Art of Quilting Column may 03, 2009

Fabulous fusible flowers bloom from photos

When quilt artist Melinda Bula grows flowers at her home in El Dorado Hills, Calif., they “bloom” with lightning speed.

Starting with the seed of an idea, she’s often inspired by an outdoor photo she’s taken.

Once Bula has the desired color of fabric, she swiftly irons fusible adhesive to it, then cuts out the shapes she needs to make lifelike blossoms in designs she calls “Fabulous Fusible Flowers.”

Judges at the spring International Quilt Festival last month in Chicago agreed that a recent set of flowers Bula brought to life are fabulous. They awarded her best of show and $2,500 for “Splendor in the Grass,” an art quilt of red lilies peeking out from long, grassy leaves.

Bula spent a mere seven days completing the quilt top, then another week on the quilting and a stitching technique she refers to as Renegade Thread Play. Barely stopping to eat a meal, she worked nine hours a day on the piece (41 inches by 59 inches) and admits she was obsessed.

“The artistic flow was so overwhelming, so powerful and surreal,” Bula says.

She even cried when the quilt was finished, recognizing that the process was “so sweet and so rare.” Bula says she thanked God for an experience she’ll always cherish.

“To win something on top of it just blows me away,” Bula says.

April was a special month for her. Not only did her lilies take best of show in the “Celebrate Spring!” competition in Chicago, but two other quilts of hers won prizes a week later at the 25th annual American Quilter’s Society show and contest in Paducah, Ky.

Bula’s quilt titled “Monterey at Dusk” (51 inches by 60 inches) won first place and $1,500 in the small wall quilts pictorial category, and another floral piece titled “Romance” took third place and $750 in the machine-quilted, small wall quilts category.

“Monterey at Dusk” previously won best of show in the 2008 Road to California contest. It’s listed for sale at $10,000. “Romance,” a Dutch Masters floral bouquet that measures 57 inches by 69 inches, also has been recognized in previous contests. It sells for $12,000.

The price on her showpiece lilies is $9,000.

Bula teaches her technique across the nation and has written a book about it, “Cutting Garden Quilts” (Martingale and Co./That Patchwork Place). She shows students how to trace a photo and enlarge it into a working pattern.

“They have to spend time looking closely at all the detail in their photo” to make it realistic, Bula explains.

For those who don’t want to start from a photo, she offers patterns in her book. They are accompanied with color charts in a paint-by-numbers style — “very doable,” she explains.

Bula developed her specialty, Renegade Thread Play, because fusible fabric is chunky and thicker than regular quilt tops.

Thin thread and small stitches typically used in traditional quilting didn’t show up on her work the way she wanted.

“I am coloring or sketching with the thread and needed to figure out how it could be seen,” Bula says.

She found her solution in Sulky 30-weight rayon thread and a longer stitch. Bula likes the shine of the rayon, which she stitches in a free-motion style on a Bernina home sewing machine.

Her one caveat: Because rayon is fragile, she says “you have to respect the thread.”

Bula keeps a fast pace in all her endeavors, filling the year ahead with traveling, teaching and lecturing. She hopes to design a line of fabric soon and plans to start writing a companion book to “Cutting Garden Quilts.”

In August, her most recent book, “Candy Cane Lane” (Martingale and Co./That Patchwork Place) will be published. Bula describes it as a Christmas applique book, which includes a colorful and whimsical quilt and other projects to decorate a home for the holidays.

Surprisingly, Bula enjoys hand applique despite it being slower than machine work. One of her current projects is a traditional Baltimore Album quilt, which requires tedious applique of numerous small pieces.

There’s nothing more satisfying than pushing a needle and thread through beautiful fabric,” she says.

In fact, all aspects of the quilting art form attract Bula like a flower to the sun.

Two other areas of her expertise are fabric dyeing and making wearable art. She describes the latter as “art for the body” and now has a dress form with a design in progress that she calls “Peggy Sue.”

“I consider the body as my canvas” and the clothing as a “piece of three-
dimensional art,” Bula says.

At next January’s Road to California quilt show in Ontario, Calif., her wearable art will be displayed in a fashion show.

No doubt the quilt world will be watching to see what this enthusiastic and prolific artist creates next. In the meantime, more of her designs can be seen on her Web site

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