Designing the Tulip Garden Quilt

When I first started considering a series of quilts inspired by Maud Lewis, I knew that one of them had to focus on tulips. Tulips are such an iconic feature of Maud’s paintings and I love how she worked floral elements into so many of her works.

3 Black Cats - Maud Lewis
Three Black Cats – Maud Lewis
Team of Oxen in Summer - Maud Lewis
Team of Oxen in Summer – Maud Lewis

Inspiration

While tulips weren’t often the focal point, the motif was often repeated in her paintings: a row of tulips in along a road, or a flowerbed in front of a team of oxen. Whenever I look for inspiration for designing a quilt pattern, I look for ways to play with repetition and rhythm. Maud’s tulips inspire me because while they are basic shapes, there are lots of opportunities to create movement. 

Design elements

One of the challenges with quilt design is coming up with a pattern that is dynamic and playful. While I love working within traditional grid lines of quilting, I wanted this pattern to have some more natural and organic elements so it didn’t feel so static. I try to create variation in my patterns, which can require a little more attention for the maker (but worth it!). For example, the Tulip Garden quilt uses mirror images of the same block – so there’s a little bit of careful reading and planning required when making this quilt!

Design Process

All my designs start out on paper. I like to work with grid paper notebooks so I can visualize how the pieces will be assembled in a larger grid. I try not to pay too much attention to whether my pattern is going to be easy to cut out or assemble at this stage. At this point, I’m just getting all my ideas out and simplifying them later!

Tulip garden early sketch

From there I use Adobe Illustrator to mock up blocks and different sizes of my quilt. I design the quilt with finished seam allowances first, then I break it down into pieces and add seam allowances. 

Illustration of Tulip Garden design
This is what an early mock-up looked like: you can see not everything is precise here! I still had lots of measurements to figure out.

From design to quilt

Crayola Crayon box this is actually a calculator
An excellent and nostalgic calculator that I actually use in quilt planning!

I use a non-scientific method of sketching, visualization, and elementary school math to figure out my fabric requirements. I’m a really visual person so I struggle with plugging formulas into Excel and trusting the numbers. Because this quilt has so many curved pieces, it was tricky to figure out sizes and seam allowances. This pattern allows a little bit of wiggle room for those curved pieces so that you can trim them down and square up if it isn’t sewn perfectly. 

Testing: 

I did a few block tests with scraps before I went all out and bought new fabric. I made a crib size and a throw size version of this pattern so that I could practice with measurements and tweak things as I went. 

Pattern testing Tulip Garden Quilt

For this pattern, I had two awesome and skilled pattern testers: Micheline and Karen who were excellent at giving feedback and taking this pattern for a test drive. With their guidance, the pattern is much easier to read and the instructions are much clearer than the first iterations! 

Tulip Garden Throw Size Quilt

Digital pattern download

I’m so thrilled with this pattern design! It’s bright and playful and I feel like I really achieved my goal of making it feel very “Maud-like”! 

Tulip Garden Pattern Cover

I’m selling this pattern as a pdf pattern in my etsy shop. After you purchase, you’ll receive a link to download your own copy of the pattern to print at home. 

If you make this quilt, I would love to see it! Share it on Instagram with the hashtag #TulipGardenQuilt.

Inspired by: Maud Lewis

This is the first installment of my “Inspired by” series where I’ll be sharing work from other artists and designers who have influenced my own work. I’ve always loved talking to other artists and hearing what inspires them, so I think this will be a fun series to share. I’m starting off the series with one of my favourite artists who inspired many of my projects in 2020, Maud Lewis.

Book: The Illuminated life of Maud Lewis by Lance Woolaver, photos by Bob Brooks.

Maud Lewis’s bright paintings of rural life in Nova Scotia made her famous among locals in the 1960’s and 70’s. Today, she is a household name in Nova Scotia and you can visit her decorated home and see many of her paintings at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia (there’s also a very cool virtual tour!). 

When I moved to Nova Scotia to attend NSCAD University in 2007, I’d never heard of Maud Lewis. I remember visiting the permanent exhibition of her house at the Art Gallery and feeling struck by how playful her work was. I admired the way she painted every surface in her little house to bring joy and colour into her world. 

In my own art practice, I related to that feeling of playfulness and adding joy and humour into my art. I never felt like a “serious” artist. I recall one of my early art professors telling me that even when I intended to make serious art, there was always some humour underneath. I’m not sure if he meant that as a critique to encourage me to dig deeper, but I took it as a compliment and ran with it. I liked that art didn’t have to be serious – I wanted to make things that made people happy when they saw them, or even made them laugh. 

Many years later, after working as a graphic and web designer and starting to dabble in quilting, I found myself being drawn back into Maud Lewis’s work. It all started last year, just as the global pandemic sent us all back into our houses. I was deep in the Instagram feed of my favourite comedians, Amy Sedaris, and I saw she posted this picture of her own home being decorated in the style of Maud Lewis:

It brought me so much joy during such an intense and dark time. I immediately made this photo my desktop background and started digging online for more photos of Maud’s work.

Yellow Birds and Apply Blossoms by Maud Lewis

I started seeing Maud’s paintings in a new light, and the more I dug into her work, the more inspired I was. Maud’s paintings use a lot of organic lines and shapes – which doesn’t always lend well to quilting. But as I looked closer, I saw elements emerging that would translate clearly to quilts: contrasting colours on a house to add dimension, colourful rows of repeating tulips, bright little birds with blobby bodies.

Untitled painting by Maud Lewis showing a winter village scene

I focused on these iconic images and rather than designing quilts based on one painting and replicating it closely, I wanted to interpret them in a new way. I got to work with sketching and came up with 3 ideas I was happy with. 

Sketch for Tulip Garden quilt design
Sketch for Seaside Houses quilt design
Sketch for Yellow Birds quilt design

Once I was pleased with my sketches, I moved into Illustrator to develop shapes, seam allowances, and the tricky quilt math of how much fabric I would need to buy to make everything fit together. I decided to use Kona Cottons, since they are my go-to brand for quilting cottons. I tried to be really intentional in choosing colours, I wanted all of them to go together. Here’s the colour palette I ended up starting with:

KONA Cotton fabric swatches

I used the same shade of red called “Poppy” for all the quilt binding – it felt like the perfect accent colour to tie together the Maud Lewis collection. I’ll be diving deeper into the design of each individual quilt in separate blog posts – I won’t give away too much today 😉 !

Gab seated outdoors and researching Maud Lewis
finished Tulip Garden quilt - Lap size

I spent most of last summer researching and designing patterns that will work for a baby size and throw size quilts. I’ve been slowly working through designing, testing, and creating digital patterns for these quilts and the first pattern, Tulip Garden, will be coming out on January 30.

You can see all the sample quilts in my etsy shop and on the quilts page.