Thursday, January 30, 2014

Small Christmas Lights Quilts

Studio Art Quilts Associates is doing a 25th Anniversary Trunk Show and SAQA members were invited to make small (7" x 10") pieces for it.  I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to try something that had been in the back of my mind for a little while.

One of my favorite Christmas traditions is going around to see all the Christmas lights, and back in December I took this picture while we were walking around the Chesapeake campus.  In one of my upcoming big quilts I'm trying to figure out how best to depict a galaxy, and I thought I'd use this opportunity to try out some possible techniques using a related subject matter.

There were three aspects of this that I was interested in conveying.  The first was the diffuse color arising from the lights that more or less outlined the tree.  The second was the bright punctate lights themselves, and the third was the leaves on the trees, which blend almost into the background since they're not illuminated.

I decided to make two different versions on two different types of fabric, one on some black polyester with a wannabe dupioni silk finish, and one on black velvet.  To start I outlined my trees, made some vector shapes, and cut them out of adhesive foil using my silhouette. I wanted to use adhesive vinyl but the foil came with the silhouette machine and vinyl didn't, but the foil worked fine.  I used both pieces of the cutout.  First, I stuck the outline to my fabric and used it as a stencil to fill in the tree shape with my Shiva paintsticks, then I peeled that off and stuck down the tree part.  I rubbed the paintsticks on the foil of the tree and then smudged it off onto the fabric.  You can kind of see the smeary edges around the tree outlines that I achieved doing this. The velvet was kind of a pain to use the paintsticks on- I think the nap of the fabric was not my friend.


To make the punctate lights I wanted to try foiling, so I made a screen, again cut on the silhouette from the adhesive foil.  I put it on chiffon and then tried to screen glue through it for foiling.  I didn't have foiling glue, so used regular creamy white fabric glue.  This was a bit less successful than the first step.  In the first place, although the silhouette cut out all those tiny little dots, they didn't peel out automatically and I didn't have the patience to peel them all out by hand.  To give you an idea of how many there were, my silhouette took an hour to cut this.  The places where I did get the pieces out the glue went through ok, but it dried in the holes really fast so I didn't get very much through on the second one.

When it came to ironing the foil, it didn't work very well on the velvet.  The foil didn't really want to come off on the glue, and the glue wanted to come off of the fabric (again, I think the nap of the velvet was bad for this).  It was even worse when I got to the quilting, the little globs of foil/glue were really popping off. You can see below how much less sparkly foil there is after I quilted it.

velvet one after foiling before quilting
Velvet one after quilting

Shannon Conley, Lights at Chesapeake, 2014, 7x10
This is the polyester one, it turned out better, the foil was much less inclined to pop off since the glue was stuck down so much better.  I did wind up dabbing the glue on mostly by hand (this was the second one I tried to screen with the glue so the screen was pretty clogged) and you can see some places where the glue was kind of globby so there's a big clump of foil.  On each of them, I put the leaves in during the quilting, and I think that part at least was successful.

Neither of them came out quite as good as I was hoping, but I went ahead and sent the right one (the one on the polyester) to the SAQA exhibit.  I hope it captures the feeling I was going for.  The jury is still out on how I'm going to do the galaxy though since this paintsticks-plus-foiling didn't work quite as well as I'd hoped.

Have you guys ever tried to portray lights, like Christmas lights or stars, before in your work?  How'd you do it?  What worked and what didn't?

I'm linking up with Nina-Marie's as ever.


  1. Beautiful! I think you captures the photo well.

  2. Never tried to portray lights, but I think both of these turned out beautifully.

  3. I just left a comment, but it seems to have vanished; apologies if it duplicates. I love your inspiration and the two quilts you made. I recently used Swarovski crystals for Christmas lights on a quilt; it worked well for my purposes, but I think I prefer the subtleties and irregularities of your techniques better!

  4. Well done for trying out new ideas and new technique. I've never tried to do lights - I'm not a sparkly person, but I think you have succeeded well. I particularly like the quilting
    Hilary Florence

  5. I think you've captured it very well.

  6. I think you captured the lights perfectly! I really miss those Chesapeake lights :)