Isnt it funny how one thing leads to another? And doesnt it seem to happen with predictable regularity to us quilters? Well, this is the story of two quilts and how one thing did indeed lead to another with delightful results.

Reflections of a Distant Scene
Reflections of a Distant Scene

I made Reflections of a Distant Scene as a 25th anniversary gift for my brother Geoff and his wife June. The quilt features pictures of them and their families framed in an old fashioned, lead lighted cottage window. I made Happy Days for a cousin, Ruby, to give as a present to her mother Marjorie and again, the quilt uses photographs to recall many happy days shared by the family.

Crazy pieced photo block

Happy Days and Reflections of a Distant Scene both came from the same seed of an idea but theyre very different pieces. I enjoyed working on both projects, which involved poring over boxes of old photos and reflecting on the lives they depict and pondering the question What is going to make the perfect memory quilt for the recipient. In both cases there was more to consider than just the photos, things like text, colour and overall theme all came into it.

Inspired by memories and reflections

As Geoff and Junes 25th anniversary got closer I knew I wanted to make them a celebration quilt. But what form should it take: a bed quilt, a wallhanging or something completely different? Then it dawned on me: why not take images from their lives and transfer them onto fabric to make a wallhanging? So conspiring with my nieces Clare and Katie we collected old photos, even including one of Timmy their old cat. They even managed to secretly steal Geoff and Junes marriage certificate and their own birth certificates. Then I had another idea. Junes father was farmer turned author Fred Archer, so I included text from his books as well. Copyright wasnt a problem as it was all in the family, so to speak. I even based the name of the quilt on one of Freds early books, The Distant Scene. The idea was growing and as often happens when a quilt project gets more and more ambitious, I didnt quite get it finished in time for the party but when they finally did get Reflections of a Distant Scene they were thrilled.

Reflections of a Distant Scene - detail
Reflections of a Distant
Scene - detail

Around the time I finished Reflections of a Distant Scene, Ruby came by with her new boyfriend Adrian. When she saw the quilt hanging in my hall waiting to go to its rightful owner she was inspired by the same idea and commissioned me to make a similar memory quilt for her mother Marjories birthday. The result was Happy Days.

Planning a memory quilt

The process I used for making these two very different pieces was similar. I printed the photos onto the fabrics using a computer, scanner, bubble jet printer and BubbleJet Set. The image editing software I used was Photoshop but there are many other programmes that perform the same tasks, the only difference might be the names of the tools you use.

My plan for making Reflections of a Distant Scene was to create the image of a country cottage window.

Geoff and June had just moved back to the Cotswolds where June grew up so the country cottage theme was ideal. I used diamond-shaped blocks and bias strips to create the leaded window effect, but what about the pictures that would be reflected in the window? First of all, I gathered together all the material Id collected with the help of my nieces. I sorted through it and decided the size of the diamond-shaped block I wanted for the windowpanes and also an approximate overall size for the quilt. Drawing this out onto a large sheet of paper, I then worked out how many blocks and half-blocks I needed, with long triangles for the sides and short ones for the top and bottom. This took me back to working out the right number of photos needed and deciding which photos would go in the half-blocks as they needed to be smaller than the ones going in the diamonds.

Diamond Block Detail
Diamond Block Detail

Image Preparation

I scanned everything into the computer the photos, the certificates and pages from the books. I adjusted the size of the images as I did this so that they would fit into the diamond-shaped blocks. However, the photos need to be left big enough to trim down later. Leaving the backgrounds as rectangular shapes larger than my diamond blocks gave me room to play and a seam allowance.

  • I saved the scanned images as individual files.
  • Using Photoshop I then manipulated the images: there are many things that can be done to enhance and change photos
  • I found that the most effective enhancement was adjusting the pictures Brightness and Contrast The Sharpen tool was also very useful for some but not all images. Often, these were the only tools I used.
  • If I tried something and it didnt work I just hit the Undo button!
  • Next, I layered the photos on top of the backgrounds, which was done by using the Copy and Paste tools. First, I selected an appropriate background for my photo, e.g. I used the marriage certificate as a background to the wedding photo. I copied the photo from one file and pasted it into the other background file: in Photoshop this is done with Layers. When doing this it is important to have all of the images at the same resolution, which is set at the scanning stage. By working in layers the individual images can be adjusted and moved to fit into the whole picture, and in my case to fit inside my diamond block. To help work this out I made templates for each type of block in Photoshop that I could use as a layer. With this template I could see the exact boundary of the block: the templates were discarded before printing.
  • To soften the edges of the photos I used the Feathering and Marquee tools. Marquee allowed selection of the exact circular area of the picture that I wanted and the Feather tool gave a soft edge to it.
  • Once I had enough images that were layered and adjusted to my satisfaction I was ready to print.
Layering Images
Layering Images

Printing onto fabric

  • As I was printing in colour, I didnt want the fabric to affect the colour of the image in any way so I used white cotton poplin
  • I prepared the fabric with BubbleJet Set 2000 following the instructions (very carefully!)
  • Once the fabric was dry and ironed onto freezer paper that had been cut to A4 size I could start printing. I fed one sheet at a time through the printer, checking as it went through that there were no problems.
  • A couple of tricks that I use to help feed fabric through the printer are to snip the corners off the leading edge and to trim the fabric back away from the leading edge so that there is a narrow margin of a few mm (1⁄4in) of just freezer paper. I use baking parchment to iron over naked freezer paper.
  • Once everything was rinsed and dried, again according to the instructions, I cut out all my blocks, not forgetting the seam allowances Now I was ready to start sewing at last!
Happy Days
Happy Days

Putting it all together

  • The blocks were all mounted onto a foundation. I did this by ironing Bondaweb to the front of my foundation piece and placing the blocks onto this, overlapping the seam allowances, playing around with the blocks until I was happy with the layout. Once all the blocks were ironed into place I used a narrow zigzag stitch around all the blocks to hold them all in place.
  • Black bias strips created the lead light effect. These were all stitched in place with a straight stitch covering the zigzag stitching and raw edges of the blocks. I worked from the middle outwards, first of all in one direction and then the other.
  • The border is a mottled green fabric that I felt worked with the cottage theme.
  • I kept the quilting simple. The blocks were fairly small so I didnt need to quilt the actual pictures. I stitched in the ditch around each block and free machine quilted the border And that was Reflections of a Distant Scene ready to be delivered and only 3 months late!
Happy Days on the design wall
Happy Days on the design wall

Capturing the mood

For Happy Days because I used a lot of older photos I decided early on to print them in sepia. To go with the old photo theme I picked some golden brown batik fabrics that blended well with the sepia colour of the pictures. I made each picture the centre of a different sized log cabin style block with a thin black border around each picture, just like a picture frame. Sewing the blocks together was done randomly, building the blocks up where needed to create the final image of one of those old photo frames with lots of pictures of all shapes and sizes in it.

Happy Days detail
Happy Days detail

On this quilt I did add beads in a few places such as for the brides bouquet. I stitched in the ditch around each picture and then free machine quilted the rest of the quilt. One thing that I was proud of doing on this quilt was using the computer to airbrush out a cigarette in one of the close-ups.

The joy of quilting memories

These two quilts were a joy to make. I had great fun and plenty of laughs working on them and making sure they were just right for their eventual homes. And in doing the research I found out a little more about the recipients of the quilts and their families.

Which brings me to a final warning. Remember Ruby and her new boyfriend Adrian? Well six months later they got married and now they have a beautiful baby girl, Olivia. Suddenly, my work isnt finished, now I have to make a small piece to include new additions to the family . . . Maybe Happy Days will end up being the first in a series!

First published in Popular Patchwork Volume 12 Number 10 - September 2004