Mississippi Meander Quilt - Part 1

A couple of months ago Megan Farkas posted a map of the Mississippi River to my Facebook page with the caption, "Thought of you immediately". Another friend, Lee Thomson, commented that she had a link to a series of maps made in 1944 by Harold Fisk for the Army Corp of Engineers that show the overlapping courses of the Mississippi River over time. They are so graphic and compelling and were calling out to become map quilts.

(If you don't know Megan or Lee's work, go check them both out. It's definitely worth your time.)

After choosing my favorite map, which happened to be the one Megan originally sent me, I sent a jpeg to my local copy shop and asked them to blow it up as big as possible. They unexpectedly printed it on vinyl, because that was how they could get it to 48"x66". What I have since learned is that vinyl is GREAT. It's easy to tape paper and fabric pieces to it and easily remove them.

Vinyl map pinned to my design wall.

Vinyl map pinned to my design wall.

Now, the big question was how do I translate this into fabric? Just to start somewhere, I taped butcher paper on top of the vinyl map and traced the meander lines. I suspected that if I traced the major shapes I would get a feel for how to break the construction down into manageable pieces. On the original map, each course shown is numbered or lettered and is a different color. On my paper map I differentiated the courses with colored pencils. 

Here I am taking a break while lying on the floor with my head under my work table, looking up at my pencil drawings. My ugly feet are there for scale.

Here I am taking a break while lying on the floor with my head under my work table, looking up at my pencil drawings. My ugly feet are there for scale.

When I was sure about the line placement, I outlined the shapes with a Sharpie. 

Paper pattern hanging on the design wall. My head is for scale. You know I was working hard because my hair is pinned back.

Paper pattern hanging on the design wall. My head is for scale. You know I was working hard because my hair is pinned back.

To organize myself before sewing, I created a color chart. The numbers are the designations on the original map, the boxes are the colors I drew on my paper map, and next to them are fabric swatches chosen for each course. My color plan for the fabrics was pretty simple - I pulled fabrics from my stash that I liked together, and purchased an additional 3 or 4 more to round out the palette. 

You know the old joke, "How do you eat an elephant?" "One bite at a time."  Because the design is so curvey I knew I would be appliquéing a lot on this quilt, but I wasn't exactly sure where to begin. I cut out a small section from the paper pattern - that was my first bite. The rest of the quilt is coming together in small sections, which hopefully will easily fit together into big sections!

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I am still early in the construction phase of this quilt, but in my next post I'll show exactly how I am putting this together using a combination of freezer paper appliqué templates and paper piecing.

Stay tuned for Part 2!