My name is Charlotte, sometimes known as Ms Lottie, occasionally as The Slightly Mad Quilt Lady. This is my blog, where you'll find me writing a lot about my quilting and textile arts and a little about my family's life in a small seaside town in New Zealand. Haere mai!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Summer Dragonfly - The process of making a Living Colour quilt

Issue 165 of Down Under Quilts, one of Australia's most popular quilting magazines, goes on sale today.  They have an article featuring Living Colour!, the travelling exhibition curated by Brenda Gael Smith and my quilt is one of the ones featured.

I haven't shared a process post on this quilt yet.  We were asked to keep the quilts to ourselves until after the first exhibition, so I only showed tiny snippets here and there.  So I thought this might be the right time to share.  Plus we've had the most revolting weather here over the last couple of days, and I could do with some bright, summery colours!

Here is where I started.  I drew out the size of the finished quilt on my big roll of brown paper (most useful quilting tool ever) and then, using pencil then pastel crayons, I drew out my dragonfly.

I decided that I wanted to use a complementary colour scheme for lots of energy in my quilt.  My dragonfly was blue and the opposite of blue on the colour wheel is orange.  So on white fabric I masked out the shape of the dragonfly using freezer paper and proceeded to paint and print in shades, tints and tones of orange (and a little bit of blue).  Unfortunately I hated the final result - boring, messy and nothing to do with dragonflies!!

I started again.  This time I drew out my dragonfly on white fabric and coloured it using coloured pencils.  I was happy with the dragonfly, but then I started on the background.  I got to the stage you see above and again....boring!!

I opened my fabric cupboard to see if my muse was hiding in there and lo and behold, my eye lit upon a stack of co-ordinating silks that I had hand dyed.  Mmmmmm, much better.  I pieced these using gentle curves and did a little dance of happiness when I saw the result.  I knew it was perfect, even if it wasn't a direct complementary colour scheme.  Lesson: know the theory, then go with what feels right.

I painted over the dragonfly and seed head with fabric medium to set the pencil and give it that slightly deeper, more painterly effect.  Then I carefully cut it out and glue basted it to my background.

Once I had my top together I pin basted it with the backing and batting.  I did this before I appliquéd the dragonfly on so I didn't have to use stabiliser.

For the wings I drew the patterns on water soluble film and quilted over this.  I didn't use water to dissolve it because I didn't want to wet my quilt, but I've found the water soluble film tears away fairly easily.  I also used it to create small silhouettes of dragonflies in the background.

I added the blue dragonfly in the background using silk organza.  I just felt it needed something for balance.  I don't normally fuse organza, but I knew this was going to be a travelling quilt so I wanted it to be sturdy.   I coloured in the wings and the background dragonflies using coloured pencil just to give them a little more substance.

One of the hardest things was getting the ripples on the water right.  The curves really caught your eye if they were wonky so there was a little bit of reverse sewing and a few choice words said during that part.  In the end it wasn't perfect, but then, that's the joy of handmade.

I did lots of long vertical lines to suggest grass and put some seed heads on some of these for texture in the background.

I thread 'sketched' (I wouldn't call it painting) the grass seed head and the shading and highlights on the dragonfly's body (and all the tiny leg hairs - that was fun....).  Once I was happy with it, I trimmed it to size and then finished it was a facing.  That was nerve wracking as it had to be a certain size and I wasn't sure how much fabric the facing would take up.  In the end I think I just squeaked in a smidge under the size requirement.

This is how I photographed it.  I took my design wall out onto my deck on a bright but cloudy day and put an ironed piece of calico onto it.  Then I placed the quilt flat and square.  I had to use a couple of silk pins in the corners, but I put them through the back so they didn't show on the front.  I then set my camera up on top of the barbecue (I need to get a tripod) and took heaps of photos using all the different settings so I had a choice of which one was the most accurate portrayal.

Living Colour! is currently on display at the Sydney Quilt Show.  Here is the rest of the scheduled exhibitions:

Thank you to Brother Australia for supporting the Living Colour! exhibition.  And a huge thank you to Brenda, who has done the most amazing job of putting together a beautiful, cohesive collection of quilts, and a wonderful job of promotion and publicity.  I can't wait to see the quilts when they reach New Zealand!


  1. Love love loooooove this!!! Beautiful quilt, congrats on the show. Thanks for sharing your process too.

  2. WoW! That is soooooo cool!! you nailed it. What really caught my eye was the ripples. look like aside from a few 'choice words' you had fun!

  3. Such a wonderful piece!! I love the vibrant colors. Congratulations on being in the show.

  4. Gorgeous quilt Charlotte! Great to see how it was made.

  5. Wish I was close enough to see this in person - it's lovely!


  6. Wow, this is stunning! And it's totally unlike anything I've ever made so reading the process doubly interesting.

  7. This is stunning! Thank you for talking about your process -- I love seeing how things are made.

  8. I am in awe!!! Love your work and so appreciate the process posts.

  9. I'm in Sydney for a few days so I got to see this up close. Your work is not only beautiful, technically it is awesome too. It was great to see this after reading this post and realise the changes that had happened to the background. The strips of hand-dyed silk are so subtle and perfect for your bold dragonfly. And I love the detail that you added with thread and organza. Great to see the real thing.

  10. This quilt is beautiful.

  11. I love learning about your process and it is amazing what you can do with fabric. The quilt is just beautiful!

  12. Awesome work Charlotte! The pieced background was a real winner. Did you start with one of your own photographs?


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