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Embellishing quilts: with fire?

Updated on April 7, 2016
JanTUB profile image

Quilter, author, tutor, columnist, Jan T Urquhart Baillie has been enthusing others with her passion for quilting for more than 30 years.

Patchwork quilts come in many genres

And I have tried almost any genre you can think of. They can be traditional, crazy patched or very out there.

I like to take traditional quilt blocks and play with them to make not-so-traditional quilt designs.

Sometimes it's great fun to get out there and experiment!

This is the story of such an experiment, where I tried to embellish my quilt using fire.

Beautiful = poisonous

Sometimes, so beware.

We took our long service leave in 1989 and spent eleven weeks travelling around West Australia.

One of the places we visited was Wittenoom, a former blue asbestos mining town.

It was early morning and the light was very clear. At our feet we saw a very beautiful blue brick-shaped rock, resting on the pebbles. Paul took a photo of the rock, which of course, was deadly blue asbestos.

A quilt idea was born

Using that 'brick' as inspiration

A few years later, I decided to produce a number of quilts and to exhibit them with the photos that inspired them.

The exhibition Reach for the Sky was well recieved by both male and female visitors to the galleries.

The men loved the pictures and the women loved the quilts.

Take Care When You Gouge Holes In Me! - Not all pretty stuff is beautiful


The quilt showing the burnt edge of the fabric which depicts the hole.

How I got the fabric and the fib I told

The fabrics that make up the blocks in the quilt were sent to me by a friend, who heard about Veronica's stroke and subsequent coma.

That friend, who was an MS sufferer, and who hand-dyed wonderful fabrics, posted a package to me some time during the long months of the coma.

When Tina sold her fabrics, she packaged them in a fashion that showed a small strip of each of the colours in the set. That's what I saw when I opened the parcel. I sent her a thank you note and said I would make something special from the fabric.

After I started to feel better, about a year later, I sat on the bed to open the gift and chatted to Paul while he got ready for work. Inside was a lovely surprise.

As I opened the fabric, scraps of lots of bits and pieces fell out, each one prettier than the last. The scraps were from Tina's wonderful art quilts, and were cotton and raw silk.

I exclaimed, "Look at this one!", "And this one!", "And this!"

Paul said that only a quilter would get so worked up about some little bits of fabric, and some were quite little, too.

So then I had to phone Tina to tell her I hadn't opened the package and had only just seen what was inside.

As promised, I did make a good piece from her fabric. It's one of my all time favourite quilts.

The blocks from Tina's scrap fabrics

I used my Listen With Your Eyes technique to make the Square in Square blocks, and then made the little Shoo Fly blocks using the resulting triangle square you get from the method.

Not a skerrick was wasted!

In between the rows are strips of a great Batik fabric, cut in Fibonnaci series to make a grid for the blocks, and negative space for the design.

I wanted to make irregular row heights, as I had very limited fabrics, and the quilt needed to be a pleasing shape.

That left me with a problem.

Square in a Square block at left - Shoo Fly block at right

blocks from quilt
blocks from quilt

Constructive Craft Criticism

A textile artists group in Queensland

When I lived in Brisbane, I was invited by Tina (Sutton) to join this prestigious artists group. I learned so much there, from the artists, and from the art critics who viewed our work.

Many of these artists had come from art school backgrounds, and had skills I had not yet acquired.

Often they would show pieces with innovative techniques used in the creation.

And the one that I wanted to use for this quilt was:

Burning holes in the fabric.

Burn the fabric!!!

Are you mad?

So said Angela, who was visiting me in Sydney on the day I decided to do this.

Picture this:

  • A brand new house.
  • A brand new pale mint green bench top on cream cupboards.
  • A cream ceramastone sink.
  • Me at the sink with a glass of water (in case of fire!), some matches, and the chosen fabric.

What happened?

Fun for all

Angela cracked up!

As she watched, I lit the match and held the piece of fabric over the flame.

Whoosh! Up it went.

I tried to poke it into the glass. (Why was it such a small glass?)

I couldn't put it in the brand new cream sink.

The smoke alarm started screaming.

Angela was laughing so hard, she almost fell off the stool.

Not helpful, Ange!

Eventually I got the offending fabric into the water in the glass, and said, "That went well!"

And she told anyone who would listen about her crazy firebug mother.

As I related this to my artist friends, they told me what I was supposed to do — between gales of laughter.

You wet all the edges, leaving dry the area you want to burn away.

Then you carefully hold the dry part of the fabric over a candle.

It will only burn to the wet part and no house fire will happen.

Now they tell me!

I tried again this time with success

And why was I wanting to burn a hole in the fabric anyway?

I wanted to put the photograph of the blue brick-shaped piece under, so it seemed to be in the ground.

A jagged hole is the only thing that would suffice.

When I managed it (the right way this time) it was perfect, just what I had seen in my mind's eye.

I attached it using raw-edged machine applique, free machining over it in a design like the sheaves of wheat style print on the background fabric.

Blue asbestos mine adit - at Wittenoom in West Australia

Easy when you know how!

like most things.

I have used the technique since with no disasters happening, but it makes a good yarn, doesn't it?

© 2009 Jan T Urquhart Baillie

Got a funny quilt story? - I've got some more.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I had to laugh at your quilt burning story. Actually I was laughing as I remembered doing the same thing. Fortunately I didn't set off the smoke alarm though.

    • JanTUB profile image
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      Jan T Urquhart Baillie 6 years ago from Australia

      @anonymous: LOL still when I read this, remembering clearly that day. Thanks for dropping by.

    • profile image

      anonymous 6 years ago

      What fun! I expected some wonderfully creative fire designs ~ guess I got more than I expected, lol!

    • Rachel Field profile image

      Rachel Field 8 years ago

      [in reply to JanTUB] No, he knows what I'm like with DIY tools!

    • JanTUB profile image
      Author

      Jan T Urquhart Baillie 8 years ago from Australia

      [in reply to MeltedRachel] Did he tell you to give up smoking?

      Tourquoise is my very favourite colour.

    • JanTUB profile image
      Author

      Jan T Urquhart Baillie 8 years ago from Australia

      [in reply to 0ctavias0fferings] Not about burning down your new kitchen, I hope! Thanks for the 5*

    • Rachel Field profile image

      Rachel Field 8 years ago

      Eek! I'm not sure I have any funny ones- just that my Dad wasn't very impressed when I lost some of the deposit money on my student accomodation because there were "cigarette burns" on the carpet- actually they were hot air gun burns.

      I share your small pieces of fabric excitement!! Beautiful blues in your quilt! :)

    • ctavias0ffering1 profile image

      ctavias0ffering1 8 years ago

      Hilarious story and an interesting technique ... you're giving me ideas 5*