The 2000 National Quilt Festival was held in Johannesburg. There was a special category for South African Bird Quilts which stirred my excitement....! Since making the first bird quilt (1993) in East London, I have experimented with various techniques and I felt confident with my progress to tackle the subject again. I also became aware that as my skills levels improved, I somehow had the need to "revisit" previous themes to see how I could improve on the previous effort.
The first bird quilt 93/17 looked flat....! The birds were machine appliqued and hand embroidered onto peach coloured fabric, totally lifeless. For my second attempt, I decided that each bird had to be placed on a realistic background as found in nature. Some birds tend to keep to trees, others prefer being on the ground. The challenge was to create settings for the birds as realistically as possible. With much improved painting skills, I prepared the backgrounds for each panel. I used Avalon (a plastic washaway substance on which one can sew in an embroidery hoop, leaving the stitched piece after washing the plastic away) to stitch little nests for baby chicks, ready to be placed in position. For some trees I machine appliqued leaves using two methods: direct machine applique using satin stitch stitching directly onto the background and another making loose leaves which I placed and stitched down to create a 3D effect for more texture. I added shading to the appliqued leaves with fabric paint to create depth. For another tree, I made spiky leaves like a cedar tree, also on Avalon which gave wonderful texture to the panel. All sorts of foliage and surface techniques to create texture were added before the birds were fused into position, ready to be stitched.
The birds were machine appliqued with satin stitch - some of the birds were enhanced with machine embroidery, others with hand embroidery. My initial idea was to do all the embroidery on the birds by machine, but for some of the birds, it just did not work and I kept unpicking.....! I really battled with the Knysna Lourie, eventually starting from scratch after the 5th attempt reverting to hand embroidery using long and short stitch to get it right. I was elated when it actually started looking like my favourite bird........! Patience indeed...!
As I was working on the bird panels, I kept on thinking of a way to avoid finishing this quilt with a butted binding. I use a good quality calico as my background fabric which I then paint to my own requirements for a specific project - I find it carries the weight of all the textured, fused and stitched work better than finely woven fabric. At the time, a competition rule stated that if a quilt had butted borders, the bindings had to be butted as well....! Bindings with butted corners using calico was really a challenge to get perfect, especially when folded double. One day while I was working on the bird panels, the solution came out of the blue....! Instead of joining the blocks with sashings and adding borders on the outside, I would stitch the panels onto a solid piece of fabric. The sections around the blocks would look like borders and sashings, but there would be no seams/joins....! I painted a piece of fabric slightly bigger than the finished size of the quilt - the idea much like a wholecloth quilt. Putting all the different sections together was so easy and it was the perfect solution to my ongoing problem! I finished this quilt with a continuous binding, making a huge difference to the corners.
I finished the bird panels with narrow ethnic geometric borders around the blocks. An interesting development was that although the ethnic style borders was still part of the overall design, it was much smaller and refined. I realised that I was moving away from the very bold designs previously evident in my work, it just somehow happened intuitively....
While I was working on this quilt, I felt in control and at ease with the process. While stitching, I was doing mental gymnastics with possible quilting ideas to finish the quilt. It was important that the quilting designs on the border and sashing sections had to complement the different design elements of the quilt. I randomly quilted some geometric designs interspersed with birds and fine stipple quilting with feathers on the sashing sections. The quilting completed the quilt, the very first time ever that I was completely satisfied with my machine quilting skills. I used invisible thread to quilt as I did not want to detract attention from the birds using visible threads, it had to serve as a harmonious background to the focal points, the birds...
|Avian Grace 2000 - Sold|
Avian Grace was also part of a South African exhibition of 5 quilts at the World Quilt Carnival in Nagoya, Japan in 2004. Mr Mike Takashima who organized the invitation to South Africa, sent me the following newspaper clipping - he briefly translated that Japannese people place great emphasis on nurturing and they loved the little nests with the baby chicks....
|A Visitor viewing Avian Grace at the World Quilt Carnival in Nagoya, Japan in 2004|
Avian Grace was sold on its return from Japan to a bird lover living in Johannesburg........!