Mini-landscape Quilt Tutorial, Plan & Add Tree: Part 4

My mini-landscape quilt with the tree added. It’s pretty cute. I like it.

If you watched my last YouTube video, Free-Motion Quilt Midground | Part 5 Landscape Quilting Tutorial, you know that after quilting the background of that larger work, I realized (and my husband agrees) that the quilt doesn’t really need the tree and other foreground elements that I was planning to add.aws5

While that question is still up in the air, I have decided to add a tree to this piece now. While I like my little landscape quite a bit, I feel that the various elements do not visually cue the subject matter quickly enough. I am hoping the strong tree element will say immediately: mini-landscape quilt to whoever sees it.

A Word About Composition—apart from the subject matter of a work of art, composition has to do with the arrangement of your elements. Good composition generally seeks qualities like balance, unity, rhythm, contrast, movement, etc. Personally, I tend to experiment with the shapes in my pieces  and tune into my emotional responses, because when a design works, we feel it. But terms like rhythm do help us describe what is happening in a piece, as well as describe why we think we are reacting the way we are.

If you have never taken an art class or spent much time visiting galleries and museums, you might enjoy reading up on the elements of composition, the rule of thirds, and related topics. Then spend some time looking at art you like and see if you can put words to the qualities that speak to you. This process will feed your confidence and empower your artistic voice as you work on your own fiber art. It will also help you understand better what you are doing when you decide to be a renegade and try to create successful pieces in opposition to accepted principles of good design. 

STEP ONE: Study Your Elements  

Consider spending a few minutes out on the street taking a few inspirational shots of trees you like, or go through your photos looking for ideas. Consider how a tree looks when you crop a panoramic view down to just the area of your current project with a strong, sculptural tree trunk—with or without branches, leaves, or even pine cones—in the foreground. I’ve included some sample photos here. Most of these images will enlarge a little if you click them.

I tend to photograph the tree trunks intuitively the way I want to use them, but you can also crop a tree down to an area of interest and layer it over your background. I have indicated in aqua and orange two ways that you could use the trees in one of the photos. And of course you can also quilt an imaginary tree. 

So this is what I do. I was immediately smitten with the tree below. But the houses, and the concrete and the SUV had to go. In this case, I used two layers of white fabric, to diminish show-through of my background. I also used grey scraps stitched with teal thread. I embellished the tree trunk with teal seed beads after binding. Are you thinking of ideas for quilts you want to make?

If you become an avid landscape quilter, you will likely find yourself stopping to photograph little bits of interest everywhere. Luckily, it is easier than we ever could have imagined to always have a camera with you. Shoot pictures of not just trees and fences, but plants and flowers, rocks and even holes in the sidewalk. They all hold a world of interest for potential pictorial quilts.

Electronic sketch - helpful

Electronic sketch – helpful

STEP TWO: Do a Little Demo with fabric, on paper, or electronically to try out several ideas. [If you haven’t read my post Doing the Demo…sample blog post…Hello Internet!, it describes why I feel that visual decisions should be made with visual information, and that often the low tech process is not only more rewarding, but often more informative.] 

Quick fabric scrap demo

Quick fabric scrap demo – also helpful

Your printer or a photocopier can come in handy to make a set of thumbnails to play with possibilities. There are a lot of ways to accomplish this with a quick photo from your phone. I did my thumbnails in Word, though I cropped them in Photoshop. I am using my daughter’s markers from her grade school days. (I can’t believe they aren’t dried out.)

The point is, if you are unsure where you want to go next, as I am with my larger landscape project, find a way—using what you have—to help you visualize possibilities. The most valuable part of the process may be ruling out ideas that feel less promising for your current project. And as with any brainstorming activity, the wilder and crazier the better, there are no bad ideas. And do try to run out of ideas. Make little notes to self. And save these thumbnail sheets. You may want to come back and look through them for a future project.

Here’s what my thumbnails look like for the current mini-landscape quilt. These ideas are all similar. I have circled my “winner” in magenta. More or less, it is the orange boxed option in the large photo gallery above on this page. It is from the photo captioned, “Pick a tree….” Ultimately, I simplify it for this mini quilt. On a larger piece, I would retain more detail.

STEP THREE: Apply your element to the piece. For this type of tree, I chose two layers of fabric that have enough contrast (in either color or value) to allow trimming away the top layer to create a lot of visual texture and interest. To exaggerate this for this tutorial, I am using a purple-brown batik and canary yellow calico in my piece. I suppose this tree trunk could technically be called reverse applique, although I don’t use that term. 

Photo a) Cut out and sketch your tree with chalk.  Leave a margin of one inch extra in every direction, so that you can control puckering. You could also use glue stick or fusing if they work for you.  Photo b) Add detail to your chalked lines.  Photo c) Stitch.  Photo d) Trim.  Photo e) Etc.


treeHere’s a short video, Free-Motion Quilt Tree | Landscape Quilting Companion Video | Fiber Art by Zazu. You can see me actually stitching that out as usual.



And if you haven’t seen this blog post, please check it out:

Glue in the bobbin screw…What??!!??…sewing tension hack. Thanks for reading. I would love to hear whether you found this information helpful. Beth – Zazu


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