Sunday, August 7, 2016

Rocks, Paper, Scenery: Freemotion Quilt a Spanish Vacation

We just returned from the trip of a lifetime, a reunion vacation with friends in rural Spain, north of  Barcelona, in the Costa Brava region. We saw, ate, and drank many beautiful things, but what I found most fascinating - as a quilter and an American - were the stones.

The medieval walls and streets proudly show their age with layers of rock-and-brick patchwork. Like this one...

...and this...

Here's the villa where we stayed: 
I thoroughly enjoyed the ten days of friends, wine, cheese and cappucino, but I could hardly wait to get home to try some rock-inspired freemotion quilting. After a joyful reunion with my sewing machine, I propped my laptop next to it, and looked at each photo while stitching:
Do not follow my example and place your coffee cup on your sewing table. It's asking for trouble.

For my first experiment, I used a trapezoidal piece of scrap muslin that happened to be lying around, with batting between two layers, and red thread. I picked seven favorite photos, and stitched them out serially...
One was this photo:
First try:
I also stitched or wrote the name and number of the photo on top of each image. 
Wow, that's awful! I did the next round in pen:
Third time in fabric, again: 
Gee, practice helps a LOT! The most challenging part was making the rocks uneven sizes. In all my years of FMQ, I have mostly focused on making the repeated designs - loops leaves, squares, whatever - consistent sizes. But that's not how rocks look in ancient Spanish structures! The same wall can contain everything from tiny misshapen blobs to long pencil-shaped pieces to plump rectangles. It was surprisingly difficult for me to vary the sizes irregularly, and distribute them asymmetrically.

Next, a metal vine window grating, surrounded by bricks, then rocks:

First draft, stitched...
...Second draft in ink...
This was a wonderful arch, with family strolling underneath:

Rocks are much easier to sketch than relatives, so I left the family out of my interpretations. First version:
Third, another fabric practice: 
Check out this awesome window (door?) frame that had been completely filled in.

First try, stitched:
Second, drawn:
(I skipped the hard part). Third, stitched again:
 Here are the pieces I have so far.
 And here's my best version (so far) of the villa, colored with watercolor pastel crayons (Caran d'ache Neocolor II).
Meanwhile, here are some more quilty sights (and sites) from Costa Brava. Our villa featured an affectionate burro named Rudolpha.
We bonded deeply, but unfortunately, she wouldn't fit into the overhead compartment on the airplane. Next, a café ceiling - OMG, those are flying geese!

Across from the cafe, a building with a graphic sun dial. I believe those dark brown metal cross stitches are holding the structure together (not religious icons). 
Next, an apartment building painted with rectangles that look a lot envelopes with all the lower triangular flaps colored in!?
Is this a traditional Spanish symbol? Anyone?
Check out this rock mosaic pattern from the middle of a street: 
My friend Gary took an even better picture of it (Thanks, Gary!). See the clamshell motif?
In the next image, I love the people, and the wall behind them almost as much. Hmm, I could just print this photograph onto fabric, and follow the rock lines with freemotion quilting...
OK, you're sick of looking at rocks. There were also startling color schemes. Here's my glorious friend Maria, in front of an almost-as-glorious bougainvillea. 
Thank you, Maria and Dave, for organizing such a fantastic vacation!
A golden street corner: 
(Later, in the Dali Museum, I spotted a collage which echoed that corner's colors: 
A yummy gazpacho, which I'd just about finished when a golden visitor wafted down into it.
Below, a wall that looks like an island map. The window shades are a deep forest green....
And speaking of green and blue....
Sorry, that was more rocks. Don't get me even started on the inspiration at the Salvador Dali museum. One of Dali's famous pieces, "50 Abstract Paintings," made in 1962, is totally quilt-ish: 
OK, not totally. It's hiding distorted images of a Bengal tiger and Lenin (the Russian dictator, not John the Beatle). The layout reminded me of a less edgy but no less enthralling 1970 quilt, "Falling Blocks", made by quilting engineer Ernest Haight of Nebraska.
(Read about Haight here. He has nothing to do with Spain.) And I'm also singling out the Dali painting below because it's embellished with...yes, I believe those are dangling ESPADRILLES. 
Bless you, Dali, for giving me permission to hang shoes from my quilts! How about flip-flops dangling from a beach-themed quilt?

Will you be quilting your summer vacation? 


  1. Love the way your mind works, Cathy! Quite lovely

  2. What a great tour! You would be so inspired by the Terrace Houses in Ephesus Turkey. The floor tile mosaics are modern day quilt block patterns!!!!!

    1. I just did an image search, QS - WOW! Thanks so much for the reference. I think there was a lot of overlap between the decorative arts we saw in Spain and those I've seen pictures of in Turkey...

  3. Wonderful Cathy. I'm in the car on our way to Stockholm with mom (86). My brother Johan is driving and my sweet 8 year old nephew Rasmus is sleeping next to me. While we are whizzing through spruce and pine woods and occasional blue lakes my mom has been looking at your wonderful work. The most frequently used word she has been using is FANTASTIC. I agree, your work is FANTASTIC.
    Thank you Cathy

    1. I'm so glad you and your Mom liked it, Maria. I can't begin to thank you and Dave for arranging such a fabulous experience! Safe travels!

  4. Loved this post, Cathy! you saw things i clearly did not! Hope all is well.
    Robbie Caploe

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Robbie! It was great hanging out with you!

  5. It looks like you had a wonderful and inspirational trip. I love your mini pieces.