Size: 232 cm x 278 cm (92″ x 110″)
Design: Based on “Stained Glass Quilt Designed by Bob”, modified by me
Fabric: all cotton, various designs and manufacturers
Machine: Janome Horizon MemoryCraft 9400QCP
Batting: Matilda’s Own 60%wool / 40% polyester
Backing: Kennard & Kennard digital print 212, 108″ wide
Cut: January & March 2019
Pieced: April 2019.
Top assembled & basted: September 2022
Quilted: October 2022 and January 2023
Bound: January 2023
I’ve been attracted to bright, gold-accented oriental-style fabrics for many years — the Hoffman Antique Kimono fabric that I used for Serenity (still a WIP) was one of the first I bought, and at the time I thought it was the most beautiful fabric I’d ever seen. Since then I’ve bought more at almost every opportunity. Sometimes I was sensible and bought a pack of fat quarters, sometimes I let myself buy two or three metres. Some of them are authentic Japanese fabrics, but most are the faux-oriental designs by Hoffman, Kaufman, Benartex et al.
Obviously I was looking for a pattern that would show them to their best advantage, and that meant large pieces. On the other hand, some of the fabrics were quite small-scale and would appear dull in a large piece. Eventually I decided on a stained glass block which could accommodate all scales.
My pattern inspiration was the “Stained Glass Quilt designed by Bob” which used to be on Craftsy/Bluprint but has since disappeared.
I changed the proportions to make an 18″ block and then designed an alternate block to allow for smaller fabric designs. I later found out that my altered proportions made the quilt very close to the Asian Scrappy Road design by Nancy Scott.
When I eventually hauled the orientals out of the cubby (which was full to overflowing) I found that I had 87 different fabrics … and that didn’t include the panels! I divided them into large, medium and small scale designs, and made sure that the square pieces were cut from the appropriate scale design. The rectangles were cut from the rest of the strips, taking care to ensure that horizontal and vertical rectangles were cut in the correct orientation. I decided not to use a few of the fabrics that were too white but I definitely used over 80.
It took me four days to cut them all, mainly because it was during the heatwave in early January 2019 and I could only stay in the sewing room for a half-hour at a time before I started dripping sweat on the rulers. Naturally, after finishing the cutting I found that the fabric pile looked no smaller than when I’d started. All the purple, pink and teal fabrics went into the Serenity 2 project box; the green, orange and brown fabrics went to the Autumn Leaves project box; and I used some of the red leftovers in an Aussie Heroes quilt which featured a dragon panel. I’ll have to think of something for the blues.
The black sashing fabric is Emma Louise cotton (also from Japan), and all the strips were cut on 27 March 2019 (the wrong width — I ended up having to trim every single one). It’s a lovely matte black, very soft and easy to handle.
The blocks were sewn in April 2019. I then found that I had assembled some of the blocks incorrectly, but I would have had to take them completely apart to fix them and I’m too lazy for that. Instead I worked out how to arrange the blocks in a way that minimised the impact of the error.
It was interesting to see that most of the real Japanese fabrics appear a little dull in comparison with the American fabrics and they never have metallic pigments — they only use gold in silk, never in cotton. They do, however, use textured weaves which add variety to the feel of the quilt. In the above picture, both fabrics at bottom right are Japanese — you can see the texture in the purple one. All the fabrics along the top are American, with gold accents.
Like many of my quilting projects it was on hold for a few years while I concentrated on doll dressmaking. Eventually, in July 2022, I took the blocks up to a friend’s place and we spent an hour laying them out.
I knew that there would be some clashes of colour and some places where the same fabric occurred very close together in different blocks, but after several rearrangements and a few photos we settled on a final layout with most of the lighter fabrics at the top and most of the fishes at the bottom (for some reason my friend Sue was not at all comfortable with the thought of fish designs at neck level). The layout photo is courtesy of Sue’s phone camera.
Assembly of the top was delayed for a couple of months while my machine went for a service but then it was back to Sue’s for basting, which was a combination of spray adhesive and safety pins.
I found a multicoloured wide backing fabric that went well with the colours on the front, so I didn’t have to do any piecing on the back.
Since many of the fabrics are quite dark I considered using a charcoal wool/polyester batt — I had one in queen size (95″ x 108″) — but I had to discard that idea for two reasons: firstly, there are a couple of fabrics where grey or white under the fabric made a big difference; and, secondly, my quilt top ended up being 92″ x 110″ which was too large for that batt (like an idiot, I’d only added up the block sizes and left out the border). As chance had it, I had one king size batt in the stash which I bought for Pentastic but hadn’t used and since I’m never likely to make a quilt this size again I figured I’d use it for this one. It was my first time using a wool batt and I was very happy with how it handled. I was expecting a lot more bearding but there wasn’t much at all, and it didn’t create as much “fluff” on the surface as a cotton batt does.
I knew that the size of the quilt would make it heavy so it needed a lot of quilting to support it. I also knew that the top is too busy for any complex quilting design to be visible, so I decided on a very simple triple diagonal grid, worked in a tan Rasant thread that looks gold when it’s stitched but isn’t as fragile as a rayon or metallic thread. On the back I used another Rasant thread in dark brown. I had done about 90% of it when the machine crashed with a bobbin jam and had to go back to the service centre so completion was delayed by a few weeks.
The quilting looks fantastic from a distance but I know how many wobbles there are in those supposedly straight lines. There are one or two more visible goofs (as shown above) but not many. The quilting took about 20 hours and I went through at least 15 bobbins, possibly more.
For the binding I used more Emma Louise black — I toyed with the idea of using a gold-on-black fabric but I knew that the gold would wear off very quickly and it wouldn’t contribute anything to the design. The binding was attached at the back and stitched down by machine on the front, because our January sewing day was moved up a fortnight and I didn’t have time to do the binding by hand (I can only do a little at a time because of my hand issues, and I’d rather spend my hand-sewing time doing hexagons).
I took the quilt to Sue’s place for photography — we had hoped to use her Hills Hoist but it didn’t go high enough. Her husband brought out two stepladders and he and I held the quilt up while Sue operated the camera. The shot isn’t perfect but our situation was perilous — as most of you know (or should know) the highest point on a stepladder, be it the top step or a guide pole, should never be lower than your waist. I was on the second top step with no guide pole, and my balance isn’t great at the best of times. I wish Keith had gone up another step (he’s holding the right side on the picture, the one that’s drooping) but while I can take risks with my own safety I can’t tell others to do the same.
If you’re wondering where the “incorrect” blocks are, they start at bottom left and go diagonally up to second top on the right. If you can follow that line without losing track you’re better than I am.
Finally, I had to find a better name for the quilt than “Oriental Stained Glass” which was its working title for four years. Given the number of koi fish in the fabrics I eventually decided on 鯉と寝る (Koi to Neru) which is a near translation of “Sleeping with the Fishes”. Yes, my sense of humour is that weird.
A few more detail pictures:
(Apologies for the spider webs in the background — it’s been so wet I haven’t cleaned the balcony in a long time.)
1. Measure twice, cut once!
2. Have a block diagram beside your machine when compiling complex blocks (especially if you are making two similar but not identical blocks).
3. Massive quilts are a massive pain to handle.
2 thoughts on “Koi to Neru (Sleeping with the Fishes)”
So embarrassed that it wasn’t until I read the whole blog post that I got the “sleeping with the fishes” pun 🤣 I’m going to go with the excuse that I was too amazed by this gorgeous quilt to clue in any earlier. This is a stunning piece, well worth all the time and effort you put in. Love it!
Thank you! I’m sorry that my photos don’t do it justice, but my cousin is coming down to stay next month so I’ll try and persuade her to do some photos for me — she is much, much better photographer than I’ll ever be.