Art quilt of a great horned owl in flight against a dark green background. The owl is constructed from shibori dyed blue and white fabric.


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

Pvc pipe with white fabric pleated and wrapped around pole ready to dye in indigo vat
Arashi dyed fabric with blue lines in the shape of feathers

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.

Line drawing of great horned owl on paper

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.

In progress art quilt of owl with fabric being auditioned on the line drawing
In progress art quilt of owl with fabric being auditioned on the line drawing

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.

In progress art quilt with body of owl floating on background fabric
In progress art quilt with body of owl and one wing floating on background fabric

To make the owl feel more substantive and three dimensional, I used wash away thread  to outline stitch the owl body shape and secure an extra layer of wool batting under the owl’s body. The final quilt has a full layer of cotton batting as well. 

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.

Back of quilt in progress showing wool batting cut in shape of owl to add extra puff
Detail of art quilt showing leaf forms made by rubbing with textured plate and shiva paint sticks

On my long arm, I quilted around the leaf shapes and added echo quilting under the wings to give a sense of the air being pushed by the beating wings.

This quilt has travelled with the exhibit Flying High to the Texas Quilt Museum, the New England Quilt Museum and the International Quilt Festival in Houston, TX.

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