Tools and Tips

Designing Special Day Quilts

I really love to design quilts that have a story and are very personal. Over time, I have made quilts to commemorate anniversaries, birthdays, graduations and more. I particularly like adding historical information including weather into these quilts.

The first quilt I made using these principles was Ante Meridiem, which was made in 2019.

Ante Meridiem 2019 Original Design by Karen Kehl

This quilt depicts the colors of the sky in Madison, Wisconsin from midnight until noon (ante meridiem or a.m.) on June 18, 1988, which was when my now husband and I started our romantic relationship. There are 48 different colored strips, one for each 15 minutes. The quilt is further divided with quilting lines for every 5 minutes. There are 36 colors of Aurifil thread used for quilting.

To prepare for this quilt, once I decided on the day and time period I wanted to include, I did a lot of homework. First, I found some time lapse photography to get an idea of how colors in the sky change over time. This type of photo can be found on sites like Shutterstock (here is 1 more and a timelapse video from Shutterstock). Other examples are here and here. I was particularly interested in “time-slice” photographs by Dan Marker-Moore.

To be as accurate as possible, I looked up the times of dawn and sunrise in Madison, Wisconsin on June 18, 1988. When you are doing a project like this, it is important to include the location. Longitude affects the time of events like sunrise and sunset. Originally, I looked this up on the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Sunrise/Sunset Calculator. The calculator has since been updated and the new NOAA Solar Calculator is more accurate.

I also learned that “dawn” is not a single time. According to NOAA, it includes Astronomical Dawn, the point where the sun starts lightening the sky; Nautical Dawn, the point where there is enough light to start to distinguish objects; and Civil Dawn, when objects are distinguishable, and Sunrise, when the sun appears above the horizon. I used the Weather Underground weather history site to look up the times of dawn and sunrise, and then figured out colors from those times outward.

Another version of a Special Day Quilt is Madison, which depicts the skyline of Madison, Wisconsin, across Lake Monona, on May 25, 2007, when I graduated with my PhD. I knew that I graduated on the last Saturday in June in 2007, and I used this perpetual calendar site to find the date. I chose to depict 8:00pm, when we wrapped up our celebration and saw this scene as we headed home.

Madison 2021 Original design by Karen Kehl

At 8:00pm, the sun was setting, so the gorgeous colors were evident. The buildings could be seen, but some seemed more clear than others. And the illuminated capital dome created a clear reflection in the lake. The sky was clear (I looked up the weather that day on the National Weather Service history site) I also checked out how the clouds might have looked on the National Weather Service cloud chart.

Special Day Quilts can also be small. One of my favorites is this mini quilt made for my daughter’s birthday. It is only 10 x 11 inches, but holds a lot of information.

April 15 – Rachel 2022 Original design by Karen Kehl

I looked up the location, date, and time of her birth (12:36am). In addition to looking up weather, I looked up the phase of the moon on the date of her birth. It was one day off of the full moon, so I took a little artistic license. It was also just a few minutes past the apogee of that night. The hospital was near a river, and I captured that in the watery reflection. Here is another site to look up phases of the moon.

I am working on another mini birthday quilt, and I love playing with these.

I hope this inspires you to make a special day quilt. And that these resources help you searching for the data needed. Please add any other sites you have used to find this type of information in the comments. I can’t wait to hear from you!

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