I will eventually write a brief history of my development of the concept of a scrapture quilt. The first formal presentation of my work was at a meeting of the Ottawa Valley Quilt Guild in Ottawa, Canada in 2002 and the first article about it was published in the spring of 2006 in the American Quilter magazine. To see the article, you need to have a membership account. If you have ever had a membership in the American Quilter’s Society, but are not now active, you can activate your account here.
This scrapture was completed in late 2013, but here it is in an almost finished state with unfinished edges, lying flat on a piece of fabric that I will eventually make into a binding.
The idea is simple enough. I use thousands of very small pieces of fabric, some cut to a shape, but mostly just found pieces, and layer them onto the background much the way an impressionist painter would layer brushstrokes of oil paint onto a canvas. Unlike paint, however, the little scraps of fabric don’t dry into place – I have to stitch them down. It is also unlike an appliqué process, which stitches along the edges of the pieces. My stitching is free motion quilting in tight patterns that catch (usually) at least some part of each small scrap so it is locked onto the quilt but leaves the scrap partially loose giving the finished quilt a much more three-dimensional and textural look.
I begin with a quilt sandwich. Then, usually with an idea in mind, a photo (usually my own) or a sketch, I begin layering on small scraps of fabric, roughly placing elements here and there – a flower, a leaf, a bit of background. It can be as simple a construction as a few fabric bits sketching out one flower, or many hundreds, pretending to be myriad leaves on a maple in full fall glory, as this one does. The simple sketch may take moments to construct. The full glory may take weeks, meanwhile monopolizing a flat, undisturbed space in my sewing room from which stiff breezes, cats, and small children are firmly excluded.
You may have noted that there’s no mention here of glue, fusing, or piecing. That is because the only thing that will hold my picture together on my quilt sandwich is the very close, free-motion “stipple” quilting that I then do that catches every fragment of cloth, binding all together into a unified whole scene, whether simple, sketchy, and modern, or intricate, complex, and detailed. You might fear that the pieces would fly away, but they don’t. Cotton adheres to itself with great tenacity. (You have only to think how hard it is to get all the lint off your clothes when you finish sewing.)
Early in my scrapturing career I used a temporary adhesive spray on the top of the quilt sandwich to hold the first bits of fabric, and even subsequent sprays as the first spray got covered up. But I’ve given up using any adhesive at all during the construction of the picture. It got in the way; I was inadvertently picking up well-placed pieces as I tried to add new ones. Now the only use I make of adhesive spray (I like 505) is at the very end, once the picture is “done.” And I do not spray the picture! Perish the thought!! All those lovely little elements scattered all over the worktable. I very lightly spray a piece of stabilizer cut to size, then I carefully lay that, on top of the finished picture, sprayed side down. (Sometimes, if the picture is of any size, a second pair of hands is helpful, one hand on each corner.) Four or five large quilting pins, one at each corner, make the piece easier to handle, and perhaps one in the middle too. Then it’s all carried carefully to my sewing machine, which I’ve set up for free-motion stitching, with an “invisible” thread in the needle and a neutral thread in the bobbin. Then the fun begins! I stipple away to my heart’s content. It is like running, which they say can be addictive.
The most exciting moment is near: the reveal! Depending on the type of stabilizer I have used, I remove it and suddenly my picture, which went under the needle as a group of small fabric bits, each quite distinct from its neighbours, reveals itself as a unified whole, every piece blending together almost like an impressionist painting. It is so thrilling, I can’t tell you! You will have to discover it yourselves.
Stabilizers need a few words here: they come in all types, sizes, and qualities. I began with some tracing paper I found in my desk, and used a short stitch on the sewing machine for the stipple quilting. Then I had fun tearing away the paper. This is fun, messy, and a bit tedious. And if the paper isn’t good quality it tends to cling under the small stitches. Golden Threads quilting paper works well, however. And if you have some tracing paper at hand, it’s free and worth a shot.
Then I tried soluble stabilizers. They can be sticky, and sometimes messy in their own way (the term “snot” has been unkindly used). And they have to be well washed off or some slight stiffness can remain in the finished work. Nevertheless, I use soluble stabilizers now because the reveal is so instantaneous and thrilling (and it’s certainly less tedious). I like one brand called Wet n Gone, by Floriani. It is cloth-like, semi-transparent, not sticky, and dissolves well given enough time and water. There are several other good brands (one is available from Cottonmill Threadworks). You may have a favourite, or have fun testing out several. You might worry that pieces might detach themselves during the washing process, but if your stipple quilting has been thorough, they will not.
After the wash, lay the scrapture on a big towel, cover with more towelling, and press out most of the water. Then lay it flat to finish drying. Then straighten if need be, trim the edges, and bind. You may add a border treatment before binding if you desire. Quilt artists vary on this decision.
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Stipple quilting is shown at approximately life-size.