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Pictograms – A History



Jungle Pictogram

Pictorial patterns offer an additional focus. They provide a secret ingredient to the quilt. Visible only as the viewer steps closer “for a better look.”

       Large whole cloth patterns that unfold or unroll were the originals in this area. They often contain flowery medallions or subject specific motifs or even figures (eg. angels) that are to be centered on the quilt.  Generally custom work surrounds the central motif.  They give a large image for focus and are generally used on solid fabric quilts, hence the term “Whole Cloth.”

But what about the name “Pictogram?”  What we designed weren’t simple repeating Pantos!  So what were they? As I researched for a name I noticed “pantographs,” as quilters knew them, weren’t the device that architects had used for a couple of centuries.  However, the longarm machine did have close similarities to that original wooden device.  So, I explored other terms related to the reproduction of pictures.  In doing so I began looking at other techniques, even cave drawings. You’ll recall how many cave paintings depicted a whole story, the riders, the buffalo, the arrows, etc. It was there I came upon the term Pictogram.  Should that be our choice for a name? I even polled my customers and friends and finally decided upon this, a new to quilting, term — Pictogram.

       Angela developed a pseudo-interlocking format for this new category that we called Pictograms.  Although they were pictorial and “non-repeating,” and told a story as it were, they were still in roll format for easy handling. They weren’t the large, cumbersome whole-cloth patterns which had to be unfolded and traced onto the quilt. These could be unfurled down the length of the table on the longarm machine and traced with the laser light or stylus. The stitching could travel in a “continuous-line” across the whole quilt. These are patterns which paint a mural across the “canvas” of the quilt.

Quilts can be “Memory Filled.”

Pictorial patterns carry the viewer with them to the South Seas, or to the Farm or swimming with the Penguins.  They can remind us of our vacations around the world or of a weekend skiing.

       When I was a child, our family built a desert cabin in the high desert of California. The boulders of Rattlesnake Hill were my playground.  Later as a college student I went with friends to explore rock formations of several western states.   I was at home on the desert rocks.  Recently when someone suggested I do a Southwest pattern I leaped right in.  It was fun remembering climbing on boulders, feeling the wind and chasing the jackrabbits.  Of course, there were plenty of giant Joshua trees and snakes, too. The adventure turned my thoughts to the fun times of my childhood. I drew all those memories into my “Southwest Vistas” pattern.  “Campout” and “Backwoods” are two other patterns that take me back to those happy-go-lucky days.  Didn’t you ever go camping as a child? Did your Dad make you sit in the boat for hours to catch fish?  With book in hand, it seemed like forever. That was tedious, but it’s fun to remember now. Re-discover such memories when you stitch pictorial patterns on your quilt!

When you care enough to send the best, give your gifts added appeal.

       Theme specific patterns are great for gifts.  They make it more fun for children, husbands and special friends with whom we have shared experiences.

                A few years ago I made quilts for several of my Grandchildren.  The piecing was of a variety of methods; Stack n’ Whack with tigers, Peaky and Spike fish in bright colors, and traditional 30’s Cat’s Cradle blocks with Prairie Points. They were fun piecing and as I sewed I planned how each would be quilted with Pictograms.  The fish quilts were covered with the tropical fish of “Fishy Business;” the spinning tigers with “Jungle” foliage and animals; and the cat’s cradle with “Kitty Cats” playing through the maze and highly visible in the setting squares of the piecing.  When these quilts arrived at my Grandchildren’s homes, they were gleefully spread across the floor where the children lay playing, “I spy,” with the stitching. The quilts are equally interesting when Mom makes the beds with the back side up, so they can enjoy the stitching to its fullest effect. (Wear n’ tear is lessened too!) I had achieved my goal.  My quilts and gifts of love were truly loved in return.

                Although this type of machine quilting is ideal for children, it is not only for the young.  All of us enjoy memories such stitching designs can bring. Pet lovers will love images of their pets stitched over a quilt. We can remember New Orleans with images of the “French Quarter.”  Nautical designs bring our thoughts back to summers at the seaside, while cherries carry the remembered fragrance of summer orchards.  Pumpkins and pinecones, jungle bells and wedding bells, all have a place in our specialty, and sometimes even prize-winning, quilts!  Helen Baczynski’s first-place quilt “Turning Twenty Again on Halloween,” was quilted with a Pictogram –“Pumpkin Patch.” 

       While my husband was in the military, we lived in Southeast Asia and made many friends there.  A few years ago when my husband went back to visit, a friend sent me some beautiful presents.  I wondered, “How could I ever send something that would be cherished?”  Then I hit upon the idea of making a special quilt.  I have some puppets from Indonesia – Wayang Golek (wooden puppets) and decided to draw them and the story they portray, the Ramayana, into the design.  As I sat at my drawing table I remembered our home in Malaysia; the sights and smells of the marketplace, the monkeys that sat on our shoulders in the parks and the wonderful friends I had there.  Making the quilt and the pattern became a gift not only to my friend, but to me as well.  The next year this pattern was very creatively used by Bonnie Bosma to quilt an amazing batik vest, “Indonesian Inspiration.” 

       Last year another friend told me of a touching experience with her quilt guild.  The National Guard from their hometown was being deployed to Iraq.  Of course, they wanted to send quilts with them.  After asking permission, they were told the quilts would need to be “sand-colored” and of a specific size.  Unable to decorate with vibrant colors, many of the members quilted up their sandy quilts with my “America’s Pride Pictogram.”  I was thrilled to imagine images of the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge, George Washington, Abraham Lincoln as well as other symbols of the Land of Liberty warming these brave soldiers with memories of home. 

       How about the man in your life.?  He might feel a quilt was definitely made with him in mind when the pieces are laced together with images of “manly” interests like golfing, camping, hunting, fishing, dragons or cars.  My son loves cars!  Not a day went by that he was not telling me this and that about driving systems, historic models, etc., sharing his interest with me.  One day the pictures he was showing me, clicked.  I started drawing cars, all the time thinking of him.  I should call it my “Joe” pattern. Those “Classic Cars” became another prize-winning quilt for Helen Baczynski, “Sunday Drivers in the Land of OZ”

       When a car lover receives a quilt like this, he knows it was made for him!

Expanding your theme adds new dimension.

       These days quilting Pantographs and Pictograms are available in so many varieties that they needn’t be relegated to the edge-to-edge category.  A myriad of borders, sashings, blocks, etc. open the door to amazing framed Theme Quilts. With a Pictogram or medallion in the center, compatible border designs can parade around a quilt to create a well unified masterpiece. 

       Recently, I wanted to make a special quilt with New England in mind.  I always think of the Nor’easters that plague that part of the country as being typical.  They seem somehow romantic!  (Really, wouldn’t it be great to be snowed-in so you had nothing to do but quilt?  No electricity?  That’s why I keep my old treadle sewing machine!)  So, I drew a “Nor’easter” pattern with frothy seas, boats and docks and even a one-horse sleigh braving the storm.  It was fun looking at lighthouses and a friend in New England told me Portland light was the proper icon. 

       Angela quilted all this over a bargello sea topped with crashing white waves.  The quilt would need borders too, so she stitched whales swimming around the inner border and a “Salty Seas” rope with lobsters, anchors and lanterns encircling all, in the quilt’s outer border. 

       Planning a Theme quilt is challenging, creative, and fun.  Patterns must be chosen that compliment each other and carry out the theme. There are plenty of these available.  You may find one piece of your master plan on one website and the next on another.  Feel free to mix and match! (Shopping, yippee!) Yes, there are adjustments to be made. Pieces of the pattern might have to be omitted or added to enable it to fit your quilt.   Borders must be centered and sometimes motifs must be separated out of a pattern to be used in a corner block.

Does it all have to be a “Theme?” 

Suppose your quilt top is made up of Log Cabin blocks or any of a thousand standard block designs,  Well, Decorate the Quilt you have with unique Pictogram stitching.

       I don’t mean to infer that all these ideas should be only stitched over solid “Whole Cloth.”  I love placing amazing stitching over interesting and theme-specific pieced fabrics. I can’t give up that part of my quilting fun.  I just add another layer of interest.

        Yes, one must be creative and skillful.  But the end result can be amazing.  The more effort you put into it, the greater the satisfaction! 

When my quilts are completed I re-open them to enjoy the designs over and over.  Don’t you love looking at something you’ve made, again and again? ( I hope I’m not the only one who goes back and unfolds a quilt, just to enjoy the finished masterpiece once more.)

       Explore the world of patterns, and I hope you’ll agree that using them can be creative and interesting. It’s fun quilting motifs that pop out to decorate and enhance. You can expand from the ease of edge-to-edge into the fascinating assortment of non-repeating patterns and theme quilts. As for feeling comfortable on the other side of the machine—It just takes a little practice!

So oil up that machine, and add another layer of interest to your quilts.

1 thought on “Pictograms – A History

  1. […] The great MeadowLyon Adventure began when we returned from living in Malaysia where Monkeys would sit on our shoulders at the park or steal our lunches. My son would lie on the floor pouring over animal books.  So I decided to make him a Rainforest Quilt to help him remember that wonderful adventure. I pieced it with tropical fabric and as I got deeper under the canopy used darker fabrics with bigger animals.  Finally I turned the trees upside down and pieced the lower ones with fish fabric.  Then I asked my friend Angela to quilt it for me – and put in birds and animals.  She said she’d be glad to quilt it, but I’d have to draw the pattern.  So I did.  I didn’t know it could repeat so I made it all different.  It became the basis for our first 4 “Pictograms.”  “Rainforest,” “Jungle,” Safari,” and “Fishy Business.” Read more about Pictograms here. […]

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