200 Quilts · Four-in-Art · Quilts

One Black Leaf, deconstructed

One Black Leaf art quilt1

Inspired by Betty’s photos, I took One Black Leaf outside to be photographed by her sister trees, because of course, with those curves, it’s evident this quilt is feminine.

OneBlackLeaf back

And just like Betty and Rachel’s quilts share a commonality, this one too shares something with Betty’s–we both used the Martha Negley slices of wood print; Betty’s was in the blue colorway and on the front, and mine’s the green on the back.  The binding is from that half-yard of Marimekko I purchased while in New York City last summer with my husband.  So far it’s been in two projects and I still have a scrap or two more.  This post is picture heavy, as I’m talking about the approach I took to creating One Black Leaf, including technical aspects, false starts and home runs.

One Black Leaf 1

So the poem is ringing in my head: one black leaf, one black leaf so I know it has to be a tree with bare branches.  I start by ripping off a piece of paper from the roll of doctor’s examining room paper I got a while back.  It’s great paper — it holds up to erasing, and is thin, flexible and cheap.  Try a medical supply house for yours.  I draw a 12-inch square because that’s one of our group’s parameters, and like what we did in high school art class, I draw a grid both on my square and on the illustration I found that I want to mimic.

One Black Leaf 2

I draw as best I can (not my strong suit), using the grid to guide me, yet I kept thinking of the espaliered tree I’d seen on the web (last post) and even though death comes around for us all, at the heart of it, I know that love survives even mortality.  I color it in with black marker.  Because I’m working on thin paper, I protect my cutting mat with scrap pieces of white paper so no bleed-through. I flip it over and color it in on the back, too, because I want to fuse this onto my fabric and know it has to be backwards.

One Black Leaf 3

I lay the Steam A Seam down, figuring out which of the papers should be taken off first completely ignoring their instructions to determine which is the pressing paper and which paper is to come off first.  I got lucky.  Reminder to fuse the whole design down onto the black fabric before you start cutting.  (Of course I did that.  Not.)  Sigh.  I fused the design to the Steam A Seam, then started cutting it, before I remembered you aren’t supposed to do that.  So I stopped, laid out the traced design on the Steam A Seam onto the black fabric, THEN cut it out.

One Black Leaf 4 fail

I had some problems.  Turns out (after a quick search on the web) that Steam A Seam “wears out” or loses its ability to adhere after it has been in your drawer for a while.  Since I know this batch is at least 10 years old, I’m in a world of hurt.  Who wants to cut out those teensy branches again?  So I call the Quilt Rescue squad. . .

One Black Leaf 5 rescue

. . . and first try placing the paper release sheet from the other part of the Steam a Seam and pressing it lightly to make it stick back on the teensy branches.  Worked okay, but there were still some spots that needed some help.  Then I remembered that once, in a class with Elinor Peace Bailey, she used a plain old glue stick to put things in place, giving it a press to disperse the glue.  I did this.  I had a few problems getting the tree back into place, so I laid my white fabric down onto my design, and arranged the branches until they matched the original design.  And by the way, it took me longer to describe all of this than it did to do it.

Your takeaways from this section:

1. Read the directions.
2. If your Steam A Seam is older, first fuse it back onto their release paper with a warm iron and light touch. And from now on, store it in a plastic bag.
3. Use your design paper to help you get the arrangement into place.
4. Use a glue stick if you still need some sticking down.  Press with a warm iron to disperse the glue.

I decided the block needed a bit more stability, so I ironed on some lightweight interfacing on the back of the entire piece (I did this also for the last art quilt I made, as I had seen it mentioned time and again in the Twelve by Twelve book. If you don’t have this book, you should.)  Then I set my zig-zag stitch for a narrow satin stitch, then went all around my tree in black thread.  I referred to my Jane Sassaman book where she talks about if you have it really close, it frames it, and if you have the zig-zags slightly loose, it blends more.  I was somewhere in the middle.


She also cautioned the quilter to “take it slowly” and to take our time when doing stitching.  I need to have that tattooed on my forehead. I think if my Steam A Seam had been fresh, and I had been more careful about getting it to stick, I may have averted some of those sticky-outy bits of fiber from the edges.  But because this tree is going every which way, I think some was inevitable.  Small scissors took off most of them.


Jane Sassaman also outlines her pieces with heavy thread.  I decided to use green for the inside curves and pink for the outside curves. Here’s the pink.   There was a ton of tying off on the back (as I pulled all threads to the back, tied and buried them), but I like how it gave a little pop to the quilt. I used pinkish King Tut (from Superior Threads) and their Poly-Quilter in green, which I understand is being discontinued (but I still love it).  Use a size 16 topstitch needle which has a larger eye, go slowly and you should be fine.  I use their Bottom Line in my bobbin — it’s my personal recipe for quilting success — and used what was close in color as I occasionally I like to use what I have.

OneBlackLeaf detail1

(Another view, after the quilting was finished)

One Black Leaf 6

I had used some white fabric from one of my trips to Germany.  It has a heavy damask woven design of flowers and I didn’t want to completely obliterate it with the quilting.  I laid some wax deli sheets over the tree and using a Flair pen (it won’t go through the paper with its soft tip), I auditioned some quilting ideas.  I’m not a really fabulous FMQ (free motion quilter) but I can do some.  I decided on leaves.

One Black Leaf 7 stitch

I liked the idea that while the black leaves on the tree are for us, there are others that have gone before who are still around us.  I can’t bear the thought that we all just go “poof” at the end of life, and judging from the memorial quilts I see, others feel the same.  Of course, a lot of these ideas are informed by my personal spiritual/religious beliefs as well.  I went at the quilting–doesn’t take long if you are doing a small quilt (another reason why I like this size) and in no time I was done.  And yes, it kind of obliterated the design in the fabric.

One Black Leaf 8 trim

Next big hurdle, which you wouldn’t think would be a big deal, is to trim.  It’s really a decision on how to frame it.  That blotch in the lower right-hand corner of the untrimmed piece?  Where I tried out my zig-zag stitches and also left a burn mark with my iron.  Luckily it was cut off.

One Black Leaf 9 corners

I have a method for hanging these small quilts which involves a dowel (photo at the end) but I have to put in corners to hold the dowel.  That square is about 2 1/2″ in dimension; fold it in half and pin it to the upper right and left corners.

One Black Leaf 10 binding1

My standard small-quilt binding: 2″ strips, folded in half, sewn to the upper and lower edges.  Trim even with the edges and press out away from the quilt.

One Black Leaf 11 binding 2

Repeat with sides, but be careful as you trim even with those sides. Press away from quilt.

One Black Leaf 12 trim

You’ll need to remove any bulk you can in a binding this tiny, so trim off a little of the corner and the bits of seam allowance as shown.  When I say not to cut anything off the binding strips, I mean the business part of the strips–the stuff you’ll need to fold over.  Just follow the diagram as I think my written description is confusing.

One Black Leaf 13 binding3

Then since my assistant left for the day, I had to use pins to hold things in place.  Fold in the sides (1), give a little push to the upper edge to fold in the bulk (2), then fold down the remaining strip (3).  If you go in this order, you’ll always enclose your raw edges.  If your raw edges are still showing after the folds, you’ve reversed it and folded in the top/bottom first.  You’re smart.  You’ll figure it out.

One Black Leaf 14

My friend Tracy taught me ages and ages ago that I didn’t need to pin or clip around the whole quilt, that I could just do the corners and fold in the rest as I stitch down the binding.  I do that even on my larger quilts.

dowel hanging device for art quilt

Cut a dowel the size of the back, minus a scoonch of room, then sand the cut edges.  Slip into place.  It will balance on a push pin nicely.

OneBlackLeaf quilting


Selfportrait OneBlackLeaf

February 1, 2013


One Black Leaf




This is our second round of our art group, self-titled Four-in-Art.  Our theme was “tree” or “trees,” however the artist wanted to think about it.  I call this “One Black Leaf.”  And as is my usual, I’ll save the craft and construction details  for the next post.

The other artists in our group are listed below, and are also revealing their quilts today, too.  I’d encourage a visit to see how they interpreted the theme.

Four-in-Art Trees

Leanne, of She Can Quilt
Rachel, of Life of Riley
Betty, who reveals hers on Flickr

When I was musing about this theme of trees a couple of weeks ago, I noted that I seemed to be surrounded by, and touched by, the idea of the end of life, of death.  I may have become more aware of this because of my tiny experience with cancer, or perhaps it is because I have two brothers-in-law who are fighting cancer.  Or because when we drove away from my mother after visiting for Christmas, it was nearly unbearable, knowing that life, and our time together, is finite.  In Albert Goldbarth’s poem “Won’t Let Go,” he notes that at the end of the of it all, no matter what your age or life or experience, there is always “one black leaf for everybody.”

I remember talking with an arborist in Washington DC once, about how dead trees looked in winter–nothing blossoming, nothing growing, the bare branches stretched to the sky.  She smiled as I went on and on, then said “Oh, they’re full of life, all right.  You just can’t see it.”  I thought of her remark often as I walked the National Mall that winter, admiring the trees’ scaffolding revealed by fallen leaves, those graceful branches stretched out above the cold ground.


So I chose to combine a photo I saw of an espaliered tree–a tree that was trained into an arranged shape by the hand of man and which had a heart at the center of it–with a drawing of a tree that looked to me like it was in motion, was half-tree/half-vine.  I liked the look of the drawing, how it wasn’t static, wasn’t near death, even though it had plenty of black leaves on it.  Since I am not a trained artist, I have to start from a reference point.

And sometimes that reference point is an idea, a range of experiences, a poem about one black leaf.

200 Quilts · Creating · Four-in-Art

English Elizabeth’s Technical Side

See the previous posts for the reveal of English Elizabeth (above), part of the Four-in-Art quilt group.

One of the Twelve-by-Twelve artists (after who we are patterning our group) said she likes commercial fabrics and always uses that as a starting point for her creations.  And even though I suggested this adventure of an art quilt, I was frankly a bit terrified of the whole idea, so starting with a commercial fabric seemed really appealing.

The commercial fabric I’d chosen for the background was from the Madrona Road line of fabrics by Violet Craft (from Michael Miller) and it had Queen Anne’s lace in a blue and an orange colorway.  I had a scrap of blue leftover from my Harvesting the Wind quilt, but it was only about 15″ square.  That was it.

I decided to be open to anything and while I was picking up some fusing supplies in our Jumbo Fabric Store, these black snaps jumped into my basket.  Okay then, great-grandma and I are doing something with black snaps.  I printed out a picture of English Elizabeth, put white papers around the edge to give a sense of the size of this thing, and arranged some black snaps marching up the sides.


Most of the Twelves used an art journal of some kind, so I dragged out a blank one and started writing–always my fall-back mode.  Then I used my (very) rudimentary art skills and sketched out some possibilities.

Things were starting to click in the old brain.  I have an EPSON inkjet printer with DuraBright inks, and I’d had good success with printing onto fabric for all my quilt labels, so I thought I would try printing English Elizabeth onto some lighter-colored fabrics.  I did some research on the DuraBright inks and apparently they are water-resistant.  I knew that I’d probably never wash this quilt, but I had, in the past, done a test sample and the ink stayed on through a run through the washer.  (However, if you really want permanence, Spoonflower for fabric design or Micron pens for labels might be the best way.)

Auditioning fabrics.  I initially thought I wanted to pick up that light mustardy hue in the fabric, but instead I was intrigued by the thought of printing Elizabeth onto some creamy floral fabric–making her into her own garden of flowers.

I auditioned several sizes, like the one that was 5″ across. I ironed freezer paper onto a square of two creamy floral fabrics and ran them through the printer, fingers crossed.  (I put tape on three sides of the stabilized fabric, leaving the bottom edge free.)  It was working well!  There was some trepidation every time I tried a new idea.  Would the artsy part of it work?  Would the technical side of it work?  It was lovely having my great-grandmother look at me all afternoon.

I chose the fabric sample with larger flowers, but when I laid English Elizabeth down, the blue showed through.  Before I cut around her head and shoulders, I ironed some featherweight fusible interfacing onto the back of the fabric, placing the printed side against a piece of white paper, just in case the printing would transfer.  It didn’t.

I wanted to print this phrase I’d come up with onto my fabric, but my printer isn’t wide enough.  I had a stamp set of alphabet letters, so it was back out to the Jumbo Fabric Store to buy some fabric/textile paint.  That is a whole other story (did you know how many kinds of puffy paint there is??) but let’s just say I finally selected a “fabric stamp pad” by the brand name of Scribbles, and had enough time to go by the embroidery floss aisle to pick up some variegated pearl cotton for attaching those snaps.  Somehow.

Worried about the “heft” of the fabric, I ironed a piece of featherweight interfacing to the back of the blue, and then started stitching.

Auditioning colors. I did do a couple of blossoms in the aqua-blue pearl cotton, but ended up cutting them off and going with the yellow-peach pearl cotton instead.  I wasn’t crazy about the spacing in the word LOVED–that “L” seemed to hang off the edge of the word, so I converted the O to a snap-flower to even out the spaces.  I trend to the pristine in my quilting.  You know: all those points sharp and crisp, those seams perfectly joined, so to let the messy and random into the quilting was interesting.  I might even say, beneficial.

Ready to go to quilting.

Usually all embellishment comes AFTER quilting, but I wanted those snap-flowers to be a part of the piece and to be able to quilt around them. I quilted with light gray thread in both top and bobbin.

English Elizabeth, detail.  I went in with gray and cream-colored thread to outline the contours of her face and to delineate her jacket.  My mother still has those beads of her grandmother’s and yes, she does wear them.  I wonder when this photo was taken.  It was obviously posed, and she had pulled back her hair into a tight bun.  But that allowed her large eyes to dominate, along with that Mona-Lisa-like smile.

English Elizabeth, detail.

The snap flowers.  There are only four holes, but five petals on the individual flower of the Queen Anne’s lace stalk. So I put two petals into one hole.  Sometimes they looked really funky.

I bound it with a narrow straight binding, using another piece of fabric from that line, the cross-hatches suggesting a fence to me.

Back of the piece, showing the quilting.  I used the folded corners method to hang this quilt: a dowel, cut to the length of the back of the quilt minus 1/4″ will slip into those corners, and hang on a push pin.

Was making this all roses and fairy dust?  No.  I procrastinated beginning on this piece because the whole idea was so different.  It’s like driving to the frozen yogurt shop, in a way.  If you go there often enough, like my husband and I did during this long hot summer, the way there is easy, smooth and oh-so-familiar.  But when we wanted to try a new shop, on a different side of the city, we had to figure out a way to get there.

I did finally arrive at a satisfying place, and although the road was different and strange, sometimes frustrating and scary, I have the sweet smile of my great-grandmother looking down on me as I work, confirming that, for me, that the new path was good.