On Persistence and the patience to let it percolate

I am stubborn. I know it. I own it. I stick to my ideas and work around them until they fall into place where I want them. I am talking about art-making (although I am a bit stubborn in life also). Is that a good thing? I don’t know. That’s just the way I am.

I thought I’d tell you the story about a piece recently completed. It only took a little over 10 years from photo to conception to finalization. So yes, persistence, because I really knew I liked it and wanted it finished. And stubbornness too, because I changed my mind a couple of times; things did not feel right. There was an idea in my mind – percolating – trying to reach the light … but it remained hidden for a long time.

The piece is finished now, just barely. Let me walk you through its story. It all started with a photo I took on Lawrencetown beach sometime in June 2012 when I went to Halifax to teach at Quilt Canada. I arrived on the red-eye at 6:00 am. and a lovely lady from the local guild picked me up and took me to her house for a cup of tea and a rest. On the way, we stopped at Lawrencetown beach for a walk. Perfect day. Picture it: early morning, somewhat foggy, humid, cool. Nobody around. Just the two of us. The ocean. And the beach.

nova scotia

If you look closely, you can see there are rocks everywhere. And yes. I do believe that one or two made their way into my pocket. But just one or two …

I liked this photo so much that I decided to have it printed on fabric. That process took place around August 2013. I was going to The Festival of Quilts in Birmingham to meet friends and took a CD with photos to Laura Kemshall, who was printing through her company Fingerprint. I received the fabrics a couple of months later. Unfortunately, I do not have photos of them. At the same time as this one, I had some rock fabrics printed, a door in a barn, and a few others.

Around December of that same year, I started with an idea. I wanted to create a long piece; longer than wider and this photo – and piece of fabric – was perfect for it. I needed to get fabrics to go with it so I had a dyeing session and dyed fat quarters, half-yards, and full meters of all the gray and black procion dyes I had. To that, I added some browns. Below are some of the results.

After washing and ironing the fabric, I cut strips out of each one in various widths. I made strip units and improv log cabin blocks to use in the design. By then, my ideas were taking form although there was no definite design, as yet.

I finished the piecing sometime around mid-2014. I started free-motion quilting it on my Bernina 1230 – a domestic machine – and did a few columns before I got frustrated with the size of it and having to push the whole quilt through the sewing machine. Also at the time, the tension started acting up, so I knew I would have to unpick part of what I had already stitched – what a pain! I do not like unpicking free-motion quilting.

It’s not a great photo as the colours are off, but it’s the only one I have, unfortunately. At this point, the piece was 29″ x 80″ approximately. Because of frustration, the fact that I did not like what I had stitched, and other commitments, this piece was put away. And forgotten.

During the early months of 2017, I had the opportunity to acquire a Bernina Q20, sitdown long-arm. Once it was installed in my studio, and to get used to the rhythm of the new machine and all the ins and outs of it, I quilted a few small pieces and then remembered this piece that had been set aside. So out it came again. I unpicked over a few nights the areas I did not like, and then I was ready to quilt it in the new sewing machine. New machine, still old ways – as I move the fabric.

There was a lot of stitching to be done as you can see, really tight stitching the way I like it. At the time, I quilted about 2/3 of it and then had to put it away as I was doing renovations in my studio and everything had to be moved out of the room. The Q20 is so heavy, but we managed to place it on a piece of old carpet so we could move it around the room. to change the flooring. Covered in plastic, it survived the painting, new shelving units, new table, and so on. Once again, this piece was set aside.

A few months ago, I decided to finish it for an event coming up. I pinned it to the design wall and looked at it for a while so I could think about it. I needed to finish quilting it; once again, I unpicked a portion of what I had done before and now had about 1/2 a quilt to finish. Once the quilting was done, it was squared and the facing was attached.

I felt this piece needed something else, so back it went on the design wall. It came to me one early morning – around 2:00 a.m. which is when most of my ideas materialize – that it needed a boat. Not just any boat. But THIS boat.

old boat

Taken in 2018 in Nova Scotia. We found this boat on a very foggy morning. The sun had not burnt the fog yet, and this image was incredible. This old boat is shrouded in mystery … appearing out of the mist. Printed on organza at Spoonflower, and on tissue paper.

Note to self: next time, order a couple of prints instead of just the one. I put mistyfuse on the back of the whole image so it would be ready when I needed it. I trimmed the image to where I liked it, basically removing the sky from the photo of the boat to leave the sky from the original photo of the beach.

I had another idea to try. And before I try anything on a finished piece, I usually make a sample. I found a piece of gray hand-dyed fabric similar to the ones I used in the piece and quilted it using the same thread and free-motion quilted straight lines.

I found a line from “The Old Man and the Sea” that I wanted to incorporate into the work and armed with a set of chip letters that were the right size for the project, I set out to work. First I needed to figure out spacing, to see if the phrase would fit into the space I had I placed the letters in the correct order on the mat so I can figure out the spacing. I knew I had about 27″ to work with. Straight line or not? And if you are wondering, the set of letters only had one “S” so I am using an X instead as a placeholder


The next step was drawing some of the letters on the fabric sample to have them ready to paint. The second option was to draw them on freezer paper and cut them out to make a stencil. I used several colours: Paynes gray as I know that the brand I use has quite a blue tinge to it, indigo, black, white, and a light gray. You can see below the letters already painted, through the stencil and the ones that were marked on the fabric with a chalk pencil.

I used both methods on the actual piece to achieve different results. I had an idea to incorporate some embroidered words on it, but decided against it. Here it is, as it sits today. Finished as far as I am concerned. It’s called “He heard the surf roar”. I mentioned that it’s a quote from the Old man and the Sea that goes like this:

“The old man dreamed of Africa when he was a boy and the long, golden beaches. He lived along that coast now every night and in his dreams, he heard the surf roar and saw the native boats come riding through it.”

It is finished at 27″ x 77 3/4″

finished piece

From the original photo taken in June 2012 to the finished piece in August 2022. Not bad … I am happy now. Just as I envisioned all those years ago in my dreams. It took some time to percolate and materialize, but it was worth the wait. Even if I say so myself.

I hope you enjoyed this post with some of the thoughts and processes used to create “He Heard the Surf Roar.” Leave a comment below and let me know if you’d like more posts like this one with the steps I take to create a piece from start to finish.

Until I write again, keep creating.


Similar Posts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *