Today we bring you a very special Lab project from a member of our team, artist Caitlin! This is Caitlin’s first Lab project and she jumped in with gusto. She helped design the new Ecliptic Constellations pack and wanted to take the use of these designs to a whole new level. Here she is to talk about her experiences with this fun and ambitious project…
Here at Urban Threads, we are always searching to explore new frontiers, and this Celestial Quilt is no exception. I wanted to explore the final frontier, in fact … space! When we first started scheming about space designs, I was drawn to the idea of making a quilt. Quilts are many tiny pieces joined together to make a whole, just as billions and gazillions of tiny stars and planets and asteroids and space debris and comets and satellites and UFOs come together to make the whole night sky.
As I began to plan out the quilt, I used the circle of the ecliptic as a starting point. The ecliptic is the apparent path of the sun on the celestial sphere as seen from the earth’s center. These constellations are based on all the constellations that appear on that line (which is why there are 13 constellations instead of the 12 from astrology), and so it was a natural place to start.
My mom is an avid quilter, and I grilled her with questions about the space quilt scheme. Could I applique the embroidery on after I pieced? Could I stop and start quilting as many times as I needed? Do you trim batting before or after you start quilting? She was an invaluable resource in getting this project completed. I researched star charts and celestial maps, and found they showed stars in various sizes to describe their brightness. I realized, with the availability of various individual star sizes, I could build any constellation, from any corner of space I desired! No hoop was standing in my way, I was free to add as many twinkly stars to my design as I could handle. Since I was building a quilt, I hooped up each square one at a time and began stitch stars, one by one. This process was nice, because if I had any fabric tearing, or some crazy thing happened with my embroidery, I was only risking a little piece at time.
I worked with a fabulous new UT artist, Danielle, and we began by illustrating the 13 constellations that fall on the ecliptic. This is path of the sun from our viewpoint on earth, as it travels across the sky throughout the year. These are also known as the signs of the zodiac, along with the addition of the Ophiuchus, the 13th constellation on the ecliptic line. We wanted to keep the actual stars prominent, since they have inspired stargazers throughout time. Then we added the zodiac imagery with a dreamy, celestial quality that stayed light and airy. Each sign of the zodiac has such a fantastic story and feeling, it was fun to try and capture it with embroidery thread.
Since I had such beautiful embroidery to feature, I decided I would keep the actual quilting stitches to a minimum, and use the imaginary lines between stars to quilt the top and bottom together. Here I faced an interesting learning curve. I was doing free motion quilting for the first time on our UT embroidery/sewing machine, and didn’t realize I could move my fabric backwards, forwards and sideways, without turning the entire piece! I was slowly rolling up, and pushing parts of the quilt though the machine over and over before I realized it was unnecessary.
Quilt stitches are similar to embroidery running stitches, and the can be decorative and complicated, while also functioning to hold the quilt together. The effervescent swirls behind each zodiac design could easily be used to quilt with, and I tried to replicate the swirls and loops with my free motion quilting.
Since it’s too cold in January to sleep out under the stars, I am super excited to have brought the stars inside, to a much warmer and snuggly place: my bed.This project is part of The Lab, a UT initiative to experiment, collaborate and innovate to see just what can be done with the art of embroidery. Check out our other projects by searching for the UT Lab tag.