Every quilt has a story

Alaska improv quilt detail

One of the aspects of quilting that impressed the art deep into American culture is its storytelling nature. Every facet of a quilt is meant to tell a part of a story, from the blocks, to the layout, the fabric, the quilting…players in the maker’s memoir. When a quilt is extracted from a box, buried deep in a basement or attic for a generation, fascination ensues as the lucky finders wonder about the materials and workmanship. Who made this? Why these fabrics…this design? If they’re lucky, there might be a bit of information scrawled on the label: the maker’s and the recipient’s names, the date it was made and where. Every quilt has as story.

Some quilts stories are about a fabric or color combination or pattern that caught the quilter’s fancy. Others mark an important event or milestone. I made this quilt as a part of an Instagram swap with the theme of “Mini with a Story”. Typically, a mini swap is about using preferences and clues from the recipient to make a secret project they’ll (hopefully) love. This one, however, was different in that I got to use my own discretion to design a mini quilt to tell my own story.

“Out of Alaska”

This mini illustrates the first half of my life, and that of my parents and grandparents, under Alaska’s stunning sky. I incorporated a skyline of high rise building, magnificent in its own way, to represent the current leg of my journey in Chicago. The piecing is improvisational in nature, while a typical pattern can be lovely, I wanted to show my penchant for carving my own path. This is my story, after all.

I loved the adventure of creating a new material, piece by piece.  I worked in small sections adding bits and combinations to create something usable from scraps of solid and low-volume blues. The textures and the play of the shades of blue were a delight to work with. I started by laying out small cuts in the way I thought they might work for my scene, to act as a sort of sketch to guide the improv. I do I wish I’d used a greater variety of shapes; I think the combination of squares and rectangles worked well enough for this piece but when I recreate a version of this for my home I’ll definitely remember to vary the bits I used for the sky.

Alaska improv quilt layout

Once the top was completed, I used a combination of free motion motifs to bring the scene to life. In the sky, I used a line of lazy eights in a variegated thread to draw a line of dancing northern lights, and a shiny gold thread for the eight stars that represent Alaska’s flag. Throughout the sky I drew swirls and waves in two different shades of blue and on the buildings I used a flat black thread in a variety of angular meanders to portray the urban textures. The quilting is, by far, my favorite part of this quilt, both to create and to look at.

I used two fabrics to piece the binding, a navy speckled with white stars for the sky and a black and white grid to coordinate with the lower half.

Alaska improv quilt detail

I’ve done several mini swaps, the swap community on Instagram is a fabulous place to find quilty people, so this isn’t my first go-round with sending off something I’ve made. This is, however, the first piece I designed from start to finish, and it’s the first I’ve done specifically to tell my own story, so this one was a little tricky to let go of.

But, mail her off I did and nervously waited for my partner to receive it. Words can’t even describe my delight when I received word from my partner that not only did she love it, but would be hanging it in her husband’s office in honor of his own childhood in Alaska. I cried when I read that. What a perfect end to this quilt’s story.

Alaska improv quilt finish



4 thoughts on “Every quilt has a story

  1. What a beautiful quilt! I love the fabrics you used and the quilting you did. It’s very much like an art quilt. So glad your swap partner loved it!

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