Fern Fronds and Fibonacci


A historic covered bridge seemed the perfect backdrop for a quilt photo shoot.  On a beautiful spring day Jim and I loaded the car with a couple of cameras, a couple of tripods, and a couple of quilts.

This stop was at the Red Oak Covered Bridge near Woodbury (details and a map can be found here: http://www.exploregeorgia.org/listing/476-big-red-oak-covered-bridge).  The quilt you see is my Fern Fronds and Fibonacci quilt, made in 2007.  It finished at   56” x 61” and features a sunprinted image of an Australian Tree Fern (Cyathea cooperi ) which was growing in our backyard garden at the time.

Some of my first explorations into putting images onto cloth were through the process of sunprinting.  This predates the printing, painting, and dyeing I’ve been exploring more recently.

The life size image of the fern frond measures 29“ x 34“.  The turquoise and white blueprinted image needed some color to give the quilt a more spectacular “wow” factor, so I chose to include a variety of brightly colored fabrics in the border.

Many batiks were used, along with some fossil fern prints.  I still love that line of fabric, and continue to use them a lot.  They are soft and loosely woven, but to me this makes them turn easily for appliqué.

To create a unique border, I referred to the Fibonacci sequence – the infinite mathematical sequence 1,1, 2 ,3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34… .  Each term of the sequence (after the first two) is found by adding the preceeding two terms.  For those of you who want a math review:   t1 = 1, t2 = 1, tn+1 = tn + tn-1.  And the answer to the inevitable test question, “is it arithmetic, geometric, or neither?” can be found at the end of the post.

The Fibonacci sequence is found in the growth pattern and leaf structure of many plants, including ferns. Google will help you with more intense investigation if you want to pursue it.

To interpret this into my quilt, I made colored rectangles all 1” tall, but whose widths were 1”, 1”, 2”, 3”, 5”, etc.  To avoid single loooong bands of color, I did not use a length greater than the 34” (limiting myself by the dimension of the plant image itself), I just repeated that sequence in a spiral until I was satisfied with the look.


The woven ribbon portion of the border was a design taken from one of Sally Collins’ books.

I was very inexperienced with machine quilting at the time and didn’t feel confident stopping and starting at the edge of the design.  So I quilted the grid in the sunprinted space by hand.  Make that read BY HAND.  That pretreated fabric is more closely woven than your normal quilting cotton making this a less than pleasant experience.  I used Dream Cotton batting which is nice and thin and generally easy to quilt through.  But now I know that wool would be sweeter to needle.  I don’t think wool batting was widely available at that time.

Then I dared to freemotion quilt fern fronds in the border space.  I traced a section of the fern, transferred it to the fabric using a lightbox, then stitched with an invisible polyester thread.

As I write this, I am amazed at how much I’ve learned since that experience.  But even though it’s full of what many would see as mistakes; I love this quilt.  I still love the fern.  I love the unique opportunity to combine nature and mathematics in fabric, and I love that I’m still learning things about quilting.

At the time I printed this image, I made many more blueprint images of plants including multiples of this plant.  I love planning ways to include these fabric images in new projects.

Older posts with details of other quilts with sunprinted images are these:

http://sandygilreath.com/gbi-blues/,

http://sandygilreath.com/whats-in-a-name/ (this one had a sunprinted label)

http://sandygilreath.com/annie-maes-lace/

Answer to the math question:  neither.  Arithmetic sequences are generated by adding a fixed constant to one term to get to the next; geometric, by multiplying.  Neither is the case in this sequence.

The black & white photo with color accent is Jim’s darkroom magic.  The other photos are mine.  If you think the fern is blurry, it’s not the camera.  It’s the motion of the fern in the wind during the 15-minute sun exposure.

Author: Sandy Gilreath

I've stitched my way through life. Early skills in utilitarian and decorative sewing have merged with art in the world of quiltmaking. My love of journaling has now crossed into the cloth world, too. I love old songs, old souls, old words; my collections attest to my fascination with memories.

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