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Tour "My Ozark Garden"
with the quilt's artists

Hi! Lily Kerns, here--designer.
And I'm Peggy White--quilter. Won't you join us for a tour of our Ozark Garden?
This quilt really started with a poem. I had the idea of a garden quilt with paper pieced blocks and color/value changes defining foreground and background areas. After struggling to explain what I meant and some crude sketches (with no blocks designed yet), I finally gave up and wrote a poem to describe it.

"My Ozark Garden"
A wash of sun and shadow,
the flutter of bright wings;
A riot of hosta and cascading geraniums
and tousled asters...
     Monet would love it here!

These became the design theme of the quilt--hosta blocks for vertical emphasis, multi-sectioned geranium blocks, a variety of octagon Stack 'n Whack type blocks for asters, and a variety of leaf blocks for foliage. Several hummingbird blocks were added were added and Peggy provided the rest of the "wings" in her quilting.
But all that was almost a year away...

When I agreed to quilt "My Ozark Garden" it was only a blurry copy of a drawing that just vaguely indicated what the actual quilt was going to be. I wasn't too concerned about it because it would be several months before it became reality. If I had known it was going to become one of my most challenging quilting jobs, I would have worried!

I am a "longarm" quilter. That means I quilt using a large quilting machine -- mine is a Gammill. The quilt top, backing and batting are pinned on to canvas leaders (at both the top and bottom edges) that are attached to long poles on a table with tracks. That provides a flat, taunt surface of the three layers over which the quilting machine moves on tracks. My machine gives me an approximate 12 - 15 inches by the complete width of the quilt as a working area. The quilting machine is then hand guided. There are no feed dogs, so the stitch length and design are completely controlled by the operator. Contrary to what a lot of people seem to think, it's not automatic or computerized.

Well, I wasn't that worried either, because I knew from my experience as an art teacher that the improvisational process I envisioned could work--but I didn't know what the quilt would look like.

First came the task of designing blocks--which also meant determining size, format and value patterns as well as the block designs themselves. I used Corel Draw on my computer because it allowed me to resize and layer the patterns as I worked. Some of the blocks were complex, but taken one section at a time, they went together easily as I tested them.

Needless to say I learned a great deal in the process because my experience with paper piecing was minimal up to that point. I did a lot of revising and simplifying. Probably not enough--as Peggy will attest....

hosta 2b
When deciding how to quilt "My Ozark Garden" I had to think about both the design and the challenges of a paper pieced top. There were literally thousands of seams on the back of the quilt top -- some of the blocks had as many as 72 pieces! All those seams present a challenge in controlling the machine and stitch quality.

The quilt top was a good representation of an actual Ozark Garden! A riot of color and large variety of flowers and plants. All those seams became something else commonly found in Ozark Gardens -- ROCKS! There were times, I felt as if I was trying to quilt over boulders and attempting to get even stitch length was at times a lost cause!

In between all this, I was collecting fabrics--and more fabrics. A trip to Tulsa yielded the fabric that became the starting point for the color theme ("Starry Night"at right).

I learned to keep records of what I found where--because the fabrics often surprised us. Some of the most unlikely fabrics became the most useful--and then, of course, we needed more.

Artistically, I wanted the quilt to make people looking at it feel as if they were seeing an actual Ozark garden. My first decision was that the light area in the upper left section of the top appear to have sunlight shining down on the plants and water. I used radiating lines for that affect. The rest of the quilting design was a BIG challenge! I tried to just think about each small area as I got to it and make decisions based on the colors and piecing designs. I tried to avoid doing each "block" as a separate entity as I wanted eliminate the "block" look.

All of the quilting is free hand. I used no patterns on the quilt. For the border designs, I used chalk to mark the vine and measured and marked the spacing for the leaves so that they would appear fairly even.

Almost 9 months later (when our 1998 Show was over) we began the construction process. Dee Ann Neal, our coordinator, and a crew of guild members helped put together 83 packets containing a pattern and enough 3"-4" strips of fabric to make at least two blocks. The directions indicated that they could add fabrics and that they didn't have to sew on the lines! Nor were directions given for what fabrics went where. They were also reminded that they couldn't do this wrong--just different...

A gamble? Yes. But it paid off handsomely, because members returned blocks in color, fabric and value combinations that I would never have thought of.

I also wanted to make sure the quilt was securely quilted as well as pretty. I used 100% cotton thread on the entire top and then went back and added rayons, Sulkys and metallics in various colors on top of and in addition to the cotton. I used 23 different types and/or colors of thread on the quilt.

There are several butterflies and at least one dragonfly on the quilt. I lost count after a while. In some areas I quilted actual leaf designs while in others I used the design shapes in the piecing to represent leaves and petals. There are cattails in one area and lily pad leaves in the water. I let the designs that occurred in the fabric of the flowers dictate the quilting, trying to do them all as differently as I could while maintaining a balanced look to the top so that no one flower stood out from the others. If I had to do it over again, I would put more bugs and butterflies on the quilt and I would add some fish to the water area. I would quilt the "water" lines differently too. I think that by the time I got to the bottom of the quilt, I was nearly "burned out" and not thinking as artistically as I could have been!

Then came the fun part--putting it together. My design wall is almost quilt size so I lived and played with it for several weeks. A few more blocks were needed, mostly as transition areas, and the water blocks were made.

It was pinned in vertical strips and one work day saw it almost finished and the papers removed. It did take a while to figure out that one of the "square" blocks had been sewn in sideways and that what was making things hang funny...

All blocks that had been made "auditioned" for a place in the quilt. (My favorite didn't make it...) Extra blocks made small "Publicity" quilts, and extra fabrics found uses too.

My frustration over the many seams added to my dilemma over what to put in each area was reason enough for me to change the name of the quilt -- in my mind at least -- to "My Ozark HEARTBURN"! I tossed and turned several nights while working on this quilt!

I had "My Ozark Garden" on my quilting machine for nearly two weeks. I spent approximately 30 hours on the actual quilting and many more hours worrying about it! I was pleased (and greatly relieved!) when I completed the quilt but very concerned about how the guild members would feel about what I had done to their quilt!

And by the time I could turn the quilt over to Peggy, I had spent almost 14 months with the project--and although I was pleased (mostly) with the result, I was very glad to be done with it.

To see that Peggy's quilting had captured the spirit of the design and made it a quilt to look at again and again, was a true pleasure.

To have it accepted at Houston and then win a second place award was thrilling for all of us. There were many people creatively involved with this quilt--some of whom had never participated in a group quilt before. The true credit goes to all of them. It is a much better quilt than I would have made by myself!

The "My Ozark Garden Quilt" was designed by Lily M.Kerns, made by members of the Ozark Piecemakers Quilt Guild, Springfield, Missouri, and quilted by Peggy White. All reproduction rights are reserved.