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Solving for Symmetry

A while back a work colleague, who is also a minister, put in a request for an angel pillow. With no specific criteria, there was a lot of room for interpretation. I wanted to arrive at a design that would be symbolic, spiritual, and personal. After quite a bit of research as to how this might be represented, I landed on a concept for wings, and rather than designing a pieced project, decided I would create a textural pattern using free-motion quilting.

Fabric choice was really important. As luck (or maybe divine intervention?) had it, I noticed the beautiful lavender silk overcoat she wore to conduct a service one day. I was able to find a perfect match in lavender dupioni silk. This fabric is cross woven with two different color threads. You can see in the photo above the fine hot pink threads used in the warp, the weft is a silvery blue, which is uneven in thickness and causes the textural slubs you see in the fabric. These threads also make the fabric iridescent, changing color based on the direction and color temperature of light under which it is placed. Very ethereal and perfect for angel wings! A silver thread provided just enough contrast against the silk.

Key to achieving dimension and high definition in the quilting was choosing the correct batting, so for this project I used a double layer of wool batting (I like Hobbs Tuscany, it's very soft and light and gives a beautiful "puff" to the quilt). For projects using silk and wool I also use a 70/10 Micro-tex needle. This is a fine, sharp needle that pierces the layers absolutely beautifully. You will feel this as you quilt, it feels wonderful! As a backing, I used a matching color cotton (Kona is my favorite, as it's always available in just about any color I need).

Next came the free-motion design. As the feature image of the project, the wings needed to "fill the page." Not wanting to mark on the silk, I chalked out a general outline for the first wing on the cotton backing and then dove right into a free-motion design which flowed freely from my needle. This was a combination of swirls and paisley shapes, creating the feathers.

I was really happy with the way this wing came out, and realized I now needed to produce a mirror image on the other half of the project.

The most direct solution was to simply lay the piece down on my copier and produce a pattern for the second wing.

I took the image to my sewing machine and with an un-threaded needle, perforated the paper along the lines of the main shapes.

I laid the perforated pattern down on the backing (the marking and stitching side) and used a Pounce Pad and chalk pencil to transfer the pattern.

With both halves completed it now needed a background. I wanted to keep it simple so that the wings would be the main focus. I decided to lay in rays of "light" from the upper corner. Since I was now stitching on the silk side, the best way to do this was to use a low-tack masking tape to guide my lines.

One layer of lines somehow didn't look quite finished, so I added another, creating double lines. However, this also didn't quite hit the finish line, so I filled in every other section with a "ribbon candy" design, which finally felt complete!

Below is the finished pillow. I did a simple envelope closure, lining the silk with a very light weight fusible interfacing and the same Kona cotton used for the design backing. The binding is done the typical way in which you would machine bind a quilt; French binding, starting at the back and completing with the finished edge on the front.

The uniqueness of this request made this project interesting and challenging. There are lots of ways to fully plan a free-motion design before taking needle to fabric. However, I often find myself doing little pre-design drafting on paper or otherwise starting right at the project. This can pose its own challenges, and luckily, there is always a solution with a little help from modern technology!

I hope the story of this project inspires ideas as you plan designs and choose materials for your own, unique projects.

Happy sewing!

- Liz

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