Friday, February 28, 2020

Belladonic Haze

What is a Belladonic Haze?

First, it is my newest 2020 show quilt. Some say that it is a plant that contains toxins that can cause hallucinations. Reality is, the phrase comes from a 1973 Queen song. As I go through this post, you will see why the name is relevant to me.

So here she is, all 75" of her. This quilt was started in the spring of 2018. It is my third carpenter's star quilt (go back and search for Zen Garden and Illuminations for the other two similar yet very different versions of this design). It is definitely a modernized take on this fairly traditional lone star variation.
Some years/months ago, I posted some of the early variations I had when the design was in its infancy. I played with what to do in the setting squares as well as the colors of the pieced diamonds.
It seems for quite a while I was playing with a leaf thought for the setting squares. I clearly hadn't pulled the fabrics that would be used either.
I even pondered this interesting wrought iron notion. I went so far as to draw it out on the pen tablet and have a piece of fabric printed at Spoonflower to see if I liked it. Somehow it seemed like cheating, so it was abandoned. There was just no way I was going to applique that wrought iron. These colors are fairly representative of the actual quilt though.
And here is the one I went with (EQ rendition). EQ does a great job creating a realistic model of what the actual quilt will be.

About then, I was turned on to the wildly creative paint dot mosaics of Elspeth McLean. Appliquing black bias vine seemed crazy, but appliquing thousands of dots was much more up my alley. Go figure...
You already know I'm a bit off my rocker! I was intrigued and inspired, and the quilt took off.
I pulled lots of stash fabrics in my "go-to" colors. I also had Debra Linker dye me some most awesome peach silk Radiance in several shades. I began with the pieced diamonds. While they are strip-pieced, they are anything but fast. I am careful to match intersections. These were done in the early spring of 2018.
Fabrics in the diamonds are mostly cottons, but there are a few silks thrown in for that contrast in texture.
Throughout the spring and summer (and probably fall!), I hand appliqued the setting squares - 24 in all. This pattern with 46 turned edge dots was made 8 times. It has 14 different color silk Radiance dots. When I was making them, I tried to keep track of how long each took. That was 45000 brain cells ago, though, and I have long forgotten! Best guess, from the cutting of fabrics to turning the edges to the hand stitching, each block takes around 8 hours. Probably more.

The circles were initially pin set in place, then glued, then basted. I'm picky and don't like to applique around 50 pins. They just get in the way. This is a nice taupe Radiance that I hoarded 4-6 yards of when Radiance first went discontinued. It makes a nice neutral background for all this color.

The second tier of setting squares is similar but different. It may look a bit weird from the squares below, but when they are all on the carpenters star, the pattern is obvious. It was a ridiculous assembly line of dots. All in all I made about 1300 dots for this quilt.
I am most adamant about certain colors - notably blue and brown. These are just not in my wheel house. They are not colors I relate to whatsoever. That said, I just could not find a good neutral for the background of this quilt - one that let all the colors pop, and one that coordinated with the silvery-taupe silk. Brown is a hard color to work with because you have to work to get the quilting to show. Furthermore, it's just blah. mud. I knew I had my work cut out to make this something that I would like. I kept telling myself that the star and the silk were the show, the brown is just supporting cast. To this day, I'm fully sure I agree.

The finished flimsy dates to about February 2019. I remember one day thinking that the brown background needed a little "more". That was the day I began cutting another 150 or so of those burgundy silk circles that scallop around the outermost parts of the star. After 1200, what's another 150?!
The piecing was not without its issues. Most quilts fall into this category though. The center where the 8 diamond sections came together was a "full D-cup" as we say. Flat?...neh. I steamed the heck out of it and made it better. In the end, a pretty dark green silk circle was appliqued at the quilt's center, and the offending poof was cut away. Nothing is perfect and this was far from the only blemish the top had.
The quilt is loaded with just a layer of batting and no backing. It is fully basted and marked. Message to self: On subsequent quilts, only mark the trapunto. Mark the remainder of the quilting after the trapunto is cutaway!

I decided I'd do a little cutaway trapunto on this quilt. I'm not really sure why as it is kind of a pain in the rump and it's not without risk. I was trying to get some color/interest onto the brown background. Places I did trapunto are shown in white below (that is the back of the quilt top and the white is just batting).
So, you need a little background about things before I get much further on the quilting description. The piecing of the quilt was during a relatively typical time for me, but when it came to starting the quilting last winter, life was a total mess. My dad had been in and out of the hospital in the late fall of 2018. On new year's day 2019, he went into the hospital again and was there for 3 months until he died. It was stressful and hectic, and I was not in a particularly creative niche at all. To compound this, my oldest kid was all over the map too in terms of getting into trouble at school, being suspended, skipping, etc. I was taxed and stressed to about the limit of what I wanted to endure.

This is the time I realized I needed a coping mechanism for myself or I was going to be in the loony bin fast. I found myself going back to music I loved when I was a teen. Those of you who know me don't even need to guess who it is. I am about the biggest Queen fan I know. I had their music on vinyl way back when, but failed to replace all of my records with CDs when turntables were out of vogue. Last winter I did, though, and it was like an old love was in my ears again. The music dragged me through the days I didn't fully know how to get through on my own. It helped me to want to quilt again, inspirationally. It took me to what was the funnest, most carefree time in my life. I won't go so far as to say I want to be a teenager again, but I remember the dear friends I had and how mostly life was just happy. And the 1982 Queen concert I snuck to without permission is high on my list of great life moments.
While the quilt is this explosion of color, I wanted to add my subtle homage to the inspiration that actually got me to finish it. I quilted the song titles of 36 Queen songs into the outermost border of the quilt. This is done in a blue thread, and is not "in your face" strange or anything. Or if people think that it is, get over it. This is my quilt and I can quilt whatever I want on it. You can sort of see the stitching below. I used a 40 wt thread and went over it 3 times. With 15 studio albums of song titles, I first chose my favorites, then the ones that best filled the available space.
It seems I have only a few photos of the edge of the quilt. This shows a bit of the text. Two photos back shows how I transferred the lettering to the quilt using Saral transfer paper. I did this erroneously before the trapunto was quilted and I discovered that the markings were fading much more quickly than desired so the first pass of quilting on the lettering was done with a fine brown thread, just to mark them. I went back later with the blue thread and darkened them up. Oh, the things you learn.
Fat Bottomed Girls...(one title of many from the songs I love)

The picture above shows this fun filler I put in the background. It is super time consuming, but so different so I had to do it. I teach this in my Grid-based quilting classes because it is really not that hard. If you can quilt a pumpkin seed with curves, then imagine replacing the curve with the "elbow". Now, rather than a straight x-y grid, use a hex grid!

Here is a closeup of the petal shapes I placed throughout the brown background. The finer thread was done with the trapunto. After it was cutaway and the other battings and backing were loaded, the petal was outline stitched again with a heavy metallic thread Razzle Dazzle. As an aside, this is done with the thread in the bobbin and the quilt loaded upside down. The photo is also completely out of order of when it was done since the rest of the quilting would have been done when I got to the bobbin-work quilting!
Another thing I added at the end was a little hand painting. Even with a heavy colored thread, only so much of the design shows on the brown batik fabric.
I mixed up a green-yellow that coordinated with the applique dots and carefully painted the frame around the trapunto arch as well as the points on the crown. It only seemed fitting that if the quilting was Queen-inspired that the quilt have some homage to this. Call me crazy.
I used that same star-filler that takes the hex grid again in the little arching space, this time using a lavender thread. Repeat, Resize, Reuse. The feathers on these blocks are some of my favorites. I call them my Spread Your Wings feathers. And yes, that is a Queen song - one with lyric "Spread your wings and fly away, fly away, far away" was trying its best to take me somewhere other than where I was.
It is always so glorious how feathers can create movement and secondary patterns, especially when there are 16 of these blocks encircling the quilt. These are completely freehand quilted, with only the spines marked to keep them similar from block to block.
Here's the center of the quilt. I chose to ignore the diamond piecing and create a lovely overlay design.
And, after the crosshatch went in...The texture is coming along. It is always tricky with printed fabrics to get the texture to show. Patterns must be deliberate. It helps to use simple geometries, and to enhance frames to a wider width or to use multiple frames.

Here is a sequence of pictures showing how this star filler is stitched (and another location I used it). First the grid is quilted out. Notice the hexagons or equilateral triangles.
Then I go back and add the detail fill creating the stars. This is quilted with Superior MicroQuilter 100wt polyester thread. Normally I use silk but there was not a well-matched silk thread for this color fabric. The feathers on these 8 inner blocks are different from the outer ones, but they still complement them. By virtue of how the dots were arranged they just could not be exactly the same.

I chose a brown sateen for the backing. It indeed makes a lovely two-sided quilt, showing off the quilting very nicely. Why make the judges struggle in finding the mistakes...LOL!

 So back to the name... Belladonic Haze

It dates back to what was probably Queen's first "hit" (Keep Yourself Alive) from their 1973  and 1st album. Truth be told, this album did not really launch the band. That didn't come for a while until they released Killer Queen some 18 months later. This song got more airplay then than it did at its initial release. Never the less, as a consummate Queen fan, I love to listen to the progression of their music from this first very rough and raw album to the later songs of the late 1980s and early 1990's. It has the energy I know from Queen, and a message I like. My life felt like the hallucinogenic version of a belladonic haze for the better part of 2019, as though an uncontrolled bomb went off in my mind (and the look of the quilt kind of carried that thought!).

I was told a million times of all the troubles in my way

Mind you grow a little wiser, little better every day
But if I crossed a million rivers and I rode a million miles
Then I'd still be where I started, bread and butter for a smile
Well I sold a million mirrors in a shop in Alley Way
But I never saw my face in any window any day
Now they say your folks are telling you to be a superstar
But I tell you just be satisfied and stay right where you are

Keep yourself alive (Yeah)
Keep yourself alive (Ooh)
It'll take you all your time and your money
But honey, you'll survive

[Verse 2]
Well I've loved a million women in a belladonic haze
And I ate a million dinners brought to me on silver trays
Give me everything I need to feed my body and my soul
And I'll grow a little bigger, maybe that can be my goal
I was told a million times of all the people in my way
How I had to keep on trying and get better every day
But if I crossed a million rivers, and I rode a million miles
Then I'd still be where I started, same as when I started

I'll leave you with a shot of the label. For anybody questioning it, yes I made a boo-boo and had to repair the top of the label. When I reprinted the label, the color and size were both different. I didn't feel like hand stitching an entire new label on it. I have my limits, and this quilt pushed me to several of them.

The quilt is different, it has symbolism and it has personal meaning. To anybody that doesn't get it, you don't have to. It means something to me and that is all that matters.
I created the sleeve with Photoshop and printed it and the label at Spoonflower. It has the titles of many Queen songs, as well as sections of lyrics that resonate with me. I leave you with a couple shots from their concert last summer in Boston. There's no Freddie as there was when I saw them in 1982, but they are so incredible still, even in their 70's.

While these pics are not the clearest (quilt is hanging in a location with lots of natural light making the photo appear hazy), here is Belladonic Haze at her debut show, MidAtlantic Quilt Festival. She hangs with a most joyous 3rd place ribbon too!


Vicki W said...

It's really spectacular Margaret! I spent a lot of time looking at the details yesterday at the show and I still missed the song names! I'll get another look tomorrow. The competition at Mid-Atlantic is stiff this year. Lots of great quilts.

Busy Quilting said...

It is wonderous that we can find such fulfilling comfort in the music of our youth, in our later years of great sadness. The stories behind our quilts are the ones that should be told. Thankyou for sharing yours.

Carol said...


Your Quilt’s are ALWAYS sooooo beautiful. Thank you for sharing your process, while I will never find the time to do ANYTHING close to your work, I so enjoy reading about it and seeing them. I had met you at MQX in Springfield, IL a few years ago when your quilts were all being displayed as a collection. I was simply in awe!!!

To read about your eldest child acting out made you feel more like an everyday Mom. 😂 The loss of a parent is never easy, even if you expect it will happen-it still is very difficult. Andddd then, to find out you enjoy Queen!!? NEVER EXPECTED that. LOL You go girl!!

Thank you again for sharing and please continue to share!!

Farm Quilter said...

Stunning quilt and quilting. Thanks for showing the oops you had and how you fixed them...makes the rest of us feel better about our oops and how to think outside the box the fix them.

Susie Q said...

Stunning quilt and wonderful story of it's making.

Brenda @ Songbird Designs said...

Margaret, you are wonderfully, stupendously, amazingly talented! Thank you for sharing your talents with us. And, thank you for sharing the story behind this quilt. I am sorry for your loss and the problems with your son. It takes a while to work through grief. I lost my dad when I was 16 from a heart attack and had more than a few dark days, so I totally get it. I hope you are healing now and your son is being better. Thank you for sharing your mistakes and how you correct them. You are so honest about them. If you didn't tell us, we'd never know!! I love reading your process from beginning to end. Thanks for sharing.

Linda said...

I am so impressed with all your designs just even n this page! What would I have to do to get a pattern for the third picture? I just love that design and it matches my ability a bit more. My email is Please write me and let me know if I can pu chase a patt rn or that design.
Thank you
Linda Chin

RachelA said...

Just stunning Margaret... can't believe it didn't get 1st!! Thank you for generously showing how the quilt came about, it's and your life's ups and downs. A very special quilt. Congratulations.

Debbie said...

I look at your blog almost everyday, mostly hoping you do a show and tell about your current show quilt. This one is beautiful, and I'm sure time consuming. I see a lot of ribbons on this one!!!

cindilambert said...

I love this quilt. The minute I saw it I loved it. I am probably the biggest Queen fan that ever lived. I actually have a Queen shirt on right now, lol

cindilambert said...

OMG, I love this quilt!! The minute I saw it I just loved it, everything you've done with it. I am probably the biggest Queen fan that ever lived. In fact I am wearing a Queen shirt as I type this, lol New Hampshire loves Queen too!!

Michele said...

It really is fabulous and I look forward to seeing it in person.

Michele said...

It really is fabulous and I look forward to seeing it in person soon.