Sunday, June 14, 2015

Bruce Jenner and a Stained Glass Brain Quilt Tutorial

I didn't watch the interview with then-Bruce/now-Caitlyn Jenner last month when she first announced that she is transgender, but I read about it, and one quotation stuck in my head, so to speak: "My brain is much more female than it is male."

That statement got me (and millions of others) thinking and arguing about what it means to have a brain that is masculine, feminine, both, or neither.    

Hmmm, just like my fabric stash. I have karate fabric and soccer fabric and football fabric that only depicts boys and men. 
And I have shopping fabric and housework fabric and handbag fabric with only girls or women, and/or in traditional girl colors. 

I do, however, have a golf fabric that depicts women golfers. 
(She's wearing blue pants. Is that code?)

It seems obvious to me that all our brains have masculine and feminine elements, but then again, what exactly is masculine or feminine? Is golf inherently manly? Is tea womanly? (If so: What gender is coffee?)

So, into my own brain came an idea for a quilt with male, female, and uncategorizable aspects. 

First, I looked at a lot of vintage phrenology images. Then I freehanded a brain chart on a large piece of paper. 
There are a zillion different ways to create stained glass effects in fabric. The technique I use here is adapted and simplified from Vicki Pignatelli's Quilting Curves. Great book!

 I don't have a huge ironing board, so I put it on top of a thick beach towel on the floor, to protect the carpet from iron burns. I laid black fabric (to serve as a stained-glass leading) onto that surface.

I traced the brain onto freezer paper, then pinned the freezer paper onto black fabric, shiny side down. 
I went through my stash, and found fabrics that seemed to have a gender. I made three piles: One for traditionally male, one for traditionally female, and one that could be both/neither.

Beginning at an edge, I cut out a freezer paper piece.

Placed it on the fabric to highlight the design.
Ironed it down. 

Cut a ways out from all the edges - 1/4" or more is good. Call this the safety margin. It doesn't have to be precise. 
(Now I'm switching to showing you a green piece because I didn't take a picture of the next two vital steps with the blue piece above - sorry!) 

Place the unit on top of the paper-backed fusible web, web side up, with the fabric covering the protruding fusible along at least one edge.
The upper right edge can be ironed safely, first. 

Once its partially pressed, cut the other edges off, cutting THROUGH the quarter inch margin of safety, but NOT going close around the paper pattern yet. Press again. 

Once the web is fully adhered to the back, it's time to cut close around the freezer paper pattern.
Peel away the freezer paper, but leave the paper backing behind the fabric.
Count the sides. This piece has about four. Keeping track of where you started, cut all the way around the piece again, removing about 1/4" from each of four side (does not have to be perfect). 

Now the fabric piece is smaller than the freezer paper pattern piece. This will allow the black "leading" to show. Put the piece back in position. You can see the black around all the edges.

Optional: Pin paper back in position on top of it (this is especially important if your project requires a high degree of accuracy.)
(Here I decided at the last minute to combine two pieces.) 

 Once you have done a bunch, it looks like this.
At some point, you can remove the freezer paper patterns. 
Press everything in position. 
Cut around the entire shape. 
Here's a closeup
On the left side, which I arbitrarily dubbed the female side, we have the pink handbag fabric, chocolates, bras, childrearing, a tea party, a peace symbol,  

A closeup of the "Good Advice fabric:
It says, "Act Bashful, Be Cute, Be Motherly". 
A drama comic...
and of course, the womanly art of vacuuming.
On the manly right side, I put Teddy Roosevelt, pliers, jacknives, darts, war planes, motorboats, basketballs, screws, electrical cords and the Yankees (among other things). 
Down the middle I put many things whose gender association is not so cliché maps; bicycles; mortality (skeletons). Ms. Golf.

I stitched everything in place with a zig-zag stitch in invisible thread. Next installment: Stitching it on the background, and quilting 75 gender identities and orientations into the background. Sneak preview: 
By the way, there is some science affirming what Bruce/Caitlyn described; Not only are male and female brains different, but gay men and straight women may have notable brain similarities distinct from those of straight men and gay women. (Read about them here..)
Continue to part II, here


  1. This is great! Love your idea, execution and the step-by-step.

  2. Thanks so much, Susan! Appreciate it!

  3. This is such a thought-provoking piece. I appreciate you showing the making of this piece.

  4. Thank you, Beth, I'm glad you enjoyed it.

  5. Similart o the technique I wrote up in Machine Quilting Unlimited, but the way I taught it with the steam a seam in Phoenix is really the easiest I've found so far. But the stained glass effect works well for any subject. This is a new way of using it. Rock on!

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

    2. Yes, it is similar. (See Phyllis' awesome stained glass quilts here: I thoroughly enjoyed your approach, except that I've never been fond of Steam-a-Seam II - just because you can't change your mind after it's been ironed. Vicki Pignatelli's applique/piecing approach, uses fusible interfacing as the "base", with freezer paper pattern pinned on top and the pieces cut out, then pinned back in position,one by one. But her approach involves overlapping pieces, and no fusible. When I constructed this brain in May, I substituted black fabric for the fusible interfacing, and pressed each piece individually onto paper-backed fusible web. There are so many ways to do stained glass - I think yours is definitely one of the most user-friendly! Thanks!

  6. Oh, Cathy, only you. What I don't understand is how can Jenner know what is masculine and/or feminine after living with the Kardashians so long.

    1. That's an excellent point. Either gender involves lots of money.

    2. Very true! How can we know what anyone else's brain is like really?

  7. Cathy, your mind and how it works is amazing to me. I love the comment about the Kardashians. So funny. Interesting quilt topic.

  8. Thanks, Dear Maggie! I love how your mind works, too!

  9. So are you! So are your ancestors! So are your descendants! Not to mention your pet!

  10. What a fun project! Thanks for the tutorial. But just FYI, the science of sex differences in the brain is far from settled. While some studies have found differences by sex (or sexual orientation) in brain structure and/or function, these findings are notoriously hard to replicate, and there is considerable variation within each sex. Even if such brain differences are found in adult brains, it doesn't tell us whether these sex differences are innate or learned, since experience affects both brain structure and function. And, of course, as you note, much of what we associate with "feminine" or "masculine" is culturally- and historically-specific. For example, pink didn't come to be seen as a feminine color until after WWI -- blue was considered the feminine color before that. So even defining "feminine" and "masculine" can be challenging at times, and much of the research is tainted by cultural bias. While there may well be innate sex differences in the brain, I think we need more (and better) research to be certain.

    1. Deborah, thank you so much for your note! I just learned something. I think Googling the science on this issue, I definitely missed some of the bigger picture about what we really know and don't know. I wonder if there's a lot of money out there for research on this subject? Do you know? Many thanks again for the insights!

  11. Once again, your thoughtful approach and impressive fabric stash combine to yield a brilliant and amusing piece of art.And a tutorial to boot! Fabulous. Your brain is both senses!

  12. Thank you, Jeri!!! You made my day!


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