“What is modern hand appliqué?” we asked ourselves when we were auditioning designs for Quilts Made Modern. As I wrote when I was describing how we came to design the Small Change quilt, part of our mission in designing the quilts for this book was to break some of the stylistic assumptions quilters have about certain techniques. Handwork is not inherently old-fashioned in quilts any more than it is in couture fashion. Sometimes it’s the only way to achieve a certain look.
Such is the case with Birds on a Wire. We love the graphic look of some traditional hand appliqué quilts and wanted to think about what a modern interpretation would be. And then what would it look like to mix hand and machine techniques? So we considered the view from our kitchen window of the birds that line up on the phone line that runs from our house to the electrical poles in our neighbors’ yard (we live in an urban neighborhood that was developed before electrical and phone lines could be buried). In the winter the birds queue up on the phone line taking turns at our bird feeders. We take great delight (as do our cats through the window) at the beautifully colored finches in particular. Although our daughter questions why the males get to be “the pretty ones.” “Do they appreciate being the pretty ones?” she wants to know.
Anyway, there’s really no other way to place these birds with their delicate features on a quilt other than to hand appliqué them if you want the quilt to be washable. While I was hand quilting away on Small Change, Bill was doing the hand appliqué of these birds. The placement is not precise. It’s an eyeballing kind of thing. You can play around with how many birds you like with more or fewer working just fine.
We really wanted to show the quilts as a diptych to suggest that you could make a series of these to work along a long wall or perhaps over a sofa. Although you could also make a wider version as well, given that this is hand appliqué, the smaller field is much easier to work with on your lap. You may notice that we’ve chosen to mix the handwork of the appliqué with machine quilting. We made that choice to make the quilting as dense as possible in the open areas of the quilt so there would be nice texture to the piece. Hand quilting would also work here but you’d need a lot of it.
To our minds, this quilt proves the adage that sometimes, “Less is more.”