Before I got distracted by prepping a house for sale and then moving, I was a quilter on a mission. Mind you, it took me over two years and a lot of head bashing, but I got a mega quilt done just in time to pack up my quilt room.
The quilt was a personal commission from my dear friend Tara for her husband Peter, who was my flatmate during my college junior year abroad in England and is one of my all-time favorite people. London-born and bred, Peter was one of my go-to sources for all things British. Thankfully, our sojourn predates the smart-phone-era so I know he doesn’t have a record of an embarrassing episode when he caught me singing off-key and dancing about his room like a crazy, gawky fan-girl. The less said, the better–I won’t even reveal what singer made me swoon back in those days.
Anyway, back to the point of this post: commission to tackle, no boundaries, no time frame, no consensus on theme. Tara and I started with a flurry of idea exchanges through Pinterest with little result. Making a quilt for a grown man isn’t easy because they typically aren’t all that jazzed by something that will ultimately be a bedspread. Ultimately, I was left with a strong conviction that I should cut to the chase and make something personal to Peter and so I compiled a few guidelines to spark my creativity: a color scheme suitable to their bedroom and decor, a desire to celebrate Peter’s roots, and a yen to incorporate some quirky things I knew about him in the design.
Color Scheme: honey gold and bordeaux red to fit with their decor
Theme: a tried and true emblem of Englishness, the Union Jack
Quirky Details: visual references to some of Peter’s faves and to his oddball sense of humor
Tara was game to the Union Jack theme when I showed her a sketch, but it took me two years to get from concept to completion. Hey, I had to take a creative journey with twists, turns, and dead ends before I could get a clear idea of how to tackle the project. The initial idea was somewhat Amish in inspiration: a square-in-a-square format.
The central square would be composed of a large Union Jack with three smaller ones lined up below in the non-regulation color scheme of gold, burgundy, and French blue–the flag has three colors after all. The borders that would compose the outside square would be made of neutral patchwork blocks partnered with “ghost” Union Jacks and images printed on fabric that would resonate with Peter.
In theory the basic layout should have been reasonably easy to build, but a true Union Jack has specific proportions and layout. I figured paper-piecing the quilt would be key to accuracy. Ha! I build the mirror image of the Union Jack the first time around . . . yes, there was abundant thread sacrificed to the cause of making Peter’s quilt!
I made a design adjustment once I read about the origins of the Union Jack that flies today. The national flag is built from the three flags that constitute the United Kingdom: the crosses of St. George (England), St. Andrew (Scotland), and St. Patrick (Northern Ireland). Well, okay, substitute that trio for the three smaller Union Jacks planned for the middle square. That turned out to be an excellent idea that simplified the paper-pieced flag-building process, which was sufficiently complicated by my decision to use strip-pieced fabric swatches. I was about 50% successful with that–true alignment would have blasted through a lot more fabric.
Once the center block was finished, I moved on to the details I thought would amuse Peter. I transferred sepia-toned images onto printable silk organza and then fused them to fabric. You can see some of the images below: the logo from Peter’s favorite soccer team; the Royal Pavilion, a royal palace near the university where we met; the name of his favorite band; among others. I wanted all the ghost Union Jacks and the other images to blend into the background. Can you find all five ghost flags in the border? Even I can’t!
Here’s the completed quilt top just before I passed it on to Kathy August to quilt in simple, straight lines. You can just about see one major tweak I made to the design. There is often a disconnect between a sketch (not to scale) and execution of the design. In order to make the arithmetic work I added pencil-thin linen borders between the flags as well as linen bands to represent the edging for mounting flags.
I ended up embroidering sets of grommets on those edges for the sake of authenticity–you can see my grommet-in-the-making below.
The best part of the project was giving the quilt to Peter. He was nonplussed and that was fantastic. He hadn’t a clue that Tara and I had been in cahoots years. It was by no means easy to stay on task as I had a lot going in that interval, but finally finding the way to express my regard for him was wonderful.