The First Quilt of a New Year

Three years ago I quite suddenly lost the last in-house job I had. In those initial weeks of figuring out what was next, I turned to one of the activities that always brought me feelings of calm and accomplishment when stressed — sewing. I had started making baby quilts a few years before, so posted a call for commissions for anyone looking to buy a baby quilt for their little one or as a gift for a friend or family member having a baby. Though I had made a number of quilts in my life, I had never used a quilting pattern, instead lining up small strips of fabrics from my stash in rows, bordered by white, for a simple and modern design. Right away, thanks to my network of friends (yay!) I got multiple commissions and started on an intense period of sewing.

Even before being let go from my job, I had been scheming how to start my own business focused on textile and surface pattern design. Though I didn’t quite feel ready, it seemed this was the opportunity to forge ahead with that dream. Supported by the small income of those first few quilts, I began my foundation year. Business license, networking, online classes, legal consults — so many things to learn. And as I worked, each quilt was fulfilling the tactile, hand-to-fabric feeling that textile design was at the top of my list.

A month after that fateful layoff, I went on an already planned trip to Australia and New Zealand with family. My first time in either country (though New Zealand was only a brief stop), I was beyond excited — I’d wanted to travel there for twenty years! Two weeks hardly felt like enough time and every day was inspiring — the light, sounds, colors, animals, landscape, voices — I fell in love with it all.

After returning from the trip, I began work on a collection of prints inspired by Australia and New Zealand. I realized that despite doing my grad school thesis in surface pattern design, I’d been swept up in my post-school jobs (all more graphic design related) and hadn’t made a real collection in four years. I had so much fun with this set of prints! Though I did not flush it out as much as I had intended, I’ve loved using these fabrics for so many projects since.

Last year my mom asked me to make a baby quilt for her dear friend’s new granddaughter. But instead of stash fabric she wanted me to use my own fabrics. Because her friend’s son had studied abroad in Australia, we decided the collection would be perfect. I also decided to try out using an actual sewing pattern. I never realized how fun this could be! We chose Denyse Schmidt’s “Ship’s Ladder” pattern, which felt similar to my style with lots of strips and white space, but more planned and with fun angles.

I ordered the fabric and bought a complimentary backing fabric (Koalas on Green by Dear Stella) right away, but as sometimes happens, by the time the fabric arrived I had moved on towards other projects. It took me months to finally pull out all the fabrics and begin cutting pieces. I can’t quite explain the satisfaction of cutting into fabric that had once been only drawings in my sketchbook. Seeing your artwork become something out in the world is nothing short of magic. Or as Judy Rosen said in a recent article*, “To engage in even the smallest acts of creation — molding a clay bowl in our hands or shaping an idea in our minds — is to perform a conjuring trick, to experience the mysterious and sublime power of bringing a new thing into existence.”

And then, so close to finished with the front and back both pieced and sewn, the quilt once again languished as it awaited the top quilting and binding and I got sucked into holiday fair sewing, freelance design, health issues and general stress. Funny enough, as if my mom’s nod to the past had become a premonition, we learned that the family the quilt was intended for would be packing up their lives and moving to New Zealand for at least two years. If you have ever mailed a package overseas you know it takes a loooong time, and is very expensive. And that was the little kick in the butt i needed.

Unlike those early quilts, done in a matter of days, this quilt too me more than a year. But at last, it is done and delivered. A memento of home that embraces the new adventure ahead. And though they have all been made with love, this is the most personal quilt I’ve made yet.

Skye McNEill_Winnie Quilt 2
Skye McNeill_Winnie Quilt 1
Skye McNeill_Winnie Quilt 3
Skye McNeill_Winnie Quilt 4
Skye McNeill_Winnie Quilt 6
Skye McNeill_Winnie Quilt 6
Skye McNeill_Winnie Quilt 5