Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Bonsai! A Tree Tutorial

Do you have a favorite neighborhood tree? Here's mine. I call it my Dr. Seuss tree. 

The owners trim it a couple of times a year, so the foliage forms unnatural (and to me, hilarious) green globules. It has a spindly, torturous trunk, like a bonsai, or Harry Potter's Whomping Willow. Come holiday season, the owners hang white globe lights from it, enhancing the otherworldly effect. Year round, it makes me smile.

After years of threatening to make a quilt out of it, I finally did.  It was a very fast and easy project. It would make an ideal present for someone who has an interesting tree on their property!

There are a tremendous number of ways to turn photos into quilts, and entire books have been written on the subject. For this tree, I used a very simple freezer paper raw edge applique approach. This tutorial is aimed at tree images, but would work about the same way for anything else that you might want to portray.

You will need:

  • A tree. The simpler the tree, the simpler the quilt!
  • A camera
  • Tracing paper, 1-2 pieces, 8.5" x 11"
  • Freezer paper - the larger/wider the better (or,you can press smaller pieces together to make a large piece, but that's less desirable)
  • Paper-backed fusible web, large enough to cover the tree, twice. 
  • Scissors for paper, and scissors for fabric. (Quilt veterans know that paper can dull fabric scissors)
  • Iron
  • Thick or folded over towel, bigger than your desired quilt size. 
  • Fabric for trunk and branches (I used a batik brown)
  • Fabric  for the foliage (I used a bright green batik)
  • Fabric for the background "sky" (I used yellow batik)
  • Fabric for the ground. (I used dark green batik)
  • More fabrics: For borders (I used lavender, and a blue-and-orange batik)

1. Take lots of pictures of your tree; overall shots from different angles if possible, plus some closeups of the trunk, interesting branches, and maybe the roots. (Here's one of my detail shots).

(1 1/2.: For Photoshop and other photo manipulation whizzes only: Select an overall shot you like best; apply a filter that gives you a good outline of the tree and its main features; print it out on paper, and go to step 4)

2. For people who are not photo program whizzes: Go through your overall tree shots  and find the one you like best. Print it so it fills a piece of 8 1/2" x 11 1/2" paper. Color or greyscale is fine.

3. Tape the photograph to desk and tape tracing paper over it.  With a pencil, trace the drawing, simplifying details and joining sections when possible.

4. Tape your new tracing to a light box or window, and tape regular paper on top of it. Trace again, simplifying even further. Decide also whether you want background details. (I made an executive decision to leave out the stoplight and the house.) Go over all the lines you want to keep with a dark marker or pen.

5.  Bring the refined tracing, with dark lines (on tracing or regular paper) to a copy shop, and have them enlarge it to the size you want. (You can, of course, do this at home by scanning the drawing, "tiling" the pages, printing sections out on your computer, and then taping the pages together - but it's a hassle and less precise than photocopying, sizing, and printing on one sheet of paper. And the photocopying is cheap. I think I paid about $7).

6. Now you have a large master page. Don't cut it up! (the shadow lines at the base of the trunk were not for applique, but rather for quilting guidance).  (Mine is folded up because it's been in a file folder for a while, but yours should be nice and smooth!)

7. Number each of the foliage sections. No need to number trunk or branch pieces.  (But if you're making something other than a tree, you should number each section.)

8. Put the large master page on a light box or window. Tape freezer paper over it.

9. Ignoring the trunk and branches, trace all the foliage pieces onto freezer paper. As you trace each section, write that piece's number on it, and draw an arrow showing "up."  (Do this before you cut anything out).  To save freezer paper, you can shift the top large freezer paper piece after tracing each foliage piece.

Treat adjacent pieces that touch each other or overlap as a single large piece; draw the boundaries, but don't cut them apart.

(Once you have all our foliage pieces drawn (some of which are joined), marked, and cut out, they might look something like the photo below. But don't cut them out yet; leave the drawings on the freezer paper for now).

(In the picture directly above, you can see where five spheres are really just one piece, with drawn but not cut boundaries.)

10. Remove the piece of  freezer paper with the foliage shapes from the master pattern and set it aside.

11. Place a fresh piece of freezer paper to cover your tree master pattern. Tape it securely. Trace the trunk and all the branches, using your imagination and judgement to join the branches to each other so the branches and trunk are all one unit. (The photo below shows the trunk/branch pattern cut out, but don't cut it out yet. Just draw it and leave it on your large sheet of freezer paper).

12. Draw pencil lines to mark where foliage crosses the trunk/branches. Write the foliage piece number on the trunk where it intersects.

13.  Seize a piece of trunk/branches fabric (let's say brown) that's slightly larger than your cut out one-piece trunk/branches unit. Apply paper-backed fusible web to the back of the brown fabric. Don't remove the paper yet.

14. Press the piece of  freezer paper onto which you traced  the trunk/branch pattern onto the front of the brown fabric.

15. Remove the paper backing from the fusible side of the brown fabric. Cut on the line, through the freezer paper and brown fabric.

16. Cut background fabric to the size you want. If you like, add 'ground' to the bottom of the background fabric, for the tree to stand on. You can piece the ground in, or applique it on. (I appliqued the dark green fabric).

17. Lay the towel on a large flat surface; and lay the background on top of it. The towel must be a little larger than the background, and thick enough to protect your surface from heat.

18. Place the trunk/branch unit (with the freezer paper still on it) into the position you want on the background fabric.

19. Gently peel the freezer paper away from the trunk/branch fabric, gently smoothing the fabric down as you go.

20. Once the unit is in place, press VERY lightly, for like a couple of seconds, with an up and down motion. We're not ready to set things permanently, and may loosen and cut away some portions of the branches later.

20. Back a large piece of the foliage fabric (mine is a medium green) with paper-backed fusible web. Don't remove the paper backing yet
19. Press the freezer paper foliage segments onto your foliage fabric(s).

20. Remove  paper backing, but leave the numbered freezer paper pieces on top of the foliage areas.

21. Cut out all the foliage pieces, cutting through the freezer paper and the green fabric at the same time. (It's also okay if you've already cut out the foliage pieces from the freezer paper.)

22. One by one, place the foliage pieces on top of the tree/branch unit. Use the set-aside freezer paper tree pattern, as well as the large master pattern, to help you place each foliage piece correctly. Once each piece is in position, remove the freezer paper.

OPTION: As you place each foliage piece, you can clip away some of the branch underneath, so you can see the branch going under on one side, and coming up on the other side, but there won't be a branch crossing all the way underneath. This is most desirable for large foliage segments. For small foliage segments, just leave the branch underneath.

23. Once all the foliage and branches are in the right place, press everything firmly and permanently in place, in accordance with the directions that came with the fusible web (you may need to use steam).

24. Stitch down all the raw edges.  Start by stitching the tree/branch raw edges. A small zig zag in brown thread did the job for me.

Stitch around the foliage pieces with a zig-zag or other wide stitch I used a three-step zig-zag that jutted out a LOT from each foliage sphere - that gave the tree the slightly shaggy look it had when the picture was taken (it was needing a new haircut).

Where multiple foliage pieces were joined, I stitched around each piece's outline as if they were seperate pieces, so the thread created illusionary boundaries. In the photo below, the seven spheres on the upper right are outlined, even though they're actually only one piece of fabric.

25. After all the pieces are secured, add borders as desired, batting and backing, and quilt. The detail shots I took of the tree came in handy, here, to help me figure out a quilting pattern for the tree.

Timesaving shortcut: Layer the background, batting, and backing, and THEN press and stitch the tree pieces in place, so you'll be doing applique and quilting at the same time.

Let me know if you have any questions, and do send pics of your results!

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