Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Eagles on Quilts - mine has Landed!

Click here to learn more about this book.

In my previous post on Eagles on Quilts, I wrote about being invited by quilt historian  Susan Wildemuth to make a small commissioned quilt.

Being a woman of few words is not one of my strong suits. I like to tell stories so beware!

But first I'll show you my various "auditions" for my layout. The final version that I sent Sue will come toward the end of my cover letter to Sue. It is an honor to have been asked to be a part of this very special project.

Layout version #1 - early January 2011

Layout version #2 - early January 2011

Layout version #3 - early January 2011

June 2011

Dear Sue,

Well, here is my “baby” — finally. It has been hard to part with “him”.  He is all yours now but I know he is going to a good home.

It was an honor to be invited to participate and it served as a catalyst to get me to quilting again. I have wanted to experiment with Broderie perse for a long time but didn’t have the guts to get started. And I loved the idea of blending the creativity with history! Now I sit and stitch for the first time in years, listening to books on tape or watching a Netflix movie with my husband instead of burying myself on the Internet each evening. 

Working on this piece has brought back a lot of good memories from my earliest years of actively quilting in the 1980s. In the past I had always found handwork very contemplative and restful. The same benefits are still there!

When you first emailed me I was reluctant to accept because there was a deadline. Could I actually make even a small quilt by the due date, when I was so out of practice, along with everything else on my plate— including my daughter’s wedding? I finally decided I could and would take it on.

Another reason I said Yes was because I could choose forgivable, flexible appliqué! Yippee!  No points to match! (Well, I did forget about creating those mitered corners out of the pre-printed borders, didn’t I. They were a bear to make match.)

Even before I said yesfor sure, I began to research the history of the various eagle images popular in American history over the past 200+ years on the Internet. Then I began looking for reproduction fabric that would more or less realistically reflect the era I had chosen–the 1780s. I knew there was George Washington fabric out there and I knew there was fabric reflecting early eagle images.  If I could find this fabric, I figured this was going to be a no brainer design wise. That took a lot of the potential stress out of the project for me.

Before I got too deeply into the planning of my daughter’s wedding, I bought all the fabric I thought I would need…..and then some, since I can’t run to a local fabric shop at the last minute as a result of living on a small island.

Once the fabric arrived, I cut out several different images and began to play with their placement. I ended up with three possible choices for lay out and photographed them. Then everything was put away for almost two months until after the wedding.

Once the wedding was behind me, I pulled all the fabric out again, looked at the three layouts stored on my computer; auditioned some possible border fabrics and figured out what size each border needed to be so that the “whole” would fit within the required size and still look balanced. The last step at this point was to select one of my three layouts through the process of elimination and finally -- baste. Now I was ready to begin the appliqué. The hours I spent doing the Broderie perse were pure joy.

I knew the greatest challenge going into this for me was going to be the corners. I did not exactly approach the attachment of my borders in the traditional way so when it came to mitering those corners, it was really tricky and innovative. However, I had given myself permission from the very beginning not to have to be “perfect’, so even the mitering was fairly stress-free, though I have to say, I did consult with my friend Anne Dawson twice. (Anne,  who also lives on the island, is a quilt teacher, a member of AQSG and has a quilt conservation business with clients from all over.)

Fortunately, Anne recommended a batting that was like quilting through butter. (The product name is Dream Cotton.) I have since quilted a small 1930s doll quilt made from vintage fabric that I bought at a fund raising auction three years ago. It was a bear to quilt because of the batting that was included. It didn’t occur to me to replace the batting that came with it. Had I given it any in-depth thought, I would have taken out my basting and my first quilting stitches and replaced the batting immediately. (But, no. I did not want to have to pull out the basting and re-do it. Such miss-steps are how we learn!)

I even found doing the back of your Eagle quilt fun! I decided to add one page of a Timeline from 1780 that I found on the Internet at After getting permission from them to use portions of their Timeline, I added two dates of my own having to do with textile history, printed the whole thing on fabric; hemmed it and the tacked it in the middle of the back.  I also added a label but ran out of thread as I was attaching it. (An empty needle is a good sign that it is time to go to bed! I told myself. I’ll finish in the morning.) 

The back. Details to come.

The next morning when I went back to my work, the idea of a pocket instead of a label came to me. A pocket gave me the opportunity to print a photo and bio, again on fabric, which I then folded and stuck in the “label pocket.”  (However, you have my permission to tack the bio to the back of the quilt also, if you prefer. )

Ah, the simple sleeve. At first I created a sleeve that matched the backing fabric using machine stitching. But then I decided the sleeve was too short. (Too short because I had only enough left to make up a short sleeve!)  But I also decided I didn’t like the idea of having machine stitched it when everything else about the quilt was hand-stitched. It seemed “distracting.”

The second time around  with the sleeve, I went with the fabric that matched the binding and hand-stitched it. I was very pleased with the difference. With the addition of the Timeline, the pocket label and the new hand-stitched sleeve, the back now seemed coherent. (Plus, that little addition of Broderi perse on the pocket made such a nice touch. I almost wished I had added a bit more!)

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if a book could come out of your efforts with this Eagle project!  Have you approached a publisher yet?

What’s next? To get my four UFO’s completed plus make a quilt similar to what I just made for you for my own family!! (Two of my UFOs were begun in 1981 and 1983; another in 2005 and another in 2009! What a joy it will be to finally get them all done – including my very first quilt!)

I also want to experiment with taking one or two leftover blocks from my friends’ quilt projects here on the island and making something unique by adding my own scraps. The idea is not unlike what Mary Kerr and her group of friends did in the past couple of years. (I love the book they published showing their incredible creativeness!) Working with leftover blocks is something I have wanted to do for years but couldn’t break that mental logjam about getting started again with a threaded needle. So now the logjam is broken!

I would greatly appreciate it if you would keep me apprised of where this group of quilts is exhibited. I would also love to have a list of all those who participated in this project!

Once again, my sincere thanks for having invited me to participate in what I am calling your “The Eagle in American History Decade by Decade” project!

All good wishes for all your research endeavors,

Karen Alexander

The FINAL version!

He's not quite square, but by golly, I finally did a Broderie Perse!

Much of my Timeline for the decade 1780 comes from The History Place and was printed and added to the quilt with permission.

Click photo to enlarge for reading.

PS: A reader requested some closer detail, so here you are.

I did have a little bit of a problem with fraying on the more loosely woven fabric but nothing I couldn't manage. I did not use any fusible material or fabric glue. I simply tacked each piece down and started doing the close buttonhole applique stitch by hand.

I also did a running stitch in black around the eagle to make it stand out more, plus added additional embroidered embellishment on its breast shield, its eye, the leaves in its one claw and the object in its mouth.

Click to enlarge.

This is the fabric that most easily frayed, yet it was still reasonable to deal with.

The triangles in the borders are all preprinted. Click on the photo below and you will see the tiny green triangles on this particular strip.  I did a buttonhole stitch all along the edge of this strip to attach it to the quilt.


  1. Karen, What a cool Eagle quilt. How wonderful you are making quilts again! I look forward to seeing your finished UFO's.

  2. What a great quilt - and wonderful broderie perse fabric selection.

  3. Great quilt and love you telling us the whole process.
    Hope for us all with all those UFO's out there.

  4. beautiful and I love hearing the story, great fabric choices...
    thanks for sharing

  5. You created your own bit of quilt history...

  6. Fascinating to see how your quilt evolved. The different stages are a lesson in themselves. thank you for showing all the stages. the final result is wonderful!

    The book looks like a must-read.

  7. Karen it is beautiful!
    what fun to hear about your process...and desision making...great quilt!! (I also love!!! dream cotton)

  8. Thanks for the additional info on your process and the closer up pics.