Journal Entry: March 15, 2020.
The inspiration for my Monet wall hanging and bed-size quilts came from an interesting series of events related to Claude Monet’s garden. It started from a long phone conversation with my youngest granddaughter Lily, who had visited Monet’s home in Giverny, Normandy, France with her mom during a summer vacation. Claude Monet is my absolute favorite of the famous Impressionist painters. Lily provided a wonderfully detailed description of her experience: the gentle beauty of the gardens, colorful flowers and lily ponds, and Monet’s personal collection of paintings. During our chat I mentioned how much I admired Monet after studying his artistic style in one of my college art appreciation classes. At some point in our conversation I told Lily it would be awesome to try to design a quilt inspired by Monet’s artwork.
Lily’s conversation took me to the timely exhibit of the Claude Monet: The Truth of Nature at the Denver Art Museum (DAM) with my grandson Evan a week later. We spent time studying the artistic details of the paintings. Back home, I pulled out a copy of a book I purchased many years ago, Monet, by Sandro Sproccati. I read more about the backstory of Monet’s approach to painting and about the paintings we saw in the DAM exhibit. These two events with my grandchildren led to designing a quilt featuring water lilies. (Of course, with a granddaughter named Lily what else would I choose?)
I set out to bring Claude Monet and his Impressionist artistic expression into a quilt design. I was also determined to create a representation of a scene I would see captured in a Monet painting. Forgive me for even suggesting a comparison to the style of Georgia O’Keeffe, a fabulous American Modernism painter in the early 1900’s, but I’m loosely labeling my attempt to capture the realism of elements found in a near a lily pond with fabric as a textile form of “American Modern Realism”, a study of nature’s beauty.
The decision to make a wall hanging was an easy one. A painting translates into a wall hanging naturally. (Albeit working with fabric generally leads to fewer elements in the artwork compared to the detail an artist can add with a paintbrush.) In a wall hanging you can more easily build in perspective with the size of elements, and it helps that your finished work will be viewed straight-on, hanging on a wall.
However, viewing a painting from the top of a bed results in a totally different perspective. My decision to also make a bed quilt, one that represented a wall painting, wasn’t quite so straight forward. For one, a bed quilt is more functional, as well as decorative. Your mind’s eye doesn’t readily take you to “I’m looking at a painting.” I admit I struggled with how I would approach the design of a “Monet” bed quilt. I finally decided—after way too much deliberation—to make a framed picture that would fit the full top of the bed (king-size in this instance), leaving space outside the frame with a borders to make a bedspread. I incorporated a number of different tree blocks to add more realism to the quilt. (After all, I don’t know of any forest or woods I’ve seen that contains only one type of tree.)
I also sized and positioned the lily pond, lilies and lily pads to appear in the foreground of the quilt. Upon reflection, I’m not sure I quite pulled this off in my bed quilt because of the size of the trees compared to the lily pads. (Frankly, I just didn’t want to work with a whole lot of small-sized patches and a larger number of blocks to make the finished trees smaller. I’m going to argue this by saying that if you do look at the bed from the end you can see the trees are really in the background.) After creating my preliminary design, I knew I would need to rely heavily on fabric selection to pull off my quilted fabric painting.
Fabric selection is just as much a part of a quilt design as selecting block styles, and the overall layout of quilt elements. A few days later while visiting my friend Karen Gibbs at her Golden Colorado studio (Karen is the Design Director for Northcott’s Banyan Batiks), I saw the Color Me Banyan Ink Blot collection. I heard my mind go Click Click Click. I was immediately taken with how this collection reminded me of Monet’s colorful brushstrokes in the paintings I saw at the museum. And I knew then I was committed to create my own masterpieces, inspired by the great Claude Monet—and more Banyan Batiks fabrics.
I was fascinated by Monet’s early work, as he studied the effects of light and color with several series he painted from the same setting, captured at different times of the day. He incorporated the early morning foggy mist over the France countryside and the subtle differences in color in the sky and on the landscape that emerged as the day brightened. The gray hues and splashes of subtle and mottled floral colors revealed brilliant distinctive shapes in the landscape. The early morning grays in Monet’s paintings led me to the unusual selection of medium gray (instead of blue) for the sky and pond in Monet’s Lilies #1 and pond water in Monet’s Lilies #2. An assortment of fabrics from the Banyan Classics Silver collection provided just what I needed for my fabric painting. I actually used the reverse side of one of the fabrics to get just the right coordinating gray for the sky. And, I used another fabric from the collection for the wide border. I selected a fabric from the Banyan Classics Onyx collection to frame the painting and for binding.
Lily described Monet’s gardens to me in great detail, providing a lush picture of the natural grasses, trees and bamboo that surrounded the lily ponds. Her descriptions were brought to life when I saw Monet’s paintings at the Museum, and again later when I saw the photos Lily and her mom Gina took at Monet’s home. Of course, I wanted to be sure to capture the essence of these elements in my quilts. And, totally by chance, a few more of the batiks Karen showed me from Linda J. Hahn’s Carnivale Honeydew Hills and Strawberry Field collection were perfect!
I then finalized my plan for the main feature of my quilts, the water lilies. I’d already decided to use Color Me Banyan Ink Blot for the applique lilies. You might want to take a closer look at the two quilts above to see the differences. I’ve been working with a lot of appliqué, wool and embroidery lately. These seem to fill my passion for handwork. So, for Monet’s Lilies #2 I decided the wall hanging would be a perfect place to include wool for the lily pads and lily centers, adding simple embellishment. The wool, thread and bead embellishment also added dimension to the wall hanging.
Because the bed quilt would get more wear through use, and it would be washed, I used batiks for the lily pads and lily centers instead of wool. I pulled more of the tone-on-tone fabrics from the Carnivale collections for the centers. I thought of repeating the use of the green tree fabrics for the lily pads in the bed quilt but didn’t feel there was enough of a difference between the trees and lily pads so pulled in another green fabric, from the Color Me Banyan Treads collection (shown in the photo of Monet’s Lilies #1 above).
I obviously had a fantastic, and fruitful, visit at Karen’s Northcott Banyan Batiks studio for this project; like going to a local quilt shop. Lots of oh’s and ah’s. I remember saying a lot of: “Oh, wow, look at that!”, and “Ah, this is perfect!”, and “Oh my, this is awesome!” (And, I she let me touch them all!)
The quilt finish…
The excitement of making this quilt didn’t end with the fabric and piecing. I asked Judy Lanza of A Better Quilt in Arvada, Colorado to add the finish quilting. Judy is an artist with a quilting machine. When I saw the finished quilt I actually noted she also got caught up in the spirit of creating a Monet masterpiece. She proved to me once again that a quilt design isn’t complete without also designing the quilting. It’s not just making sure the layers of the quilt are stitched together; it’s also about integrating another element into the overall design. Taking her longarm, as would a master use a paintbrush, on the canvas of the finished quilt top, she painted cloud shapes in the sky and added waves of stitches to the pond. Each of the trees in the quilt have unique motifs to add to the uniqueness of each different tree block. And… I love what Judy did with the lily pads! She stitched around the lilies so they would have some dimension and added the finest detail within each of the lily pads. They look so much like the veins you would see in the real thing!
The evolution of a quilt design…
My original goal for these quilts was to try my hand at rendering a likeness of Monet’s gardens with fabric, a meager attempt to build upon the emotions I get when I look into one of his paintings and dissect the details of his artistic style. As usual, when I try my hand at designing a painting or actual landscape for a quilt, I got caught up in the spirit of creating a realistic depiction of what I actually see. I don’t know that it’s a bad thing because it helps me visualize the details and how I might translate them with fabric, thread and embellishment. However, I do get carried away until a perfect replication becomes a demanding focus. I’ve learned that I need to gather information about my subject, let the ideas percolate in my head until these nuggets lead to identifying design elements and materials that can help me create a reasonable symbolic impression of the real thing. Let’s face it, fabric does have limitations that you don’t have with a canvas, brush and paint or a camera. Not until then can I focus on making my plan come together. Once the intensity of the creative process nears an end, I almost hate to see the quilt finished—after all, it’s the ending of the story. I wonder if Claude Monet felt this way…
P.S. The pattern, with technique step-outs, for making Monet’s Lilies #1 and Monet’s Lilies #2 is available. Please send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.