Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Beaded Quilt in Process

Thom Atkins, Robin Atkins studio
This is my little (16 months younger than I) big (6'4") brother, Thom, with his wife, Jennifer, and me in my studio in 2006. In front of us is one of his beaded quilts, Blue Miranda, and you can see more of it on Thom's website, here. He was also in the first year of the Bead Journal Project and you can see his 12 beaded mini-quilts here.

Thom is making a name for himself in the quilting world, bringing both his art/painting training and his passion for embellishing with beads to his quilts. Thom and I are beading buddies, frequently spending hours on the phone talking about our latest projects, bead sources, techniques, etc. It's a blessing for both of us and has deepened our friendship with each passing year.

We also totally enjoy getting together when we can (he lives in central California, whereas I live in northern Washington state). We just had a great week together, beading and sharing in my studio (same place as picture above). What was really FUN for me was to see his process as he went to work on the very beginning stages of a new quilt!!!

Finding himself inspired by two things (1. a strand of stone, disc-shaped beads, dyed to look like turquoise and 2. a funny technique with organza), Thom's mind went to an under water look, with anemones made with the discs and some sort of puff creature made with the organza.

Global Warming, bead-embellished quilt by Thom Atkins, detail showing anemone
Here's how the discs look, made up as sea anemones. See how he circled the discs with dagger and claw-shaped, glass beads.

Global Warming, bead-embellished quilt by Thom Atkins, detail showing puffs
Here are the puff creatures.

The puff technique uses polyester organza (Thom uses two layers of different colors stitched together with a contrasting thread color) wrapped around small stones or pebbles and fastened with rubber bands. After fastening a bunch of them, throw the whole thing in a pot of boiling watter and let it boil for 10 minutes. After cooling and removing the pebbles, the polyester is permanently bubbled in the shape of the pebbles. You can crush it (like those cute tops you can buy at shows), but it always comes back to shape when released.

But I'm getting ahead of myself with the pictures... Knowing he would use the puffs and the disc beads, Thom gathered some fabrics from his stash (a blue-brown, blended stripe, which he could use for wooden posts, a blue-aqua batik for water, a brown batik suitable for rocks, a purple batik that might work for the sea bottom , a navy-blue tulle netting to layer over fabrics and some angelina for sparkle). He's been doing a series of quilts 18" x 52" and wanted this one to be in the series. Spreading things out on the table, he began cutting and laying out the pieces.

Soon it took shape! Two posts and some cross bars, angelina used to add a sense of movement to the water, purple sea floor and brown rocks. He used permanent marking pens to create the illusion of depth and texture on the rocks and wood. Then he added 1 to 4 layers of tulle netting to hold everything in place and to give the appearance of depth. Next came a whole lot of stitching, hand-quilting everything in place! By the time he returned home, the quilt looked like this (except for the seaweed).

Global Warming, bead embellished quilt by Thom Atkins, in process 1
Remember my previous post about silk ribbons and Nancy's Sewing basket???? Well, Thom and I had a glorious time shopping at Nancy's just prior to his flying out of Seattle. In the ribbon room, Thom immediately spied a large basket filled with hand-dyed China-silk, bias-cut "Hanah Silk ribbons." Gorgeous! Drop-dead gorgeous (and reasonably priced from $.75-5.00/yard, depending on width - up to 4 inches) these could be used in many ways, including quilt bindings. Thom instantly saw them as seaweed for his quilt. Since it's cut on the bias and therefore doesn't fray much, he could re-cut strips of it in seaweed shapes and apply them to the quilt with tulle. Here's how the seaweed looks pinned down.

ribbon seaweed pinned in place, Thom Atkins quilt
And here's how it looks hand-stitched in place.

ribbon seaweed on Global Warming quilt by Thom Atkins
Here's how the quilt looks now after he's worked on it at home during the week since he was visiting me. (Be sure to click to enlarge and see details.)

Global Warming, bead embellished quilt by Thom Atkins, in process 2
Are you curious about the fish and the sign? Have aquarium, have some old wood and marking pens, have camera, have photo-editing program, have printer, have ink-jet-printable fabric... and yipppeee... soon you have fish and a sign ready to sew on a quilt. Neat, huh!

Thom Atkins, no fish sign made for Global Warming quilt
Oh, yes, I forgot to mention above... somewhere along the line, it came to Thom that this piece seems to say something about global warming and rising sea levels. Although it's not even half way finished yet, he's named it Global Warming.

I'll post a picture of it when it's finished. Hope you are having fun seeing the process.


  1. That is phenomenal! I just love his work - popped over to the website and LOVE the frog piece!
    I can't wait to see this piece finished!

  2. Robin, please tell Thom that it is fantastic!
    I met him in Vegas at Beki's bead retreat and he inspired me to look at things so much differently.
    The fact that he handquilts the piece moves me, inspires me, and tells me that it CAN be done, that work doesn't have to be all machine stitched.
    My goals and thoughts race ahead of me.
    At any rate, as usual, his piece is phenomenal.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing Thom's incredibly lovely work. I loved reading about the process he went through, which was an inspiration in and of itself. I'm not exactly sure that the word 'beautiful' even begins to do his artwork justice.

  4. Absolutely gorgeous, Robin!! I've seen Thom's work before and I've just marvelled over his creativity and workmanship. I can't wait to see the finished piece.
    I love the Hanna Silk Ribbons. They are really the creme de la creme in the ribbon world for me. The colors are spectacular and the drape that comes from them being cut from silk fabric with no edging is wonderful. I love working with them.
    Thanks for sharing this inspiring and fabulous work with us. It'll keep me thinking creatively all day! I'm working on a freeform peyote stitch cuff today and I'll keep thinking of the wonderful work I've just seen.

  5. Hi Robin,
    I fell in love with Thom's work in the BJP last year. This new piece is just stunning! It makes me feel like I can reach out and touch each focal. How wonderful that you are so close, emotionally, if not in physical distance.

  6. Wow! That is gorgeous. Wish I could follow you two around for awhile and watch. :) I'd love to watch the process in person.

  7. That's a wonderful piece.

  8. That is beautiful so far! I don't know how you do it, Robin! :)

  9. wow...he just keeps getting better and better...what inspiring work!

  10. I also have been a fan of Thom's since I introduced to his work in the BJP. What is so endearing of him though is his generous sharing of his techniques. I had asked him about how he did something and he showed me step by step how he did it. Truly a genius when it comes to fiber!

    I guess it runs in the family, huh?!

  11. Anonymous1:44 PM

    Absolutely incredible and beautiful!
    The techniques used to create the individual components are as imaginative as the end result. Thanks for sharing so many details.

  12. Somehow this one escaped me, post I mean. I love Thom stuff especially when he does the undersea stuff. He has such a knack for it. These are scrumptious.

  13. I am in awe!!! Oh, Thom, what glorious talent you have! I feel as if I am in a magical garden under the sea. It is fun to see the two of you together!



  14. Thom's work is breathtaking and in all my favourite sea colours. I can hardly wait to try out his puff organza idea. It's something I've never heard of before (are you surprised??). I hope that he doesn't mind. Of course, I have no idea if I have poly organza or some other type, so it may require a trip to the fabric store. LOL! I do so love to experiment.

  15. Did you say Thom stayed with you a week? And he did all this amazing stuff in a week? Oh my, I will have to kick myself somewhere and use my weeks better than I do now!

    In awe,


Thanks you for joining the discussion on this post today!