So I have to report that, just before Christmas, our house purchase completely fell through. Yep, that’s right: no house for us this time. I won’t go into details on the wide-open internet; suffice it to say that it was completely stupid and an obstacle that, as Americans, we never would have seen coming, and, we’ve been told, usually doesn’t occur, so I guess that’s why no one else saw it coming either. (I’m a little bitter about it. Just a smidge.) We’re now planning to rent in Cambridge for a year or two, move in, get our stuff out of storage, and start up our house search again in a few months.
But enough about that! Let’s talk about my planet quilts!
Because I’m planning to use a lot of different fabrics, layered, appliquéd, felted, and so on, rather than primarily piecing, I decided this was a good project for using a foundation. It’s like a simpler version of draping a dress on a mannequin; rather than cutting out pieces and sewing them together and trying to make them add up to the right size and shape, I cut nine pieces of muslin to the right size, plus an inch margin around all the edges. This way I can try things on, move stuff around, pin it down for a while, and then when I’m ready, glue or fuse it on, one section at a time, and build it up however I want.
I cut them to the right size by the simple expedient of laying a sheet of A3 paper on top of the fabric and cutting an inch all around it with an acrylic ruler. (With the actual thing available to cut around, why do math?)
I also drew lines on each one around the A3, so I could see exactly what I needed to cover, and marked the 4″ and 11″ points where each landscape needs to connect to the next.
And that’s as far as I got before Christmas, our flight to California, a week at my wonderful in-laws’, a week’s trip to Hawaii with said in-laws (during which we all cycled through a 24-hour stomach bug), our return to CA, a few days at the in-laws’, driving down to Santa Barbara, and a weekend at my husband’s grandparents’ for the baby’s first birthday!
So now we pick up again in Santa Barbara, where I bought a roll of painter’s tape* and taped up all my muslin foundations on the wall. (In order, of course, and labeled.) (*Painter’s tape is great for a cheap design wall when you’re renting or in a hotel because it’s designed not to take off any paint that’s underneath it. It makes a strong enough bond to hold up fabric, but doesn’t damage the wall. Also great for quilt-basting; holds the backing taut on a table top so you don’t baste in any wrinkles.)
Just before all the travel craziness, I’d cut out pieces of the black waxed cotton to serve as sky for the planets/moons that have little or no atmosphere. I picked it because it’s very matte, has no gloss or sheen at all. I also cut pieces of the two blue fabrics that will become Uranus and Neptune.
Once I had all the panels up on the wall, I pulled out my piles of fabrics and started making decisions about what would be used for each planet.
Since our trip to Goldhawk Road in London, and my decision to add needle-felted elements to the quilts, I’d ordered and picked up some more fabrics: felts, cotton batiks, and Northcott Stone fabrics in a few colors. (First I made sure that it’s possible to needle-felt onto cotton. It absolutely is; also linen and denim.) I started with the fabric choices I’d already made, verifying that some things I’d gotten to go together actually did, and continued trying things out from there.
Below is a fabric palette I designed for Pluto (which to me is always going to be the ninth planet; that’s just how it is).
And this is the palette for Venus, except for the bright yellow organza; I’ll use the same fabrics with the organza overlaid for Saturn’s moon Titan, which has an opaque yellow atmosphere. (Though I am planning to fudge that “opaque” bit a little so you can see Saturn through it.)
As I went, I cut swatches where I could and pinned them up on the relevant panel to remind myself. (That orange swatch on Mercury is to help me decide whether to use that glorious dupioni silk to represent the sun. Right now I’m thinking “Yes!”)
I ended up satisfied with all my choices, except for Mars. The felts I ordered for Mars turned out to be much too red, shades of dark crusty blood-red, and Mars should really be more orange-and-rust-colored. My husband and I are planning to hit Roxanne’s and Joann’s over the weekend to see what we can find. (It’s always meant a lot to me how supportive he is of my endeavors. And his color-sense is so good, which is a big help.)
So, that done, I decided to get to work on Earth (which is why it’s missing in the above picture). I figured I had the best idea what I wanted to do with the Earth panel, and had almost everything for it, and if I was only going to finish one, it should be Earth.
Here’s what I have so far.
I probably spent half an hour choosing the exact right section from each of those two blue batiks. The one for the sky shades all the way from a very light turquoise into a brilliant lilac, and the one for the sea goes through several shades of teal, including some that are nearly black. I was concerned it was actually too green, but when I put the blue organza over it again I just loved how that looked.
The gold shimmery stuff is going to be the sand of a beach, and I’m hoping I can layer the blue and a brighter blue turquoise over it to look like the shallows, and maybe embroider some white froth on the edge of a wave or two? Then in the foreground, there’s going to be a light brown Northcott Stone (you can see a strip of it pinned into that bundle in the top right corner) to be some dirt on the top of the bluffs, and two green chambrays, which I plan to felt and embroider over to be those crazy beach succulents that grow in Santa Barbara and look like they should be populating an alien planet.
I was originally planning my landscape to be the beach bluffs at Santa Barbara, where my husband and I often walked when we were first married, and when I’d decided to do the planet quilts and had to choose just one of many hugely varied environments to represent our weird and wonderful planet, an ocean view still seemed profoundly appropriate. After all, the oceans of liquid water are one of the things that set Earth apart.
I’ll keep working on Earth for a while, maybe finalize my arrangement of the elements. I’ll wait until later to figure out how I want to add the sun and the moon to the sky.
At every step of this process I’m confronted by the fact that I’ve never tried anything like this before. (Do I use French knots of white thread to represent the stars, or crystals? Can I really create a reasonable approximation of sea foam? Should I piece Jupiter, or just plan to needle-felt it?) That’s what it makes it exciting and scary!
And as we know, to me a thing’s just not worth doing unless it’s almost too hard.
Thanks for reading!