the sides. I butted them together and did a whip stitch. I wasn't wild about the messy result - neat hand stitching is not my forte - but we'll deal with that later. 
16.  Make a base for the cylinder. Since circumference =  2(pi)r, that means one divides 22.2" (the width of the piece) by 2(pi), which is 6.283.  22.2 divided by 6.283 = a radius of 3.5" and a total diameter of 7". I used a compass to create a circle with a radius of 3.5" plus one half inch (for the seam allowance), thus a total diameter of 7.5". Cut out the circle from denim, add a layer of felt, zig-zag over the edges, stitch a spiral to hold everything in place, Pin it in position, then  stitch. 
The next question: what, if anything, to do with the top edge. 

I played around with putting cut jeans seams around the top. I thought maybe the white strands looked like ocean waves. 

Nah. The hem top made it look more like a jeans leg than an aquarium. So I took that top off. I was also still not happy about the messy seam. 
I tested buttons to give the seaweed texture and cover the stitching....
Then I tested a twisted seam: 
Liked that, but more is better. I wound up with this: 

It's a string of faux pearls twisted around a jeans seam.
Plus added alternating shells and buttons...
This is such a quick project- you can finish everything but the embellishment in a morning. Do a quick sketch of your favorite sea creatures and start cutting; or get a running start with my new booklet, on my pattern page. It includes many of the species mentioned in the book that are actually in the GOT at the New England Aquarium. 
Whatever you make, have oceans of fun! Next week, we'll look at one more octopus-inspired piece, and don't forget to read about last week's, too, if you're brainstorming your own! 

P.S. I was delighted to be able to share this project on Nina-Marie Sayre's weekly art quilt compendium, Off the Wall Fridays. Check it out! 

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