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The Burnsville Town Center Photo Quilt
The Reason We Live in Yancey County

Town Center Quilt main






Making of

The Making of
The Burnsville Town Center Quilt

Design .Construction.Installation


Depicting the four seasons in Yancey County seemed like the obvious theme for the quilt. I’ve always liked the name Princess SummerFallWinterSpring from a childhood memory and decided to use that sequence to present the seasons. The advantage to this was the two green seasons ended up on the ends and I could sandwich the black and white History part between the two seasons where the blending of color and imagery would work the best. 

After experimenting with many quilt blocks, I decided to use the sixty degree diamond because it makes three shapes: the tumbling block which produces an optical illusion, a star, and a hexagon (which is the tumbling block without the defined diamonds).

In Summer the rhododendron blossoms tumble down beside the Roaring Fork Falls, while the green and flowers are our big stars. The double star circle made by the green leaves and mountain scene is subtle but effective. The Godrays depicted in the second strong circle were the perfect balance for the Roaring Fork Falls on the left. I deliberately positioned the Welcome to Burnsville sign above the sunbeams, which is also where the two circles intersect.
The stars give way to the tumbledown of Fall, so the diamond becomes the tumbling block again in Fall. There is always at least one magic day in fall when most of the leaves blow off the trees and the air is full of leaves, and the experience is like being in a snowstorm with very big snowflakes. I wanted to capture that feeling with the placement of the falling stars and tumbling blocks, each of which contains pictures of leaves.
The diamond becomes both a tumbling block and a star in the History section. It proved to be the ideal shape to capture all the events that happen throughout the year. I decided to leave the historical photographs in their traditional shapes. The black and white photos are placed in the shape of Yancey County.
Winter with all its beautiful ice and snow was a natural for the stars so they become prevalent again in this section of the quilt, as well as hexagons. The shapes fall through winter like snowflakes which in nature are hexagonal shapes. They cluster and pile up, like snow, in the bottom third of the quilt. Ice crystals sparkle in the sun when clinging to tree branches, so I focused on stars for the top of this section.
Spring has both tumbling blocks and stars. The blocks falling away into the distant mountains hint at the transition and return to summer. The water in spring flows underground through the wildflowers and hints of snowmelt where it meets the winter section on the left and the renewal of spring on the right.

I decided to focus on circles as a secondary theme in the quilt since I was using the four seasons which return in an endless cycle. I was happy with the way the double star circle worked in the Summer section, and the way the circles continued to appear, though subtlely in Fall and Winter. The spring circles helped tie the imagery of the whole quilt together. The tumbling blocks falling away into the mountains in spring hint at the return to summer. Here the primary focus spots are depicted as black circles, the red line shows the path your eye takes through the quilt, with the suggestion that as it exits on the right it returns on the left. The blue circles are the secondary focus spots.

I spent more than a year shooting the pictures for this quilt. Once I had the pictures (I used a Nikon Coolpix digital camera), I used CorelDraw to design the quilt. I would place the pictures on the page and move them around on the computer screen until I was happy with the design. (For those of you with a technical bent, the final total file sizes added up to 35.5 gigabytes. I had to buy an external hard drive just to back up the files as they wouldn’t fit on a DVD.)

Once I had settled on the design, I printed it out and stared at it for a while. After I had showed it to many people, I had it printed on fabric. Then I changed my mind about the design. I felt it wasn’t strong enough so I redesigned the entire quilt and had it printed again. This is typical artist angst. I have the original printouts and must now decide whether to go ahead and make them into seasonal quilts, cut them into smaller pieces and make small quilts to sell, turn them into clothes, or just put them in my cedar chest.

Design .Construction.Installation.Return to top


To print the fabric, I export all the unique shapes and images as 300 dpi TIFF files and burn them onto a CD. I then send that CD along with a list of the files and the exact physical size of each one to Chris Moore (the printer) in New York. Sometimes I upload them using FTP. When I do this, I convert the TIFF files to JPG files at the highest resolution. The files are quite large and so cannot be emailed as attachments. 

He then takes my computer files and prints them onto 100% cotton with a huge inkjet printer made by Mimaki. Only instead of printing with ink, he prints with fiber-reactive dye—the same dye with which commercial yardgoods are printed. The fabric he uses has been pre-treated with a special chemical to take the dye. After printing, he steams the fabric to set the color, then he washes it. The result is colorfast and machine washable. The level of color and detail is the best I have found and is the reason I use this process.

I did have to print some last minute pieces on my home printer. For that I used pre-treated fabric sheets made by EQ.

When I get the fabric back, it is essentially yardgoods with pictures all over it with at least a half inch of whitespace between all of them. When I cut them apart, this leaves a quarter inch of white around the image which becomes my seam allowance. When I sew the quilt together, I use a 3/8” seam allowance so the white edge disappears.

After each section of the quilt was pieced, it went to Rachel Reese to be quilted. It took her 40 hours to quilt the entire quilt.

Here you see Rachel quilting the spring section of the quilt. The top, batting and backing are on three separate rollers. When she stands on the side you see here she is looking straight down onto the surface of the quilt and can guide the machine across the quilt, drawing as she goes.

For some quilts she can stand on the opposite side of the table. There are handelbars on that side of the machine as well and a laser light that can be guided across a pattern laid out on the white surface. The pattern is slipped beneath a clear plastic sheet. While the quilter guides the laser light across the pattern, the machine stitches the pattern onto the quilt. You can buy patterns or draw your own. This feature was not used on the Town Center quilt, however.

For the Town Center quilt, Rachel drew freehand with the machine directly on the quilt as she went.

When the sections came back, I would photograph them, then put two sections at a time on the design wall and work out the transition between the sections. (My thanks to my husband, Martin Webster and my nephew, Erick Andrews who helped me to get the paired sections on and off the wall.) The transitions were the one part of the quilt that I could not work out on the computer. I had to puzzle them out in my head. I didn't know if they were going to work until the quilt was finished and hung.

More than once I had to undo what I had just spent 3 hours doing because once the quilt was rehung on the design wall it puckered, or wouldn’t hang straight and I would have to remove stitches, repin and resew. In some places I had to unquilt the quilt and cut away the backing and batting to help reduce the bulk. The transition pieces were all quilted separately so that when they were sewn onto the quilt everything would still be quilted. This was necessary because once the quilt sections were sewn together they were too big to get under a sewing machine or back onto the long-arm qulting machine.

I had to hand applique many of the pieces of the quilt and went through so many movies while working that I lost count.

After I had all the edge pieces sewn to each section, I checked the height of the quilt to make sure top and bottom edges were even. When they weren’t, I had to trim one of the sections—a very scary endeavor. My thanks to Barbara Bradley who helped me measure all the sections and gave me the courage to trim them.

I think I fretted almost as much about whether the quilt was going to fit together and hang straight as I did about the design itself. When a quilt is quilted, it draws up an unpredictable amount and I knew the sections would not match exactly. However, they matched so closely that I was greatly surprised. It is a testimony to the thoroughness and evenness of Rachel’s quilting, and possibly to the wonders of computer precision.

Eventually the quilt became too big for me to put it on the design wall and at that point I had to move construction to the Town Center where I could lay out the entire quilt on tables to work on it. Even though I knew how big the quilt was, the first time I actually saw it all laying out on the tables, I was flabbergasted.

The quilt was sewn together by hand. I couldn’t get my hand beneath the quilt, so all the stitches had to be made from the top. This was really difficult and I bent a LOT of needles. I climbed onto the tables and sat on the quilt while sewing it together.
The bindings were put on before the sections were sewn together so that once together, I just had to connect the bindings. This meant unsewing them a few inches, attaching the bindings from the different sections to each other, then resewing them to the quilt. If the sections had not all been exactly the same height, this would not have worked. The bindings are attached to the quilt with a sewing machine but then must be folded around the edge and hand stitched to the back. That was 66 feet of binding that had to be hand sewn. Maryallen Estes, Barbara Bradley and Mira Watkins-Brown (at right) helped me with the handsewing.

Design .Construction.Installation.Return to top


The quilt is attached to the wall with stainless steel pins to 2” blueboard which is wrapped with fire-retardant fabric made by Glen Raven. I mounted it this way to keep the quilt from sagging over time. In this picture husband Martin (dark blue shirt) and George Nero, (Town Center manager) are helping me install the quilt (it was very heavy).

I appreciate all those who volunteered to help with the quilt and who shared so many wonderful stories and so much rich history with me. I hope the quilt will play a small part to remind us of our rich heritage and encourage us to honor and preserve it. If we protect and nurture the mountains, they will protect and nurture us.

Design .Construction.Installation.Return to top

website and images copyright 2006 Barbara Webster. All rights reserved.
All work is protected by both U.S. and international copyright laws.
No reproduction, in any form, may be used without the prior written consent of Barbara Webster.