Alaskan Inspiration


By Guest Contributor Julia Bickel

Some years ago I went to Alaska to visit my dear friend Bev. Because she is a teacher and my very closest friend, she was going to help me organize a writing project. I spread a lot of papers on her table and we began. Soon I said, “If this were a quilt, these are the blocks, but I need the way to put them together.”

apple close up“Let me show you something,” she said and went to a closet. In a few minutes she came back with a set of quilt blocks held together with a large safety pin. She had bought them at a church rummage sale. We looked at the blocks carefully and saw that they were a variation of the log cabin pattern. They were similar in form, but each was slightly different. Some of the blocks had names embroidered on them, and more than one had the same name. We laid out the blocks on the floor and played with them discussing the colors, and how large we might make the quilt.

Soon we went to the quilt store and began looking at fabric, always a delightful exercise. The owner of the store asked if we were looking for something in particular, so we showed her the blocks. She became very excited because the name on the blocks was Dina Pappas, a well-known quilter in Alaska. In fact she had some of Dina’s books in the store. She told us that Dina had moved to Michigan, which was my home at the time. We each bought a book, and we chose the fabric for putting together the blocks, the backing and the batting.

I also saw some purple fabric that looked to me like rocks in water. I talked with Bev about how I saw it, and how I could “see” a shore line, water, and snow- capped mountains in the distance, maybe a salmon in the water. I bought some of the fabric.

Back at her house, we put away the writing project and got out the sewing machine. I showed Bev how to sew strips to put the blocks together. When we had it done, we showed it to Bev’s daughter who said, “They’re apples.”

We had looked at the blocks closely, but not from any distance. Once we saw them in a whole picture, they were clearly apples, some red, some yellow, some green. We were happy that we had correctly identified a directional pattern that they all had.

When I returned home, I looked again at the purple fabric and got started. I got a piece of paper and sketched the mountains, the water, the shore line, the salmon leaping out of the water, and a person standing with her fishing pole, easily recognizable as Bev, if you knew Bev. Then I looked online at images of salmon jumping, so I could get it right, and images of the kind of fishing rod a person would be using, and the stance the person would have. I spent happy hours looking at pictures of Alaska, and then I refined my sketch, and put it on a bigger paper, the size of a small wall hanging.

AlaskaNow it was time for a trip to my local quilt store for the rest of the fabric to make the picture quilt. I needed a piece for the top third, the sky, and the middle third, mostly water, and something salmon colored for the fish. As you may imagine, I had a large stash of fabric to use for the details of mountains, snow, and trees. For the sewing, I started with a piece of muslin the size I wanted the whole project to be. Next I sewed the main pieces, sky, water, shore, onto the muslin. Then I appliqued the fish, the spray of water as the fish is jumping, the trees and the person. As I recall, I cut the rocky shore in curves, according to the print. Finally, I quilted the picture outlining the fish and the person, and making waves in the water. I finished it with a binding and sent it off to Bev, whose favorite color is purple.

Neither Bev nor I ever met Dina Pappas, but we are grateful for the gifts she gave to us in those apple blocks made in a church quilt group in Alaska, in her books, and in the inspiration I found in a piece of purple fabric. Creativity, friendship, memories, these are the essence of quilt making.


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