Tuesday 1 February 2022

Feelings/Emotions: Getting to Know You

Inspiration for this prompt took me in a number of different directions. I thought of songs about feelings and emotions: “Lights Will Guide You Home” was a contender. Also, books that made me cry: Steinbeck's, “The Pearl” was high on my list. I considered people I love and people I'd lost and people I'd loved and lost. That last one brought to mind this photo taken by my husband in April of 1984, just moments after the birth of our third child, Matthew:

When I remembered the photo, I knew it was just right for this prompt. Rendering it into fabric was challenging and worrisome. Here is my finished quilt:

A year earlier, we'd lost our newborn baby girl, Holly, to a rare and random chromosome anomaly known as Trisomy 18. Here is the one and only picture we have of her:

Holly gave every indication prior to her birth that she was healthy. My pregnancy had progressed with no indication anything was amiss. We went to the hospital and gave birth as any parents would, waiting with excited anticipation for the announcement of her gender. We were stunned when we were told within five minutes of her birth that her condition was "incompatible with life," and thirty-six hours later, Holly died. We were devastated. 

Matthew was born 14 months later. I had an urgent need to hold a healthy baby in my arms, to see healthy pink color, and to hear a vigorous cry. When he was placed in my arms for the first time, I wept uncontrollably. (As I write these words, it still makes me tear up.)  Mike caught this tender meeting on film. Strangely, I've never been able to choose a single word that would adequately describe my feelings in that moment. If I were forced to choose a word, it would be “bittersweet.” It was probably a mixture of joy and relief, but also one of sadness. As confusing as that mix of emotions was, I can tell you this with certainty: Matthew’s safe arrival brought sunshine and joy to an otherwise dark time.

For this project, I used an app called "Vector Q" to create a line "drawing" of the image.

From there, I taped some transparencies together and pinned them to the image.

Then, I traced a pattern template and numbered the different values of color.

And then I began the tedious process of building a fabric portrait. Although I’ve done plenty of pet “pawtraits,” this was my first attempt at a human face.

It was a difficult and worrisome process. For the longest time, I couldn't see anything in what I was creating, and I despaired about whether it would turn out. Given the subject matter, it was important to me, and I wanted to do a good job on it. One afternoon, I left the sewing room feeling particularly bummed about how it was going and took a break for about an hour. When I returned, I could see the faces emerging when viewed from a distance, and I began to feel more optimistic.

When the fabric portion was finished it was time to "paint" the faces with thread, giving them texture, and adding in details. I followed the advice and instructions given in this book:

There's also a Facebook group of the same name, and I paid attention to what folks were doing there. 

I used three different colors of variegated threads to fill in the skin on the two faces, and a dark brown to add details.

Matthew's hair was done using a combination of fabric and thread detail.

This section of the chin was the most difficult to decide on a thread color. It isn't perfect, but it's the best I could do with what I had on hand.

The lips were challenging in that it was difficult to decide where to stitch and what color to use. Here, I used a rose colored thread.

For my own hair, I used a dark brown variegated thread, and I was happy with how this part turned out. It was a bad hair day. Pretty hard to mess this up.

When the faces were finished, I used a swirling meander to finish off the outer areas and the space between mother and baby.

This handprint fabric was in my stash, and it seemed like a good choice for the border. For that, I quilted a row of looping hearts.

Here is my finished quilt again. It ended up at 20 x 27 inches:

Following Holly's birth and death, my cousin sent me a piece of Austrian crystal with her condolences. We hung it on our Christmas tree for many years as a way to remember our missing daughter. It hangs now from this wooden crescent.

When I saw this crystal fabric in a quilt shop recently, I decided to use it as the quilt back.

February 11th will mark what would have been Holly's 39th birthday. After so many years, our family has long been at peace with the events described here. I hope you like my quilt. 


  1. You make an important point that sometimes when you're losing confidence you have to step away and come back with fresh eyes. I think you have done a really beautiful job, creating a wonderful work that absolutely lives up to the subject matter. This is a lovely and poignant quilt, and many people will understand the feelings it represents.

  2. Barbara, what an amazing amount of work you have put in to this quilt and what an inspiring quilt you have produced. The back story you have shared takes this above and beyond a simple rendition of a photo in fabric, thankyou for placing this piece in the context it deserves.

  3. I love your choice of subject and you did a wonderful execution of it. Made me almost cry as I read the story.

  4. Such an incredibly meaningful quilt for you and your family. You finished that quilt so quickly (it seemed, anyway) and did amazing work! Nice finish, Barbara!

  5. You condensed a complicated mix of emotions into a stunning image. Amazing job!

    1. Thank you. “Complicated,” is a good word for it.

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  7. This is so impactful and I admire how you approached the piece. It is beautiful and layered with so much emotion. Heartfelt is what popped into my mind. An amazing piece to have made and cherish.

  8. This really is a masterpiece. Your quilt is an amazing piece of workmanship and I love how every detail is meaningful. I was very moved by your story and this is a wonderful heirloom for your family. I also love the crystal.