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A Peek Inside the Glamorous World of Commission Quilting, Week Two

This last week was a busy one for commissioned work! I finished the binding on the memory quilt and got it in the mail to the client. I think that might be the most stressful part of commission quilting - trusting your finished work to the Post Office.

(I get sick to my stomach just thinking about it and yes, I do buy plenty of insurance on the package when I mail it. But that’s little consolation when a one-of-a-kind work of art containing someone’s precious memories is in that box that gets tossed into the huge rolling bin behind the counter at the Post Office. I shudder just thinking about it.)

But she received it on the west coast only three days later and loved it. She immediately sent me this email:

OK. You just have to call me tomorrow so we can talk about how incredible it feels to lay under my life!

Well, that’s pretty much the definition of success right there.

I’m super-happy with the way this quilt came out. I didn’t have a specific plan in mind when I started, other than using the same Polaroid theme I used on her son’s quilt. What ultimately emerged surprised even me.


LIza's Quilt Front


Liza'a Quilt Front Detail


The front is covered with photos of her family, including her son and her siblings. I also incorporated bits of her son’s favorite clothes (as I had for his wall quilt) as well as some of her favorite items from his early childhood, including a fabric coaster he loved to play with. Because of the huge variation of colors in the photos and memory items, I kept the layout simple - Polaroid blocks framed in white and set in a not-quite-solid purple ground. The gray I used on the borders was subdued enough to incorporate some of the treasured sleeping bag (the purple and white polka dot fabric) into the corners without feeling it was over-the-top, design-wise.


Liza's Quilt Back


She also told me that she loved orange ever since her son was due on Halloween. I wasn’t able to include any orange on the front, but found a confetti print in my stash that was heavy on the orange and purple, so I knew it would be perfect for the back. It wasn’t quite big enough, so I extended it with more of the gray from the front, but also incorporated a rainbow panel that spanned the back of the quilt.

I included a special photo on one of the rainbow blocks, one that she’d sent me to be funny. It wasn’t a photo of family or friends, but from a party she’d recently attended. She told me about how happy she’d felt at the party that night, so this silly photo was a reminder of that. She laughed it off saying “Oh, don’t put that in the quilt.”

So of course I did.

See, as much as I love the front of her quilt, it struck me as very structured, very ordered, very conservative. Maybe even a tad bit stifled. Definitely constrained.

Yet it was authentic. I felt it captured her history with heartfelt honesty. And that’s what this project was all about, right?

But this is her very own quilt, for her pleasure and enjoyment, so I took it in a different direction on the back.

Using all that bright confetti print brought an entirely different feel to the quilt back. It was one of the most fun and cheerful piecing projects I’d done in a long time.


LIza's Quilt Back

Other than knowing how big I needed the rainbow insert to be, I just winged it and pieced it improvisationally. I pulled one fabric, added a chunk, pulled another, added another chunk, and so on, until it was wide enough. I moved onto the next step and taped the whole quilt back to the art room floor and put the batting and the quilt top on top of it.

And it still wasn’t big enough.

I fiddled and stretched and pleaded and swore and no matter how much I did any of those things, the back of the quilt was just. not. big. enough.

So I pulled everything up and decided to lengthen it with a strip of black print that coordinated with the binding. I think the effect looks like underlining, as if it’s emphasizing the rainbow. Emphasizing the joy. Emphasizing the future and all the possibilities it holds.

Emphasizing exactly what I wanted it to.

Thankfully this time it was plenty big and the rest of the project went smoothly and I got it off in the mail to her before I expected.

I spoke with her when she got it and she’s absolutely thrilled. And thus, so am I.


Jodi's Quilt


In other commission news this week, I have another quilt to finish this weekend in order to deliver it to the client on Monday or Tuesday. It’s currently pieced into 10 columns, which I’ll join and quilt and bind over the next few days. Good thing the fabrics are so beautiful, because I’m going to be staring at it an awful lot between now and Monday.

And last, but certainly not least, is the flag quilt commission. I didn’t get any cutting or sewing done on it this week, but I did get my fabric selection approved, which is a big relief!


Flag Quilt Fabrics


When I initially showed the client my first fabric samples, she was concerned that they weren’t modern enough. I responded that I’d rethought my plan and perhaps I’d lean more strongly toward a range of solids for each color, with prints thrown in for emphasis. Last Friday I shopped for these according to this plan.

This week she emailed me back and asked to see samples of my revised fabric selections. Which of course I took to mean she was nervous about my judgment.

(In truth it probably just meant that she was doing her job by overseeing her vendors - namely, me - on behalf of her restaurant client. But the mind sneaks up and plays tricks when you’re not looking, you know?!?)

So I set up the shots of the reds, the whites and the blues and photographed them. But even though I took the photos in front of a big window, because it was a dark day the colors came out all funky. The reds looks more like fiery oranges, the blues were more electric, and the whites all looked the same, the pictures didn’t show the true tonal depths.

I didn’t want risk looking like a deadbeat by holding off on replying to the client, and I didn’t want to color correct the photos (because the retouched photos wouldn’t be a true representation either), and I couldn’t control the crappy weather. The only thing I could control was the way I wrote the email.

So I emailed her back and attached the photos, explaining the color issue but also included a picture of all three colored fabrics in one shot, so at least she could see the relationship between the colors. I also explained my vision again, and went into great detail about my next step in constructing the fabric panels.

Thankfully she was in full support of my plan and approved my fabric choices, funky colored photos and all.


So next week I’ll be moving on to constructing some pieced prototype sections and we’ll have another round of feedback.

And I’ll have another round of reporting for you, I promise!

In case you missed it: A Peek Inside the Glamorous World of Commission Quilting, Week One

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