My Tom Thomson tree

Mary Pal, who is famous for her cheesecloth portraits, has developed another use for cheesecloth in quilts and in June I was lucky enough to take her inaugural class called Gatineau Spring.

This is Mary’s class sample.

When I signed up for the class I hadn’t even seen the sample; I simply wanted to learn a new technique. The quick summary of what we did is this. Using Mary’s pattern as a template I built the tree from cheesecloth and “painted” the background and backing fabrics with Caran D’ache Neocolor II watersoluble wax pastels. Then I appliquéd the tree to the background, and sandwiched, turned, and quilted the thing. Now here’s the long version, with pictures.

The tree trunk and leaves were constructed from Linda Palaisy’s hand-dyed cheesecloth. The green in the picture on the right is the original green. By the time I thought to take the picture with the layers separated (picture on the left) I had already darkened the leaves by painting with colour I had lifted from the wax pastels. The brown for the tree trunk is unchanged.

We used the backing fabric as a test sample for drawing and colouring the background fabric, as well as practicing transforming the wax pastels into watercolour. The photo on the left (below) is my backing, the middle picture is what the background fabric looked like immediately after class, and the picture on the right is my final background. As was the case with the Setacolor fabric paints, no matter how vibrant the colours look when they’re wet they are quite a bit paler when dry. My solution was to apply additional colour to this background multiple times. Once I was satisfied with the background I assessed the composition by placing the tree overlay onto the background, and it was then I decided to darken the leaves.

In the picture of the trees higher up in this post you can see the bits of cheesecloth I used to make the grass. I wasn’t happy with how chunky and scraggly the bits looked so instead I filled in the areas with machine stitching (see the last 2 pictures in this post). Is this thread painting? Is it embroidery? I don’t know what to call it but I prefer it to the cheesecloth.

As for finishing the quilt, like Mary I didn’t want to bind this little art-style quilt so I did a pillowcase turn. Once the quilt was turned I fused a piece of interfacing to the underside of the slit. Because I had never done a pillowcase turn before I had limited confidence that I’d be able to sew the slit closed without distorting the backing. After all, there was no ease in the back to allow for a seam allowance. The slit will be hidden by a rod pocket so as long as it holds well I’m not too concerned about how it looks.

Quilting time. I would have loved to have uses variegated thread for the land and water, but except for the gold/brown you see in the second picture below, the other variegated threads in my stash all have a rayon-like sheen and I didn’t want the threads to literally shine. Luckily I had enough coloured threads in my stash to match the different shades of rock in the foreground and I changed my top thread as I moved from section to section. This is the first time I’ve used more than a couple of different threads in a project and I’m happy with the results. The sky was quilted with invisible thread, which is why the photograph doesn’t show much of the quilting in the top half of the piece.

I really enjoyed making this quilt (proof of this is that the quilt is finished in less than 2 months and not sitting in my UFO pile) and am happy with the result.

If you’re wondering why I called this My Tom Thomson tree, it’s because Mr. Thomson, a famous Canadian painter, painted landscapes that undoubtedly inspired Mary’s design.

Tom Thomson’s The West Wind (1917), left, and Jack Pine (1917), right.