Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Utopian Safari Quilt

When the Christmas edition of Fat Quarterly Review was released, it contained a table runner that I had sewn using fabrics from Frances Newcombe's Cherie Range. When I shared it on instagram, it must have caught her eye. She got in touch and told me that she would love to send me some of her Utopia fabric to sew with.

Now I'm pretty sure that I went around grinning from ear to ear for about a week when the email arrived (these things don't happen to me!) and when a complete FQ bundle of Utopia arrived I was in heaven.

As I have previously mentioned, I tend to design patterns and then go in search of suitable fabrics. I began to feel the pressure of interpreting the fabrics and felt my mind go blank.

Then I was talking to a friend and mentioned that I thought I was getting towards the end of the animals that are suitable for quilts. In the course of this conversation, my friend reminded me that I had a half designed giraffe pattern lying abandoned in my computer. The moment that I thought if it, I knew that the design would be perfect for one of the fabrics in the Utopia range. I played with the scale of the design to get it to work as well as possible for the design and ended up with a 30 x 24 inch pattern.

But I had a whole bundle of fabrics to use.
One animal would not be enough.
I tried to think of safari animals which would work with the remaining utopia fabrics. This immediately discounted a few animals that I would have liked to try.

It seemed pretty obvious that the quilt needed an elephant and I knew which elephant I wanted, but somehow I began to stress about scale, fabric choices etc... I abandoned the elephant and turned to another block instead.

If I am completely honest, this pattern is strictly not based on a Safari animal as it is a Puma rather than a lioness. It was another half finished block which was stored in my computer, waiting to be finished and converted into fabric.

Even though its technically a Puma, I reckon that it could pass as virtually any big cat depending on fabric choice. My version of the block is 10 x 20 inch, but the pattern which will be released with be 12 x 24. Even though I had no problems sewing the small pieces of the face, I decided that you guys might swear a bit so I decided to save your sanity and increase the size of the block.

Next came the hippo. I played with various ideas for this block, but in the end decided upon a hippo submerged in muddy waterhole. I like the touch of humour that he adds by wallowing at the bottom of the quilt.

After finishing the hippo, life caught up with me and I reluctantly laid the quilt aside over the Christmas holidays. During that time I kept thinking about the elephant for the quilt. In my head I played with fabric combinations. There are quite a few fabrics suitable for an elephant in the utopia range, but I worried that many of them were too similar and that details would be lost due to lack of contrast.

When my daughter returned to school last week after the Summer holidays, I finally had the chance to sit down and sew. In the end I surprised myself with the fabrics that I chose, but I'm happy how they worked out. I altered the pattern ever so slightly to help the ears stand out and to address my concerns about the lack of contrast. I'm glad that I did- I think it was necessary.

Once the elephant was finished I excitedly sewed all the blocks together. But my haphazard design method had led to a big black space in the middle of the quilt and somehow the quilt seemed unfinished. I laid the quilt on the sofa and spent an evening looking at it, wondering how it could be improved.

The next day, I cut a 6 inch strip of black out of the quilt and sewed it back together again. It looked much better. But it still wasn't quite right. The quilt seemed unbalanced somehow, with too much yellow in it. The more I thought about it, the more I became convinced that I needed more animals. I decided to add a couple more elephants to the top of the quilt. They didn't need to be big as the haphazard sizes and shapes of the blocks already gave a feeling of perspective- the big hippo in the foreground and the big cat in the background.

The mother elephant is an existing pattern, the elephant calf is yet another pattern which was just waiting for me to put the finishing touches on it (are you sensing a pattern with this quilt?!- I may have to investigate the other half finished blocks that I have in the computer!).

Seeing the blocks laid out, I realised that I needed more animals. Black space on either side of the elephants would look too empty and wrong, something else was needed. I looked at the fabric that I had left and was uncertain what to do. Nothing really jumped out at me. Then an instagram follower suggested that I needed a flamingo- it seemed perfect. Next on my list is to finish these designs and then they will be added to the top corners of the quilt.

This is my progress to date. I can't do too much more at the moment as I am almost out of the black background fabric. The giraffe, big cat and hippo are all being tested and will hopefully be released soon. I need to do a little bit more work on the baby elephant pattern and then will send it off to the testers too.

I am really enjoying this project. I think its what I need at the moment- an excuse to go over old and abandoned designs, a chance to flex my creative muscle in a fun relaxed way and a chance to really think about what fabrics to place where. It is pretty unusual for me to confine myself to a single fabric line for a project so it has definitely been a learning experience for me.


  1. Love how creative talents can combine through the power of social media - this is a match made in heaven, go you Juliet!

  2. I think the hippo along the bottom is sheer genius. I cannot wait to see the finished quilt.

  3. I agree with Catherine that the hippo is just wonderful! It is just delightful just lying there with just it's head out of the water. What fun it will be to see it all come together. Will you be offering the pattern for sale?

  4. Oh my gosh ~ I love this so much ~ everything about it is wonderful, everything! You are offering it as a pattern soon, I hope?

  5. Wow! You have been busy. I think the giraffe is my fave!

  6. I adore elephants and I'm sew happy to see so many in your project. I love your hippo too. Were it mine I think I would embroider or appliqué a bit of foliage to accent the animals. I can't wait to see how it all turns out.I purchased one of your elephant patterns and would love the baby to go with it.

  7. Hi!!!!! Wow!!!!! Wonderful!!!! I love love it all!!!!! It is awesome!!!!!

  8. I love quilts with dark backgrounds, this is no exception! I love your choice of fabrics they seem to give personality to each animal. Happy creating.

  9. Ooooh yes I love the addition of the Flamingos!! My absolute favourite though is Mrs Hippo!!

  10. Oh wow Juliet - it is inspirational and so good - you never cease to blow my mind xx

  11. As is, it would make one heck of an apron!


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