Soft Landing After A Rocky Beginning

The idea for “Soft Landing,” an egret touching down to rest or hunt for dinner, began with a Facebook post by my friend and former colleague, J.B. Forbes, chief photographer at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Jim treats his friends to frequent posts of spectacular photos of birds and other animals in addition to his charming family.

“That looks like a quilt,” another friend of mine, also a former colleague at the Post-Dispatch, said when Jim posted the picture below on April 30, 2018. I reminded her that I needed Jim’s permission to use it, and he graciously granted it right away.

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At the time, I was between quilts and looking for new inspiration. But I also was about to get a knee replacement, which would limit my ability to sit or stand for long periods. I don’t think I got around to working on the quilt seriously until late June or early July. I could only work for a short period at a time as I learned to walk with the new knee.

I had made a quilt of one white bird previously, but this one was bigger, and the pose is more of a challenge. The other bird was white tinged with yellow, and this one is tinged with blue and gray. The contrast in Jim’s photo gave me a chance to use a wide range of pale and deeper blue and gray batik fabrics.

The method I use is taught by Susan Carlson of Maine. I have used her book, Serendipity Quilts, and I attended one of her workshops in Harpswell, Maine, in 2016.

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After tracing shapes and blowing up the cartoon of the egret, I started with its head, then moved on to the body and the wing on the right, then the wing on the left. Jim’s photo was pinned next to the image of the bird for reference..

The first step in any collage quilt is to define areas of dark, light and medium and outline them, using tracing paper over a print or copy of the photo.  I use a fine point Sharpie, and when I get it blown up at a copy shop, it becomes a cartoon that I transfer onto a backing, usually muslin. The lines transferred to the muslin are visible in the photo above.

Then I begin to look for the right shades of color and value to begin defining the areas of the image. It’s a lot of trial and error. I cut the pieces free-hand and pin them to the muslin, which is pinned to a piece of foam insulation. The white dots in some photos are the heads of pins.

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After completing the bird, I began to add in the background and the mostly submerged log, the egret’s perch.

Once the bird is defined, I began adding background and details, such as the log the bird stands on and green water plants. I also cut some frogs, turtles and bugs from a piece of batik I’ve owned for more than a decade.

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More detail is added. I delayed any gluing of the bird or background, so the white specks are pinheads holding the fabric to the background and insulation board behind.

As I am satisfied with areas of the quilt, I use small dots or smears of glue to hold the cut pieces in place.

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The quilt to is mostly finished, with the pieces glued in place.

As the background is filled in, I need to make sure that there’s enough height and width to cover the muslin so the quilt can eventually be trimmed to a rectangle.

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A cropped photo of the quilt before quilting.

The quilt is almost ready for quilting. I apply a layer of tulle (bridal illusion) in a color that works well for the bird as well as the background. In this case, it was a fairly dark blue, surprisingly. The tulle keeps edges of collage fabric from folding or turning over as I quilt on the machine.

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Once the quilting is completed, I trim the edges, square up the quilt and apply binding. Once I come up with a title, I sew a label on the back. The quilt was completed in late October 2018.

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