Thursday, April 6, 2017

"Today I Feel" - A Wholecloth Quilt

This is "Today I Feel," my first large wholecloth quilt (I'm hooked - there will be more!). She's got a story; some of you might already know parts of it, as I blogged weekly about the process and shared on Instagram (links are below). My recent solo exhibition added a new layer of meaning to the quilt, too. It's interesting how a newly-made quilt has a purpose and that purpose changes throughout its life.

The purpose of this quilt was to force me to quilt every day, even just a little bit. An idea came to me last November: what if I treated a quilt like a diary?  

The majority of this quilt was made over the course of 6 week. Every day, I wrote to finish the phrase "Today, I feel..._______" in four words or less. On Sundays, when I had the most time, I quilted the background of the phrases I had written the week before. It was like starting on a clean slate on Monday. 

The three aspects of this project I most enjoyed:

1. Quilting around the words in a improvisational manner and letting the words influence the background. Example: around "overwhelmed," I quilted sharp, dense lighting bolts. "Punch-drunk" - which you can see above - is surrounded by wacky triangles. Truly, the background is what really brings this quilt to life. I used a blending thread (Aurifil 4225 50 weight) so that the words would pop, but the texture would show, too. It feels like so much more than the words.

 I super-edited this photo so you could see the texture. It's such a hard quilt to photograph!

It feels like forever ago that I started this project, right before the U.S. election. I felt like either way, I'd have strong feelings to project that week.

2. Sharing the project with you. Every day, I posted the reasoning behind my choice of words on Instagram under the hashtag #todayifeel (if you click the hashtag, you can read all the stories). I also shared much more of the process of making the quilt in blog posts: Week 1 (inspiration and goals), Week 2 (how I write words on a quilt), Week 3 (using contrast), Week 4 (scale), and Week 5 (logistics/looking back).


28 weight - 2600 (dove gray), 2024 (white)
40 weight - 3840 (light purple variegated), 2810 (teal), 2600 (dove gray), 2220 (salmon), 2024 (white), 2535 (magenta), 5006 (blue), 3770 (blue variegated)

3. Changing fonts, thread colors, and weights depending on the day and word(s). Any wholecloth quilt depends on threads the most! These were generously sponsored by Aurifil Threads (thank you, Aurifil!). I purposefully chose thread colors that would both contrast and fade, and used many different weights to experiment with how they showed up on the background. After much trial and error, I wrote this post to help others ("5 Tips for Working With 40 and 28 Weight Aurifil Thread").

Recently I had the opportunity to debut this quilt in my solo exhibition at the Quilt and Sewing Fest of New Jersey. Traditional quilters seemed to take an interest in it, probably because it's quite different from traditional wholecloth quilts (see below for more about this). Out of all 20 quilts on display, I received the most questions and comments about this quilt.

One of my friends touched me with her story: she and her daughter had the opportunity to view the quilt and discuss it in light of the election and the Women's March. The quilt has been fulfilling to me in a lot of ways, and it was so wonderful to hear that others connect with it, too. 

This quilt is currently hanging in the Wholecloth Quilt category at MQX New England in New Hampshire, and I'll be there on Saturday! It will be great to see it hanging with more wholecloth quilts. I'll be sure to report back!

For the last year, I've contemplated the idea of "modern" wholecloth quilts. The main idea of any wholecloth quilt is take one piece of fabric and quilt it. The design is based in the quilting alone. No piecing - unless it's to discreetly piece together parts of the same background fabric to make a larger top. It was actually quite unnerving to set up my quilt without any piecing (except for the backing)!  

Yeah... I matched my quilt. It was unintentional but not totally unexpected (90% of the time I'm wearing purple).

Traditional wholecloth quilts have a history of being ornate and extremely detailed. Often, they appear as medallion quilts, featuring a central motif and surrounded by intricate, symmetrical designs. Check out a few here in the National Quilt Collection by the Smithsonian. I also love the idea of quilting up a gorgeous printed fabric or panel, like this one from around the 1830s, owned by the Vermont Historical Society (by the way, if anyone has a good book about the history of wholecloth quilts, let me know - I've been trying to find one). 

"What Burr Said" and "Note to Self" - my other two almost-wholecloth quilts and completely wholecloth quilt, "Quilt The Life Into It."

So, the question is, what is a "modern" wholecloth quilt? To me, it's one that contains lots of contrast and color changes with thread, plus asymmetry. I'd really like to keep exploring this further.

Finally, I'm excited to present a free webinar for Modern Quilt Guild members in 2 weeks! I'll be elaborating further on how to quilt free motion words on your home machine (or longarm). It's for all levels and it's going to be so much fun! Members can follow this link to sign in and register.

All in all, it's a relief to finally share this finish in its totality! I don't know if I'll ever do an experiment quite like this again (never say never, right?) but I do have a lot of word quilts planned.

Have you ever made a wholecloth quilt? If not, would you? Why or why not?

Linking up to Fabric Tuesday, TGIFF, Crazy Mom Quilts, Needle and Thread Thursday.



  1. oooh I'm so looking forward to your webinar - I'm making my cousin a plus quilt in her football team's colours and I'd love to FMQ the club song words onto the quilt - I'm really hoping I can learn heaps to be able to make this happen !! no pressure though ha ha !!

  2. I loved seeing this quilt as it progressed and you added more and more to it. I look forward to your webinar.

  3. Very impressive! I have been slowly drawn to the modern quilting movement....maybe you can teach an 'old dog" new tricks.!

  4. Thanks for linking up with this week's TGIFF. I have caught your progress on IG. Very impressive. Congratulations on your solo exibition!

  5. I love that you made this a daily exercise and that the quilting was your weekly roundup of all the words. I'm looking forward to your webinar. I remember seeing the "What Burr Said" mini online but didn't remember that you were the one who made it. I absolutely love Hamilton.

  6. I love that this quilt, Jess. It is so powerful and the aspect of having it be a diary of sorts makes it have such an intimate feeling. I am so glad that others connected with it so much at the show, and I look forward to seeing what new word quilts you have planned. :)

  7. Oh Jess, all so pretty. That wholecloth is amazing! You are the best!

  8. I'm looking forward to your seminar and I really really want the quilt that says I am the one thing in life I can control.

  9. I so loved watching this quilt evolve and come together. It's interesting to read in the traditional top to bottom, left to right format. I'm glad you addressed what modern wholecloth means to you. I'm not sure where my wings will fit on the wholecloth spectrum, but I think that's more for the judges to worry about, haha.

  10. Great post. Looking forward to your webinar.


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