I was approached by the administration at Souderton Mennonite Homes about the possibility of creating a large commissioned art quilt for their chapel space. The subject of an apple tree came up in the discussion of the quilt design. It turns out their buildings were constructed on an old apple orchard. When walking into the main lobby of the building, one is confronted with a large life like structure of an apple tree which extends up into the open second story area. The apples look so real you want to reach out and pluck them. They wish to continue this theme into their chapel space.
I accepted their proposal to make the quilt and drew a sketch depicting a large apple tree on the right with rolling hills on the horizon and three small saplings on the left with a setting sun glowing in the sky. I was asked to keep the center portion of the quilt empty since this area would be behind the person who would be speaking from the pulpit. The Sunday services are videotaped and any wall hangings behind the speaker can apparently be quite distracting.
I chose a 108″ wide custom hand dyed gradation by Vicki Welsh for my background. I find her work to be just beautiful and this gradation was the perfect color for an Autumn sunset.
I drew my apple tree with black Sharpie pen and loaded it into my Photoshop software. I use Photoshop Elements 13. (Pardon my cracked screen – an unfortunate travel accident which has now been fixed.) I enlarged the image to scale and created guides so that the image was divided into 8″ by 10″ rectangles.
I cropped each 8″ x 10″ rectangle and printed it onto paper with my home printer. I only did this for the large tree, the sun and the small trees. No need to print out empty negative space.
Here you can see I used my bed to lay out all the 8″ x 10″ sheets and taped them together into 17″ wide strips.
I then traced the tree image onto freezer paper with the shiny side up with a Sharpie.
After cutting out the tree I was able to use the original taped paper pieces to help me figure out where the tree precisely belonged on the quilt. We had sold our old dining room table so the floor provided the perfect place to lay out the quilt. I had no design wall since we were in the process of selling our home. Drinking glasses provided the weight to hold down the curling freezer paper.
I ironed the freezer paper to the striped batik for the tree, creating darts so that the grain of the fabric would roughly follow the trunk and branches. I pinned the tree to the background, tucking under the edges. This was stitched down with a straight stitch on my machine.
I applied MistyFuse to the back of some orange silk before cutting out the circle for the sun and fusing it to the quilt. I did the same for the small trees, using a pale green/gray hand dyed cotton for them and I chose to use raw edge method to applique them. The sun was edged with a double blanket stitch. Sorry, no close up!
I added the distant hills by using Inktense blocks in slightly brighter colors. I chose to mix them with water since I needed to cover a lot of area.
You can see how large the quilt is and how it dwarfs my cutting table here.
I chose to quilt the around all the applique pieces with monofilament thread after loading it on the longarm machine. Then I quilted the whole background before adding any more detail. Thanks to Barbara Mack for agreeing to take my longarm machine while the house was being staged for sale. She had the perfect walk out basement space for the machine. It was just a quick 20 minute drive to her home and I used it while she was at work.
I used my new Innova couching feet to couch the various colored yarns to the tree trunks. This provided shading and texture. These feet are so much easier than the former couching attachment – thank you Innova! The trick was to keep the yarn very loosely and to hold it in the direction that I was moving to ensure that it was stitched down securely.
The next step made me the most nervous. I had never created apples before. I cut apple shapes out of red hand dyed fabric which had previously been backed with MistyFuse. I shaded them with Inktense blocks. It took me awhile to get the hang of all the shading but here you can see it was coming along alright. The apples in the foreground were still wet and the ones on top looked better after drying. It took a couple days to get them all done.
I chose green, gold and taupe prints with metallic gold for the leaves. These were also fused to the surface of the quilt then stitched down, all while the quilt was already loaded on the longarm machine. I just steamed them lightly with the iron and quickly stitched them down before they could fall off.
More apples and leaves were scattered around the base of the tree. I also added a multi colored batik for ground cover.
A few apples and leaves were added to the small distant trees, also with Inktense blocks.
When I finally got the quilt up on the wall two things clearly needed attention.
1.The hills were not nearly as distinct as they need to be.
2. The apples at the base of the large tree needed to have a wider range to reflect the range of the branches above.
Here is the final image. I added some more orange shading in the sky to reflect the setting sun. I added pale olive green shading to the more distant hill and a wider, brighter horizon to the closer hill.
I love the old gnarly tree in the foreground. It has aged with beauty and grace, still bearing ripe fruit. The smaller trees in the distance represent hope for more fruit in years to come. I’ve kept the quilt colors very monochromatic and simple, dominated by the glow of autumn. Simplicity was requested by those who commissioned the quilt.
I do not have an in situ photo yet. The finished quilt measures 102.5″ wide and 83″ high. The great news is that the administration at Souderton Homes has commissioned three more quilts to represent the seasons of winter, spring and summer. It will be a busy winter and spring!
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