"Incoming" by Allison Wilbur 2019
“Incoming” by Allison Wilbur 2019

“Incoming” is a great horned owl that grew out of a pile of shibori dyed fabric. Pole wrapping (arashi shibori) creates feather like patterns, which got me to thinking about birds.

Arashi shibori created by wrapping the fabric around a pole and scrunching it up before dipping it in
indigo dye.

I started by making a drawing. Usually this is one of the longest steps in the process. I look at lots of photos for inspiration, taking bits of several of them to get the angle, lighting, texture, etc., just to my liking. I start with a small drawing, and then make a full size one. I trace the drawing onto freezer paper, and cut it apart into sections.

Next I “audition” pieces of fabric for each section, looking for the right shading, texture and pattern for that particular piece.

Piece by piece, I built the owl’s body. Each time I find a piece of fabric that fits the section, I iron the corresponding freezer paper pattern on the fabric, rough cut the fabric to the pattern, then iron Misty Fuse fusible web onto the back of the fabric. I love Misty Fuse – it is supple and does not make the quilt stiff.

Once the body was complete, I started on the wings. Though they might not look it, each wing is made up of a great numbers of pieces. By fussy cutting and carefully overlapping them, the pieces blended together.

I auditioned several background fabrics (sorry no photos of the choices!) The finished body was placed on the background, then the wings were arranged to get just the right feeling of flight and speed.

I wanted it to feel like the owl is coming out of the woods, so I used textured rubbing plates and shiva paint sticks to add leaves in the background. Using three colors of paint sticks added a variation to the leaves to make them more interesting.

Can you notice I trimmed the tail feathers?

Using wash away thread and wool batting, I added an extra layer of wool batting and trimmed around it. Once there was wool batting all behind the owl, I added a layer of cotton batting and the backing and loaded it on my longarm.

Echo quilting under the wings hopefully gives a sense of the air being pushed by the beating wings.

In January “Incoming” will be on display at the Bunny Fain Gallery at Temple Habonim in Barrington, RI. There will be an opening reception on Sunday, January 3, 2020 from 1:00 – 3:00. Please join me and meet my owl!

Surface Design Class at Meraki Studio

Surface Design Class with Allison Wilbur

I am fortunate to have some great places to teach in my area – creative spaces that foster growth and companionship. For years I have taught at Knit One Quilt Too in Barrington, RI, a beautiful store owned by Yvonne Weiss. Yvonne has curated a gorgeous collection of quilting fabrics, patterns, books, notions and an exquisite selection of yarn and fiber. I love teaching my Machine Quilting classes there and have met so many wonderful quilters thought the class.

A wonderful outgrowth of Knit One Quilt Too is Meraki Studio, run by Kristin Meranda and Liz Bessel (they were with Knit One Quilt Too for many years before they struck out on their own). Meraki is a makers space in Warren, RI offering classes of all sorts from watercolor to scarf marbling to Soul Collage. Yesterday I taught a class at Meraki in Surface Design. We spent the day playing with Gelatin Plate printing, stamping with Pro Chem fabric paint, using Shiva Paint sticks and rubbing plates, and painting with Tsukineko inks, Intense pencils, Pro Chem fabric paints and more.

The wonderful thing about teaching a class is giving students the freedom to take the techniques you teach and run with them. Carol Entin loved the idea of Gelatin Plate printing and decided to use the large plate (9 x 12 inches) to play with color and a stamp she had made of a butterfly (using a Smooth Cut printing block she carved) and a leaf roller she had also made.

This is Carol’s first print with the gelli plate. Unfortunately, since it was her first time using a gelli plate, the paint had dried quite a bit by the time she printed. She was unhappy with the lightness of the print but rather than abandoning her idea, she took the remaining paint on the plate and used it as a guide for a second print with a similar image. Perseverance paid off, and in her second attempt she achieved the intense color she was looking for. You can see that she used the paint pulled with the butterfly stamp to go back into the first print and add to the complexity of the earlier print (see the dark stamped butterflies on the lighter image above).

Vanessa Massey created a rich, earthy color with mauve overtones which gave her gelli plate prints an antique look.

We had fun with leaf shapes using Shiva oil paint sticks and textured rubbing plates. Using a background texture and a stencil brush to blend the colors helps calm the visual contrast of the plain white fabric.

Vanessa’s oak leaves
My fall fantasy

Since we had the whole day to play and it was such a small class, I had time to play. I could hear my friend Nancy Messier’s voice in my head reminding me that more layers and more complexity are what makes a piece interesting. I made a series of three gelli plate prints which I then enhanced with Pro Chem fabric paints on wood block stamps. Here is the first print.

Here is the second print, which has a preliminary Shiva paint stick textured background and some color added with Intense pencils.

Here is the third print, which I had the most time to embellish. I love the pop of the complementary orange in the leaves and the lime green glow around the outside. I am going to pull elements from this print into the other two (perhaps some dots and the orange leaf shape) into the other prints to help them work together.

My next challenge will be how to make these three pieces work together. I have some ideas on which direction to go, but I know ridding myself of the heavily balanced circles will be my biggest challenge. I will update you in a future post, but would love any ideas you have to share!

Bounty of the Seas

Bounty of the Seas by Allison Wilbur 2015

I have been feeling a bit down in the dumps this week and realized it is probably because our latest Quilt for Change exhibit, Water is Life, is opening in Geneva at the United Nations European headquarters and I am not there. So much work goes into these exhibits that it almost feels like birthing a child. Coordinating a group exhibit is challenging in many ways, especially when the parties involved are spread not only across the continent, but on opposite sides of the Atlantic as well. A lot of the work for this exhibit needed to be done from Thanksgiving to Christmas (yes, we learned not to have that kind of timing again) and so I felt like I was sacrificing family time and Martha Stewart-like preparations (so not me!). We were privileged to have the largest number yet of entries, which was gratifying but which also made the selection process very difficult. Over the years we have formed a philosophy about Quilt for Change: we want to encompass the widest number of artists possible and unlike some other art exhibits, the quality and power of the message is as important as the level of art. We are trying to tell a story with each Quilt for Change exhibit, one that encompasses as many regions of the world as possible and is sensitive to the many cultural, ethnic and historical aspects of each topic. The jurying deliberations were therefore quite intense and I hope that everyone that entered realizes that we gave a great deal of value and thought to each piece we considered.

Then came a several month period where we let everyone know who had been accepted, dealt with shipping and photographing of quilts, compiled and edited artist statements, created posters and invitations and organized the many other minutiae involved in creating a world class exhibit. Fortunately, between Rome, Geneva and Rhode Island there were many hands at work and the opening in Geneva went off beautifully. The exhibit will be at the United Nations for two weeks, then will move to Rome for an exhibit there in October.  Next spring Water is Life will debut in the U.S. at the New England Quilt Museum and will then move on to travel with Mancuso Quilt Festivals. I will be at the opening of the exhibit in Lowell, and hope many others will join us there as well.


As I said at the beginning of this post, I was not able to be in Geneva this week for the opening of Water is Life, but my quilt was –  so I have decided to tell you a bit about how Bounty of the Seas came into being. For the first time I am working in a series. I will continue to work on water quilts as there are two other exhibits I will be entering this year centered on watery themes. The quilt started with the turtle. Dick was posted as the Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. Embassy in Muscat, Oman.  Among other wonderful things, Oman boasts one of the largest sea turtle nesting sites in the world. During our three-year tour in Oman, we went camping regularly and watched the turtles come up on the beach at night to lay their eggs – huge green sea turtles the size of sandboxes. We also loved to visit a small beach in Muscat where there were two turtles that would let us come quite close when snorkeling. Dick worked with local naturalists and scientists to preserve the nesting areas and track the turtles. As are many people, we have been drawn to sea turtles ever since, perhaps it is because their expressive eyes give the sense that they are ancient and wise. I painted my first turtle from my own drawing in a class at Houston with Hollis Chatelain. I loved the way he came out when wet, but as he dried he lost his vibrancy. I went on to paint other turtles using Tsukineko inks and they came out more intensely colored, but I still loved my first turtle. I decided to go back over him with fabric markers to sharpen and darken the image and was very please with the result.


Next I began with a small study. To form the watery background I made curved horizontal cuts to create a feeling of currents of water moving horizontally. I built up the sides with vertical angles to add some coral reef flora and fauna to frame the green turtle. For years I have been collecting Australian fabrics based on aboriginal designs because they reminded me of coral reef creatures – sea anemones, brain corals, coral fans, even sea cucumbers! I fussy- cut shapes and applied them using using misty fuse. The addition of a brightly colored fish added interest and balance. I then trapuntoed the large shapes to make them more three dimensional. Finally, I added more detail with fussy-cut fish and with machine quilting, forming swirling water lines and bubbles.IMG_0895

Now that my study was complete, it was time to work on the larger piece and give my big turtle a home. This time I pieced the water vertically: I can’t say why, but it felt better to have the water rising from the bottom up. The US Mission in Geneva (sponsors of the Water is Life exhibit)  had expressed an interest in larger quilts and so we extended the exhibit entry size up to 78 inches on each side. I decided to go big and the piece ended up 72 inches wide and 43 inches high. That was a lot of space to fill! I got creative in my sea creatures, fussy-cut schools of fish from commercially printed fabric and added a sting ray and jelly fish (quilted with metallic silver thread). It was so much fun!! If you want to read my artist statement about the quilt, visit the blog on the Quilt for Change website.

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