Our Province has a big birthday in May. Of course all celebrations have been postponed but fortunately, quilting does not break any physical distancing rules so I was able to work on my Manitoba 150 quilt. Here is the official logo. It represents Manitoba at the heart of Canada, linking the East and West.
Just 3 years ago, I made quilts for Canada’s 150th. It was so much fun that I wanted to do something similar to celebrate Manitoba’s birthday. That was the purpose behind this quilt.
Inspiration came from a Shop Hop I did in Hawaii. Blocks collected from individual shops could be made on their own, but formed a bigger picture reflecting a nice Hawaiian scene when combined. Loving puzzles, I wondered if I could so something similar. There are almost 40 symbols in this quilt. Download the Manitoba Eye Spy list, and see if you can find them all…
For the past week, I posted pictures of the individual blocks, with an explanation of each on FaceBook. I did not want to simply repeat that so instead, I will give you my design process – hoping to help you if you want to make something personal and meaningful, but just don’t know where to start.
Step 1: Decide the theme. This time it was Manitoba 150; in the past my themes have been ‘Hometowns“, events like Advent, or the monthly themes I had in the “One Million Mile Postcard Challenge”.
Step 2: Decide on the parameters. I wanted to use the map of Manitoba as an outline so needed a rectangle. Twelve 12″ blocks in a 3 X 4 configuration would end up in a quilt 36″ x 48″. That seemed good considering everything I wanted to put on it.
I considered a block size more compatible for printing but stuck with a 12″ block because it is so very flexible. It can be divided into 1″ (flying geese), 2″ (HST), 3″ (snowball blocks), 4″ (sections of Lake Winnipeg), and 6″ (log cabin) segments.
Step 3: Make a rough draft on paper to actual size. Go digital if you want, but I find it easier to estimate scale, to jot down notes about initial pattern ideas, colours, and patterns as well as to erase and re-draw on paper. When you get bogged down in the middle of a project, it sometimes helps to review the original plan.
Step 4: Research. Decide on your ‘must haves’. In my case, there were quilting blocks I thought were relevant – Prairie Points along the border we share with Saskatchewan, Snowball blocks – name appropriate, but also a visual picture of the prairie landscape, Flying Geese units – we see thousand of Canadian Geese every spring and fall as they migrate north & south, and the Log Cabin block to recognize pioneers who built our country.
Make a list of ‘potentials’. Travel brochures and websites can give lots of ideas. In my case, I didn’t want to just go with the most obvious (some might go into a border or the label) but choose things that were either less known, or seemed most relevant for the area – like the Provincial Tree (White Spruce on Prairie Mountains), the Provincial bird (Great Grey Owl), Provincial flower (Prairie Crocus), and Provincial fish (Walleye).
Step 5: Work out your piecing pattern on graph paper (without seam allowances). Simplify your design so that you have as many straight lines as possible. Start with the blocks that are clearest in your mind.
Plan for another layer of interest, considering the elements of design that you are familiar with – balance, variation, repetition, contrast, focal point. At the planning stage the additional layer of interest is usually just notes and scribbles that will be worked out in detail at the construction stage. Use whatever tools you have in your toolkit, but try to attempt something new with each project. I tried to add a piece of raw-edge embroidery to each block. Sometimes it was very small (e.g. maple leaf to indicate the geographical center of Canada); on another block it was a little hand stitching (Mantario trail).
Step 6: Construction Stage. Start with the most important, or most risky block as it will set the tone for the rest of the pieces. For me, that was the Northern Lights, which I re-did 5 times. First the paper plan… The first attempt fell short of expectations… The approach for the second attempt was slightly different but still was not what I wanted… the third attempt was going in the right direction but I did not like the row at the top…
I decided to try to make the fabric work but it wasn’t dramatic enough..
It was back to the previous design with modifications, and that would have to do.
The 3 blocks at the top were the clearest in my mind – water for Hudson’s Bay, tundra in bloom, a dark night sky for the owl and snowflakes or the Milky Way (your pick), so those were pieced next. (Remember to add the SA!)
Lake Winnipeg (10th largest lake in the world) with sand beaches, a pine tree, rocky interlake and geese migrating south was a piecing challenge. I had to find ways to further simplify the design.
With the prairie landscape, colour became the issue. I had visions of different crops, different seasons, and different symbols. At this point I almost called it quits. Nothing worked until I decided to use the same fabric for all the blocks and eliminated all symbols.
The remaining blocks were easier to piece at this point and I could add the raw edge embroidery to all the blocks at the same time. Doing this at the end allowed me to work in colours for balance, and consider the scale of each piece.
I also consider what the quilting might be at this point. This is best illustrated by the Boreal Forest (a UNESCO world heritage site). The trees you see were done with free-motion stitching. Darker background trees will be added with FMQ.
Step 7: Recognize and accept your weaknesses. My handicap is drawing, so I have to keep all my elements ‘colouring book’ simple. I really wish I could draw but I can’t. What that means that if I can do it, so can you! My workaround is to get the fabric to work for me as much as possible. The Owl is one example; the White Spruce another:
Don’t worry if you don’t get it all right. It will NEVER come out the way you had it pictured in your mind, and you will ALWAYS be tempted to call it quits at some point. Stay with it. Even if you consider one piece a failure, you will have learned something. As you go, you will have more and more ideas, and it will all come together in a way you didn’t even plan. You might even like it.
If you have never done anything like this before and want to try, start small. Fabric postcards are a great way to experiment.