a quilt for nora :: Okan Arts
a quilt for nora

a quilt for nora


By Patricia Belyea

SEATTLE WA  Plymouth Piecemakers makes quilts for newborn babies and high school seniors at Plymouth Congregational Church. The group was founded by quilting guru Maurine Noble who taught many quilters how to free-motion quilt in the 1990s and 2000s.

As a member of Plymouth Piecemakers, my assignment this year was to make a quilt for Nora T—a bright young lady who was just graduating from Grade 12.

To get started, I contacted Nora’s father and stepmother requesting for a piece of memorable clothing to include in my project. On the first week of February, I received a blue plaid shirt that had been worn by Nora’s father many times. I was sure it would look great with Japanese textiles (my thing!).   

Two months later, I still hadn’t started on the quilt top. I was uninspired. My excuse was that the blue shirt looked dingy with my fabrics. The clock was ticking down on my deadline!

With the hope that a different piece of clothing could spark my creativity, I made a second call to the family. This call yeilded (from top left, clockwise); a light plaid shirt from Dad, a home-sewn yellow dress that Nora wore to her parents’ wedding, a maroon shirt from Dad, and floral-patterned skirt that Nora had outgrown. I paired each piece of clothing with three vintage Japanese yukata cottons.

After I cut apart the clothing, I sliced the clothing and yukata cottons into strips of random widths. These I sewed together into longer composite strips.

I created freezer paper patterns for the four letters in Nora’s name and made 28″H letters using the composite fabric strips. The A with the dark red fabrics on a yellow background looked too contrasty for the composition. I wanted to make a new A block with lighter-colored fabrics but didn’t want to disturb Nora’s family with another clothing request. Hmmmm.

Then I noticed that the back of the maroon shirt fabric looked neutral and pale. 

Working with a new trio of yukata cottons and the reversed maroon shirt fabric, I made a new A block with a beige background. I also switched out the mid-blue background of the N block for a pastel blue. The quilt top was then bordered with chunks of the background colors.

The quilt back was made with lengths of floral yukata cotton, seamed together to make a large piece of fabric. I secured the quilt top, Hobbs Heirloom Natural Cotton with Scrim batting, and the quilt back with pin basting. I machine stitched-in-the-ditch along the axis between the four big letter blocks and on the inside of the border, and tailor basted across the whole quilt.

Then I hand-stitched each letter block with a different design—a grid for the N, butterflies for the O, Lily of the Valley blossoms for the R, and arabesques for the A. I was mindful of the batting’s stitch requirement of no more than 8″ apart when I planned my quilting.

A back facing finished the quilt so the edges have a clean, modern look.

I was out-of-town for the church service dedicating the senior quilts. Instead, during the summer, Nora came to Okan Arts shop after a morning lifeguard shift so I could personally give NORA Quilt to her.

Nora is off to Fordham University in New York City this fall—on a full academic scholarship. And so is NORA Quilt!

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23 comments to “a quilt for nora”

  1. Janet Wright says:

    What a lovely quilt you made for Nora. I loved seeing your process. Great project.
    I look forward to seeing you in Friday Harbor in October. I put my Yukata quilt that I made in our May class–in the Fair today.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Janet—I’m pleased to hear that you finished your workshop quilt and are proud of it. So kind of you to share your creative work at the Fair. See you in October in the far reaches of the San Juan Islands! PB

  2. Janet Schayer says:

    Love it!!!!! You’ve inspired me.

  3. Tesi Vaara says:

    Very special thing you did for Nora! Thanks for sharing your process!

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Hi Tesi—Since I am an author, I’m in the habit of documenting my process. Hence I always have lots of photos once I finish a quilt project. PB

  4. Ann says:

    What a treat to see your process on a quilt as beautiful as it is meaningful – to both you, the maker, and the recipient. I’ve been working with Chinese Coins this year and am currently piecing names into the quilt back but had never thought to combine the two styles. Masterful. Congratulations.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Ann, My inspiration for the quilt design was the iconic pop art LOVE sculpture by Robert Indiana. Working with used clothing forced me to slice the clothes up and add other fabrics to make bigger pieces of fabric. Each creative step informed the next step. Glad to hear that you are also working on creative quilt projects! PB

  5. Katrine Eagling says:

    What an awesome quilt. I did love the first A block, but totally get why you swapped it out.

  6. Nancy says:

    Nora looks like a beautiful butterfly with a beautiful quilt–off to college! And you told us a beautiful story of your creative process. Thanks, Pat. Very inspiring.

  7. Kerry says:

    Brava, Patricia! I just love the beautiful and personal quilt that you made for Nora. Thank you for sharing!

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Thanks Kerry. I like to include clothing in quilts that I make for others. It transforms the quilt into something much more meaningful than just my design and energies. PB

  8. Mrs. Plum says:

    What a wonderful, creative gift for Nora! Well done!

  9. Renee Atkinson says:

    Love the concept, Love the butterflies. I am in the process of doing a memorial quilt incorporating the clothes of the deceased in a large butterfly on the front, It would be wonderful to do smaller ones of her family members on the back. Very inspirational!!

  10. NancyinSTL says:

    Documenting your process and sharing it has really inspired me to document my next quilt, which will be one of the most personally important ones I’ll ever make. Your quilt is just gorgeous! I doubt that I would have considered reversing the fabric or facing the quilt, but by doing both, your quilt is extra special. Thanks for sharing.

    • Patricia Belyea says:

      Nancy—Glad to know the story of Nora Quilt made a difference for your project. Send me a pic when you are done, if that works for you. Best, PB.

  11. Linzee says:

    Nora is a lucky girl. I loved seeing the process behind this very special quilt. Well done!

  12. Andrea Bursaw says:

    This charming website always freshens my perspective and inspires me to “just begin.”

  13. Marilynn D-R says:

    Patricia, you created such a beautiful quilt for Nora. I know she will treasure forever.

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