Sunday, November 10, 2019

City of Chicago, Modern Quilt Style

I've been working on this quilt on and off, for a year, and it was one of my most challenging. Rather than just pleasing myself, I also had to please an equally delightful but entirely different person - someone I've admired for years - who has high standards in everything she does. I was thrilled when she commissioned me to make a quilt that would remind her of the Chicago she grew up in.
The finished piece measures about 63" x 70" 
We began with her list of two dozen meaningful landmarks. Over the months, I worked my way down that list, brainstorming ways to render them. 

Starting on the lower right, there's the Art Institute with its guardian lions (My daughter, who is wonderful at drawing, sketched the lions for me, and I interpreted them in raw-edge applique). I added banners advertising Chagall and Picasso exhibits. The building's not pink in real life; with accurate colors, the buildings would run together, and the quilt would be mostly neutrals (Which would be nice in a different way)!
Below it is a Goldenrod Ice Cream truck. Online, I learned that this historic local brand was way ahead of its time, incorporating fresh fruit chunks long before Ben and Jerry! (Unfortunately, Goldenrod is no longer in business, or else I would have ordered a lot of it while making this quilt.)

Beyond the truck are the two towers of Marina City, unusual condos that Chicagoans call the "corncob" buildings:
Photo by Diego Delso, CC BY-SA 3.0,
It took me a lot of experimenting to come up with a way to capture them. After three different fails,  it occurred to me to study actual corn.
That inspired the solution! Each oval is a separate piece of fabric, wrapped and fused around "kernels" of Decor Bond interfacing, and machine appliqued in place.
In the lower left corner is Wrigley Field, with its iconic sign. The stadium is paper foundation pieced.

I made the sign by drawing it in CorelDraw, my computer graphics program. It takes time to find fonts resembling those on the real sign. My finished drawing:

I printed the image backwards, onto the non-glue side of an 8.5" x 11" piece of Decor-Bond fusible interfacing. Decor Bond is stiff enough to go through my printer safely (usually). Once printed, I fused the interfacing to the back of red fabric. From the back, I stitched around and inside each letter. The white or yellow bobbin thread shows on front.

Above Wrigley Field is Water Tower Place, a stone castle plus sleek skyscraper containing a mall (neither is really orange). While making this quilt, I listened to Michelle Obama's memoirs, and I was tickled when she mentioned that she frequented this mall in high school!

To the left of Water Tower place is the tall criss-cross Hancock Tower. (In real life, it's all black.)
The Navy Pier, plus ferris wheel, is adjacent. Like Wrigley Field, this building is foundation paper pieced. I hand-embroidered the fireworks.

Then comes the glassy, curved Lake Point Tower; it's not really purple but it is dark and reflective. The building's curve is done with bargello piecing. There's a sailboat next to it;  the "L" (elevated) train is below, and a Wendella tour boat is under the train's bridge.
In the upper right corner is the historic Chicago Theatre. I machine-embroidered the marque the same way as the Wrigley sign, from the back. Next is the historic Grant Park band shell, no longer standing. I appliqued a fabric orchestra onto it. Above it, the pixellated form represents the Cloud Gate sculpture - the reflective sculpture that Chicagoans call "The Bean."
Underneath is the former Marshall Fields department store (today Macy's), with its iconic clock...
Below, the monumental Picasso sculpture on Daley Plaza (left), and on the far right, the Crain Communications building (formerly known as Smurfit-Stone), with a distinctive slanted  roof.
The center of the quilt has the Wrigley Building. In real life, this white building has hundreds of identical little windows - no fun to piece. But it is a LOT of fun to shop for prints that do the job! I picked a white with tiny pink diamonds. 
And more! This quilt is sixth in a series of modern cityscape quilts. I've done Los Angeles (one  is here), New York (twice) and fantasyland (1 1/2 times, including the image under my blog header). I've also taught and spoken to quilters about them.  They're endlessly educational; and using mostly "modern" improvisational techniques makes them fun and doable by mortals! I'm thinking of writing my next book about these quilts, but to summarize the main point: Make it up as you go. If it's terrible, try, try again.

PS Look what I just found! Photographer shows Chicago's architectural  "quilts"


  1. WOW, what a monumental magnum opus. I am one of your biggest fans, Cathy. Thanks for a peek at your process. Your commission gives me heart because I have some tall orders, too. Nicely done.

    1. Thank you, dear Jane, your support means so much to me. Commissions are exciting but terrifying for the same reasons, not only because you want a happy client, but because it's going to drag things out of you that you didn't know you could do!

  2. WOW that brings back so many nice memories. Tom and I lived just outside of Chicago for 4 years and my brother still lives in Chicago, on North Lakeview in a condo designed by Frank Lloyd Wright
    Our son was young so we went to see a lot of downtown Chicago, the museums, Wrigley Park for baseball games etc.
    great memories.
    Your art quilt is amazing. I'm sure your client will love it.

  3. Joan, thanks for the comment, I didn't know you were a Chicagoan! The architecture there is truly incredible - I had a lot of fun researching all these historic sites. I didn't get there til I was a young adult, for a short visit - I need to go back!

  4. Replies
    1. Shucks, Kay, thank you, hyperbole will get you anywhere!

  5. Well done! Good way to incorporate all those landmarks.

    One question: what is the green building bottom left center?

  6. Rebecca, that's Frank Lloyd Wright's Thomas House. Thanks!


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