Trout Dreams and Buffalo Circles

Introduction: Trout Dreams and Buffalo Circles

In the summer of 1994, I visited my sister in Montana. She and her husband took our family through Yellowstone National Park. It was a truly memorable experience. This quilt documents my experience that summer.

I have always loved fish for the way they moved and the beautiful colors and markings they had and how unique each one was. The trout we enjoyed seeing and eating were no exception. We were also fortunate to see bison and Peter, my brother-in-law, explained an interesting feature of the grassy areas of the land. I saw round brown circles dotting the landscape and wondered what they were. He said that the bison made them. The bison would rub themselves in the dirt and create these circles. The circles would be used over and over, season after season. It was fascinating.

When I returned home, all I could see was trout with shimmering spots and the buffalo circles on the landscape. The visions are with me to this day.

The quilt design combines my Montana/Yellowstone experiences with my Hawaiian culture. The traditional log cabin design is constructed essentially as a spiral of fabric strips. In each spiral, I see the buffalo circles. In any spiral now, I see buffalo circles. The spiral is an important symbol in my Hawaiian culture, as it is in many cultures, representing a tie to our origins and to our center, as well as its reference to the unfurling of a fern frond to growth and maturity. To me, it is the piko, the center of life. (This is my interpretation, which may not be the same for everyone).

The colors of the fabric in the log cabin square represent the land, sky and ocean, night and day. Each fabric piece is either hand-painted by me or hand-dyed (by Debra Lunn Studios in Denver). I used a metallic gold fabric paint for the golden shimmer in the orange yellow pieces. Though the fabrics for each block are the same, the shapes are purposefully mismatched as to emphasize the concept of uniqueness. The final strips of each block are a deep blue, violet and is mottled by virtue of it being triple dyed. It is the same material that provides the backing of the quilt. The darkness and colors represent not only the depth of ocean that surrounds me but also the endless night sky of Montana. It is a sky that I rarely experience living in a big city that is always bright.

The log cabin blocks are bordered and separated by hand-dyed yellow fabric. This represents both the separation of the individual as well as the connections among all of us. If you look closely at the yellow strips, you can see that the color is not uniform. It changes slightly in tone. Again, this was intentional. I wanted to break up the continuity of the color to add interest and to emphasize the that our connections are all very different.

The spotted blue-green fabric encircling the bordered blocks reminded me of the markings on the skin of the trout, fish eggs, and marking of other local reef fish that I can see at home. It is also the color of the water at Kailua Beach where we would often play. To me, it represents life.

And finally, the wide dark blue green border with its lines and squiggles, repeat the idea of water, rivers, ocean and sky and waves and currents and ebbs and flows. Again, life and the connections between me, us, and our universe.

The quilting repeats the spiral, spots, and wave patterns that are in the piecing. The contrasting thread, when viewed from the back are stars. So many more visible stars and planets in Montana than in Honolulu.

60in x 72in.  Machine pieced, hand-quilted.100% cotton. Hand painted fabric, hand-dyed fabric and commercially printed fabric.  Organic cotton batting.

For my god-daughter, Julianna.


Supplies:  fabric, thread, sewing machine, scissors, rotary cutter/board (optional), quilting betweens and hand quilting thread (optional), iron and ironing surface.

  • Select your fabric.  Have at least 5-6 different colors/designs.  Small scraps can be used for the quilt blocks.  The amount of fabric you need depends on the size of your quilt.
  • Make 20 log cabin blocks.  They can be square or rectangle and the widths of the strips can be varied.  You can have a center pieces as a focal point of each log cabin, if you want.  Be free to improvise!!   Alternate the colors/patterns of the strips.  Trim the blocks to a uniform size.  Press seams to one side.
  • Block border:  With a contrasting fabric, cut strips about 2 inches wide.  How much you need is dependent on the size of your blocks. Length of block times 5 (no. of blocks across +1), add 8 inches.   Width of block times 6 (no. of blocks down +1), add 10 inches.
  • Lay the 15 of the blocks right side down over the strip, side by side, without overlap. and stitch the blocks to the strip with a seam of at least 1/4 inch.  Separate the blocks by trimming the border strip where the blocks meet each other.  5 blocks will not have border strips.  Press seams to one side.
  • Stitch the border blocks and blocks without borders together so you have alternating Block, border, Block, border, Block, border, Block, border, Block.  You should have four of these.  Press seams to one side.
  • Lay one Block/border length along a border strip. Stitch a 1/4 inch seam.  Sew another border strip on the other length. *Sew a Border/block piece to the border strip.  Repeat from* for all four Border/block pieces.  Stitch a final length of border to the last side.  Press seams to one side.
  • Stitch a border strip on each side that currently still has a sides of Block as the edge.  This will finish the "frame" of the block.
  • With a contrasting fabric, stitch a border or two around the main block construct.  
Measure the dimensions of the quilt top and cut a fabric backing to the same dimensions.  You may piece the backing if necessary.

Cut batting to the same dimensions.

Make the Sandwich:
  • Lay the backing, right side down on the floor. Tape one corner down.  Tape an adjacent corner down, holding the fabric tight.
  • Repeat for the other two corners, making sure the corners are square.   Tape the edges down so the backing is fairly secure to the floor.
  • Lay the batting over the backing and then the quilt top, right side up, over the batting.  
  • By Hand:  Starting at the center, working to each corner, baste the sandwich together.  Continue basting center to sides.  You are basting in a radiating pattern.
  • by Hand:   Baste vertically and horizonally.
  • Remove tape from floor and backing.
Machine or hand quilt as desired.  Trim edges and attach binding.  Remove all basting stitches.

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    2 Discussions


    7 years ago on Introduction

    This is beyond gorgeous! Seriously wonderful work.

    Your stitches are perfect!