Colors Unfurled

While I am alone during the day in my studio, I almost always listen to National Public Radio. In the fall of 2009,  I was stitching on my long arm quilting machine and listening to the Democratic Party select Barrack Obama to be their candidate for the President of the United States of America, and my heart filled with joy.

I–like so many others–wanted to in some way celebrate this moment. I had just done a bang up job on cleaning my studio. I had abandoned many old projects that were never going to become quilts on their own. These half finished quilts were now officially what I call “bits”–potential filler for community quilts or kitchen sink quits.

I had an idea. What if I take all the star blocks I’d made over the years and used them to make a new version of the American flag? A version of the flag that celebrated all of our cultural diversity. A version of the flag that represented not just traditional red-white-and-blue values but pink-purple-and orange values too.

I got right to work.

First I pieced the stars together using my Kitchen Sink method–which is basically this– If you need to make the area bigger, add some fabric; and If you need to make the area smaller, cut some fabric off. Sometimes classically trained quiltmakers struggle with this method, but once you’ve loosened up enough to try it you will find it very liberating.

Almost all of these stars were left over blocks from other projects. Sorry Texas, the biggest star represents the state of Alaska.

Almost all of these stars were left over blocks from other projects. Sorry Texas, the biggest star represents the state of Alaska.

Here is a close up of the stars after they were quilted. I stitched swirls in a variety of colors.

Here is a close up of the stars after they were quilted. I stitched swirls in a variety of colors.

It was good that I used old “bits” to make the stars, but the end result was a VERY large star section measuring almost four feet by six feet. Because the star section was so large the stripe section would have to be even BIGGER.

Here I am trying to figure out  to make my flag the same proportions as the real flag.

Here I am trying to figure out to make my flag the same proportions as the real flag. I had to work backwards–I knew the size of the stars, so how big does that make the stripes? REAL BIG.

Meanwhile, I had made contact with an artist named Susan Walen who was organizing an exhibit in Washington DC called President Obama a Celebration in Art Quilts. I agreed to finish the quilt in time for the show opening which was scheduled for the end of January 2009. Fortunately, Sue is an amazing women to work with. Without her, this flag would never have been finished. Thank you Sue!

I decided that each stripe should celebrate an aspect of the cultural diversity of our country. Here are some pages from my journal showing me working out the ideas. Building a large quilt like this requires a lot of math! You will see that I have my own methods for getting where I need to go when it comes to construction issues.

Some of the stripes did use up bits, but others were created specifically for Colors Unfurled.

Some of the stripes did use up bits, but others were created specifically for Colors Unfurled.

I used a variety of techniques to create the different stripes.

I used a variety of techniques to create the different stripes.

I used to be a bit embarrassed by my drawing skills, but they do get me where I am going.

I used to be a bit embarrassed by my drawing skills, but they do get me where I am going.

So this is what the my studio looked like during the construction process. Out of chaos comes order, right?

So this is what the my studio looked like during the construction process. Out of chaos comes order, right?

These are close-ups of the stripes.

These are the top stripes in the quilt. For me they represent in this order--Amber Waves of Grain, Nature, Technology, Art, and Space.

These are the top stripes in the quilt. For me they represent in this order–Amber Waves of Grain, Nature, Technology, Art, and Space.

Here is an extreme close up of the stripes representing Space, and City.

Here is an extreme close up of the stripes representing Space, and City.

These stripes represent--Our first African American President, People, and Other Nation's Flags.

These stripes represent–Our first African American President, Flower Power aka the social reform movements of the 1960s, People, and Other Nation’s Flags.

Here you can see a close up of the following stripes--Other Countries Flags, the Rainbow Coalition, Water, and what I like to think of as Old School--this stripe honors traditional values and conservatism.

Here you can see a close up of the following stripes–Other Countries Flags, the Rainbow Coalition, Water, and what I like to think of as Old School–this stripe honors traditional values and conservatism.

Just finishing the top was a huge mile stone. The final flag measures 6 1/5 feet by 10 1/2 feet.

And now I needed to load it on my long arm and quilt it! That was what I did for the entire month of January 2009. Hours and hours. Days and days. There were times I would lay down on the floor behind my machine and feel sorry for myself. It really seemed like there was no end to this quilt.

About 48 hours before the show in DC opened, Walt and I drove out to the airport post office and mailed Colors Unfurled aka If Betsy Ross had My Stash to Washington. They received and hung the quilt just hours before the opening.

"Colors

Since then Colors Unfurled has traveled around the US. You can see its complete show history on my website <http://mariashell.com/colors-unfurled/>

It is my visual thank you to President Obama and his family for their service to our country.

This entry was published on January 20, 2013 at 11:39 AM and is filed under Quilt Stories. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

10 thoughts on “Colors Unfurled

  1. Joanne Peyton (Thompson) on said:

    so lovely and the sentiment beautiful.

    Like

  2. Love this quilt even more now knowing the story behind it.

    Like

  3. Susan Walen on said:

    Maria, this piece was a highlight of our Obama tribute. It’s a joyous quilt, and reflected the passion, the fun, and the hope we had for our amazing new President. I’m so glad to hear that it toured. It’s a tour de force.

    Like

  4. It’s great to see an idea unfurled.

    Like

  5. Thank you folks for the kind words. Mark–you are too clever.

    Like

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