Duchess Reigns

Machine quilted wholecloth Duchess Reigns

Duchess Reigns Wholecloth Quilt

2nd Quilt in the Duchess Series, 9th Quilt in the Goddess Series - 62" x 62"

I began designing Duchess Reigns in the summer of 2012, mostly as a challenge to see what I could do differently with design 4 years after creating The Duchess in 2008.

It was also a journey of looking back and looking forward. The original Duchess quilt had challenged me in every way possible, but it had also lead to my very first ribbon at a quilt show and a new sense of confidence and awareness of my skill as a quilter.

As I began designing Duchess Reigns it was easy to see just how much my skill has changed in just 4 years. It definitely made me look back on all that I'd learned and also look forward to seeing where my skills would take me in the next four years.

The Duchess Wholecloth Series

The Duchess Series is a series of over-the-top wholecloth quilts I plan to create every four years. The goal is to always push my boundaries and craftsmanship to new levels. With this quilt, two major challenges were planned - hand dyeing the surface of the quilt after completing the trapunto and outline quilting, and finishing the edges with a loopy corded binding.

These two challenges were also joined with a third challenge - to design like never before. This time I wanted to go over-the-top in a new way, but still include elements from the original Duchess wholecloth. In the end only two things carried over - the vase and the woven lines - and even those two elements were changed drastically.

Read more about Duchess Reigns
in the following blog articles:

Duchess Reloaded #1 - Pulling Out an Old Friend

Duchess Reloaded #2 - Center Design

Duchess Reigns #3 - Full Design

Duchess Reigns #3 - Learning New Techniques

Duchess Reigns #4 - Never Delete Anything

Back in the Studio with Duchess Reigns and Emergence

Duchess Reigns #5 - Gut Feeling Adjustments

Duchess Reigns #6 - Marking the Top and Stitching Samples

Duchess Reigns #7 - Marking, Clipping, Basting

More Outlining on Duchess Reigns

How to Dye a Wholecloth Quilt

Question / Answer Design Process

Quilt a Tiny, Stacked Version of Flame Stitch

Living to Quilt

Quilting Hair with Channels and Paths

Quilting Cat Hairball Filler / Thread Painting

Duchess Reigns Learning Experience

Throughout the construction, Duchess Reigns was an enormous learning experience. This was one of the first quilts I completely designed using a computer program (Serif Draw Plus) and the first to incorporate thread painting and surface dyeing.

The results were...mixed. You can't attempt new things on such a massive scale without finding unexpected results. Dyeing the surface of the quilt achieved the goal to create a beautiful, dark red color, but it had the unintended side effect of distorting the surface of the quilt. This created a large amount of excess fabric that ended up forming small pleats on the front and back.

As the quilting progressed, the amount of dense thread painting also caused more distortion and the surface. For this reason, Duchess Reigns does not rest flat, but the surface is very obviously wavy, though this is largely hidden by the curved edge binding.

Taking a Year Off

Working on Duchess Reigns became very challenging in the fall of 2013 for many reasons. I was extremely busy designing and writing the Building Blocks pattern, managing the website and blog.

Filling the quilt had also become tortuously boring. Quilting the same dense filler designs over and over again can be very monotonous, and Duchess Reigns was designed with a lot of filler quilting in the center medallion background and borders.

What made matters even more challenging was the increasing number of thread breaks, especially in the dense areas where thread was build up and thread painted on the surface. It seemed I could stitch for only 2-3 inches before the thread would break and I'd have to pick the stitches out to form long enough tails to hide them properly in the quilt.

For these reasons, I folded up Duchess Reigns and put her away for more than a year. I needed time to work on other projects and needed a serious break from Duchess Reigns. I put this quilt away with the understanding that I would pull her out and finish her when the time was right.

Finishing Duchess Reigns

Finally around Christmas 2014 that I felt ready to return to Duchess Reigns. The break time had given me the time and opportunity to grow as a quilter and see this quilt in a new way. Duchess Reigns was not vehicle for perfection and showcase for all my skill. She had issues, she was imperfect, and she would probably never hang straight, but she was also a beautiful, amazingly designed quilt that deserved to be finished.

I returned to filling the quilt and finished the remaining border section in just 21 days. The progress was slow and at times I again felt bored and restless while filling the same designs over and over through the background.

Finishing this last section taught me a lot about celebrating small victories. Every evening I would shoot a picture of Duchess Reigns and try to capture all that I'd filled in that day. I began printing the pictures out and I could see, very clearly, how much progress I was making. It was harder to see on the quilt, but impossible to miss in the photos.

After finishing the quilting, I decided to cut myself a break on the binding and just finished the edges with a bias curved binding instead of the corded binding I'd planned originally. This cut the finishing time by several weeks or months, and still resulted in a beautiful edge for the quilt. I have no regrets about this decision. It was time to finish Duchess Reigns.