Wednesday, March 15, 2023

Quilty House Portrait: A Labor of Love

I've made a lot of cityscape quilts, and I always have a blast doing them. Here's one, "Nonsense Town." 

And here's a closeup of some of the buildings. Let's look at that orange one. 

With a single plaid, I suggested zillions of windows. The other buildings, similarly, have relatively few pieces representing hundreds of windows.

Below is an even simpler example, a potential skyscraper made from two print fabrics. It would take 4 minutes to cut out and sew together. The darker perspective side gives it a nice dimensionality. Modern skyscrapers require so little time to represent so much living/office space.

And here's a 14" pillow I just finished for a dear friend, who I've known since 2nd grade, portraying her charming childhood  home. This took freaking months.

We started with some old photos, including this one: 
Online, we found more photos, though none with a good head-on view....
She also sent me a lovely sketch that a friend had made 40 years ago. Unfortunately for me, the artist  opted for geographically-accurate foliage in some of the trickier areas, perspective-wise, so it didn't give me a lot of guidance.
I came up with my first draft of a pattern by tracing the dark, ancient photo, with her standing in front. (The disruptive lines are the tree.)

I wanted to include her, but she nixed that. So, after several drafts from several angles, here's the simplified drawing : 
(I moved the tree. It ended up disappearing completely.)

The tracing and drawing was done in my graphic design program, CorelDraw (but you could do this all on paper). Then I upsized it to about 14", which required four sheets of letter-size paper. I taped them together, taped the whole thing to a window, and started tracing pattern pieces. 
I traced every element of the house onto a new piece of paper. I cut them out, flipped them to the back, and traced them onto the back of paper-backed fusible web.  Here are just a few.
We also had to work out the colors. Since computer color is unreliable, I sent her to the hardware store to look at paint swatch cards. She sent me 8 of them, with notes. 
From those I picked a palette. Most are solids, but there's a faux red brick novelty fabric, and the plaid on the bottom represented the grid under the porch. I chose pieces a little darker because I knew the house would need contrast for its many different sections to show. 

My friend had some more specific requests. She wanted a Dutchman's Pipe on the porch, and since I had no idea what that was, she sent me photos.

Layer by layer, I traced each piece, cut it out, and pressed it in place, on top of an applique press sheet. When everything was just barely fused in place, it was time to choose a background. I set the house on a couple of different candidate skies and took photos to send her. This one's dramatic...
But perhaps a little bleak; good for a Wuthering Heights pillow. 

I liked this one, but the batik didn't really go with the flat house colors: 
I liked this rainbow/unicorn sky, and my friend is a very colorful person. 
And more. The one she selected was also my favorite, with puffy white clouds. I think it gives the house a dreamlike quality, appropriate for a nostalgic memory project. 
After fusing the house onto the large sky square, I stitched everything in place, using a machine satin stitch, or, for the tiniest pieces, straight stitch (like the dark strips of the porch railing). 

The windows needed panes - I hand-embroidered those with white pearl cotton, using a backstitch.  I also hand embroidered the heart motif in the top red triangle, and the other red trim areas.  
I called my friend to find out what color her doorknob was and what side of the door it was on. For that, I used a vintage metal shank button.  She also mentioned the mailslot on the door, which I hadn't seen in any photos, so that was a last minute addition.
And she requested a lilac bush on the left. 
The lilac blooms and bush were cut with pinking shears, fused in place, and then freemotion stitched. I chose a fantasy aqua color because a more botanically-accurate dark green was in the house on that side.

So speaking of fabrics, how many separate cut, fused and stitched pieces would you guess went into this house? I'm counting around 70, not including the background sky. 

(There's one more fabric on the pillow's back, a different sky, because I ran out of the puffy cloud fabric on front. The  pieces are overlapped, with hook-and-loop tape holding them in place.)
This project was a labor of love. It made my dear friend very happy, which was the point. I learned a lot that will be very useful. But it does leave me with a burning question for you and me: If a client (who was not a lifelong friend) wanted a 14" pillow with a portrait of their gorgeous, detailed, gingerbread-style home, how much would you charge? 

Interested in portraying much more real estate, much faster?  Check out my new book, "Quilted New York; Celebrate the City in Color and Fabric," at