Charley Harper Butterfly Quilt

Back in August of last year, I wrote a blog post about visiting the Charley Harper mosaic mural at the John Weld Peck Federal Building. It was my sister Carrie who learned about the mural, and we had such a great time visiting it that I decided to see if she would want a quilt inspired by the mural for her 50th birthday. (Truth be told, I posed the question six months after that birthday, when I got the idea for a quilt. We play it kind of fast and loose with birthdays in my family.)

I asked her what were some of her favorite animals from the mural. Her first choice was the orange and black beetle and her second choice was the red, black, and yellow snake. After doing some math, I realized that, working with comfortable 2-inch squares, I’d have room for only one animal. So I asked, just to be sure, if she wanted a giant beetle on her quilt. It’s then she thought maybe the butterfly or snail would work best.

So I sketched the butterfly on graph paper, using the photo above for reference. To me, the random colored tiles placed between the animals added to the character of the mosaic, so I made notes for those, too.

Next I ordered Kona solid fabrics that matched the mural tiles, or at least came close. The first gray I ordered was too light, so I got a darker shade. And it took me four tries to get all the white fabric I ended up needing. Maybe guessing at the quantities wasn’t the best approach.

I started by making all the half-square triangles. I used the eight-at-a-time method when I could. Otherwise, I just made two at a time. I used individual squares for all the parts of the butterfly, but I decided I would use strips of white background fabric whenever there were more than two white tiles next to each other. That helped to cut down on the piecing.

Once I got going, I realized I’m not a very accurate piecer. I mean I knew that, but it became abundantly clear as I pieced the bold lines of the butterfly’s wings. It would have been easy to give up at this point, but I was too far in to quit. And it was looking pretty cool . . . from a distance, anyway.

I struggled with how big to make the quilt once the butterfly was complete. It measured 50″ x 32″, an odd size for a usable quilt. But my ideas for making it longer either took away from the butterfly or from the super graphic nature of the quilt. So in the end I decided just to add two rows of white around the butterfly and one row of black for the border. Rather than a plain black border, though, I added some random colored squares to that as well.

I started quilting in between the “tiles” with white thread to mimic the grout of the mosaic, but my less-than-accurate piecing became even more obvious. And the white thread just wasn’t very pretty. So I decided to quilt the shapes within the butterfly wings with like-colored thread. I quilted some of the larger sections of like colors as one shape, but for most of the squares and triangles, I quilted each individually slightly inside the seams. In the background, I quilted in 2-inch squares to emphasize the mosaic aspect.

Once the quilting was done, I could see all my mistakes way, way too clearly. Which was why I couldn’t wait to wash it. Since I had used unwashed cotton fabric and batting, I knew the quilt would shrink up a bit, making the quilt crinkly and making those little errors more difficult to spot. (The lighting is a bit off so the left side background looks more yellow than it is.)

I used two different Charley Harper fabrics for the backing. And I finished it in time to present to Carrie when she was in town right before her 51st birthday.

This quilt was a huge challenge for me—it was a lot to keep organized and a lot of small-for-me piecing. But with one under my belt, I can definitely see myself making another one in a couple years. There’s an awfully cute fish I want to try . . .

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  1. Julie Wallace

     /  June 27, 2018

    Christine – this is fabulous and amazing! You did a great job. I love how you “confess” to all of us your mistakes! Is there a chipmunk in the mural? Because I know somebody who needs that quilt FOR SURE! Great job.

  2. Kara Gross

     /  June 27, 2018

    What a striking quilt! I’m very glad that Carrie did not choose snake. Butterfly was the way to go!

    • Thank you! I titled the quilt “Be the Butterfly” because if she positioned it over her legs while sitting, with the wings to both sides, she could be the butterfly. I don’t think that would have worked as well with a snake.

  3. I really love the explanation of how you decided to do things. I think using the white squares in bigger sizes makes the quilt much more interesting and I love the individual random squares that pop up everywhere including the edges. Very well done!

  4. Awesome work. Beautiful.

  5. Carrie Doyle

     /  June 28, 2018

    I love, love, love the quilt! And I agree, Kara and Christine, I am glad I didn’t chose the snake. Though it is pretty. My boss, Vicky, is very impressed that you figured it all out using M-A-T-H! Being a good student has paid off.

  6. You did a beautiful job! It looks amazing!


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