The prospectus for SAQA’s call for entry read

Show Concept:
Water – it’s everywhere! The majority of the earth’s surface is covered by water, and more than half of the human body consists of water. But water also plays an essential role in our survival.
Cultures have thrived based on their proximity to water, and crops survive or fail, based on rain or the lack thereof. Every living thing depends on water to survive, and life hangs in the balance when shortages persist.
An overabundance of water in its varied states of rain, snow, and hail may bring death and destruction in the form of tsunamis, hurricanes, or blizzards.
Religious ceremonies, such as baptism, ceremonial baths, and cleansings, have elevated water as a key component in many of mankind’s most sacred rituals.
We are also drawn to sources of water for recreation and relaxation. Vacations at the beach compete with the thrill of watching glaciers calving. As one of our most precious commodities, water also serves as a source of power.
This exhibition encourages the artist to interpret one of the most vital, desired, powerful, sacred, and enjoyed resources on earth in their own unique, individual style, whether abstract, graphic, or 2
representational.  Closing date November 30 – I made the deadline!

I had read the prospectus for this exhibition and had that in the back of my mind when I read an article in SAQA’s fall journal.  Six printing companies were compared for the quality of their “direct to garment” printing. I wrote to Dee Dee Davis of Decor Print and had a very professional and friendly reply.  The result of my correspondence was this reproduction on cotton broadcloth, which I intended to turn into an art quilt.  I have included here the finished work but will take you on a journey to reveal my process.

I pondered the amazing reproduction for several weeks before starting.  I knew that first I would work on the background.  The Caribbean waters have been a fascination to me in terms of colour (warmth is another that played into this exploration).  The rock itself was deserving of a different treatment, but at this time it was still in the formative stage of my imagination.

I had some shimmering tulle that lent itself to this application so decided to cover the background water and to sculpt around it to show various areas of shadow and the highlights of the wave.

I used my sewing machine to follow the waves lines and to hold the tulle in place. This was a relatively quick section to work up. I began to cut away several areas of the layered tulle, allowing the shadows to take on their depth and bringing forward the water droplets of the “splash.”  This was a more intricate area that was deserving of handwork and took several days to complete.

Although I didn’t actually work all the water at one time, I have grouped the photos to show various aspects of this portion of the process.

The rocks I decided would be all hand quilted.  The various life-forms (dead or alive) and the crevices were extremely exciting discoveries and deserving of a sculpted application.  I was truly amazed that our camera had captured such detail from this distance.

The back of the work, shows a rock form being back stuffed in the trapunto method.  The opening is stitched closed to hold the stuffing in place.  From time to time I will also compact the stuffing by stitching through the bulk to reduce the profile on the front of the work – as needed.

The actual quilting process involved working back and forth between the rocks and the sea, constantly monitoring and controlling the amount of surface area being pulled in.  The end result would have to be perfectly rectangular, although I couldn’t say exactly what the dimensions would be.  I have in the past worked on a project where the end size was critical.  I allowed about 1/3 more cloth and ended up devising a way to take up anything extra (which I have discussed previously, and will again in this blog).  If an area is pulled in too much, it is a simple matter of cutting some non-essential stitches and spreading the compacted surface.

I had an idea that I haven’t used before in my work.  If you can shrink cotton, why not use this method to reduce surface area.  The machined area of the water was less pulled in than the sculpted rock surfaces.  Using a wet sponge I dampened the water surface and pressed the surface that met with the rock edges to “sculpt” the piece more than it already was.  I also use the shrinking technique to minimize the crevices of the rocks which I intentionally left without much quilting to create a darker and deeper illusion.

I also used stitches to pull in the perimeter of the quilt where this was needed – especially in the darker areas and where the sea surface met the edge of the piece.


As with all my previous quilting projects, backing is the essence of finishing the work for presentation.  The stabilizing interface is essential for not only maintaining the intended dimensions, but allows for more 3-dimensional sculpting.  The above images show the process from pinning to stitching down.

I had decided that a plain white border might suit this work, extending the white of the splash around the quilt.  I also decided to do a mitred edge, not that difficult but measuring is very important.  I used the selvage waste from the cotton broadcloth reproduction itself to keep the conformity of the work.  The entire frame/border is sewn together then laid out for stitching to the quilt.  I meticulously measured, pinned and hand sewed the frame to the quilt following my drawn on guidelines.  Still, I had to resew a couple of sections that were not “perfect” enough. A sectioned piece of polyester quilt batting was used to provide a slight dimension to the edge.

I used cotton sheeting to add the final finished backing that would also contain a horizontal pocket for the hanging rod – my usual skirting board substitute.

Each seam was hand stitched and layers of batting and seam allowance stitched down to ensure everything stayed in place.  I finally stitched through all layers around the inner border to hold everything together.  This is the essential last step for vertical hanging/display.  The rod will be inserted and eye screws put in place with a hanging seine twine alternative to wire.

The quilt itself was completed and measured 33” wide x 25” high; however, I was not convinced that it said what I intended as I began the numerous drafts for my statement:

Costa Verde, Cuba (photographed in 2015)

Over time I have photographed the pitted limestone rocks of north-eastern, coastal Cuba.  Eroded by natural coastal factors and acidic rain, their crevices provide habitats for a myriad of sea life-forms, while others are pockets entrapping but skeletal remains.  Together, they cling tenaciously enduring wind, wave and tidal forces. We may gaze and admire; but, overshadowed by the rising temperatures and changing elements of these luring, blue green waters, life hangs precariously in the balance.

There was one element that I felt was needed.  There was one dark crevice in the rock that begged to have something inserted.  I also felt that my work deserved at least one “interpretive” change from the photograph itself.  I decided to make a piece of brain coral using a technique that I have explored in recent works, that of fused silk fibre.  Previous blog postings explain the technique.

I used a previously made brain coral that had been left in it’s unfinished state. The form was opened and flattened and then dampened to enable the ridges to be roughly manipulated by hand.  Once dry, I was able to back with cotton batting and begin the stitching.  Short lengths of cotton yarn were used to hold the ridges while I stitched through the layers – the same technique that is used for piping a corded edge.

I was not satisfied with the look of the brain coral pattern and kept coming back to a small piece that I had which nicely pulled forward a small section in the reproduction just above the crevice that I intended to use as a housing. Once the patterns were completed the edges were pulled back and stitched in place.  A backing was added to finish the piece as a small sculpture.  I needed to secure the silk fibre that had been added along the ridges, and give the coral some detailed definition.  Small stitches with quilt cotton seemed to work nicely.

The piece was placed in the intended crevice.  I had extra surface area here and was able to pull up the cloth around the perimeter and further enhance the surrounding rock formation.  The coral was placed inside where it will be permanently fixed.

Costa Verde, Cuba Quilt
Costa Verde, Cuba Quilt






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