Space Shuttle Quilt: Behind the Design

The Space Shuttle quilt was actually the second ever quilt I made–quilt, not pattern. If you’ve read around this blog, you’ve probably seen that when I first started making quilts I didn’t use traditional piecing methods. I didn’t even know they existed. I drew out full-sized designs on card-stock and then use the card-stock as templates to cut each piece out of the fabric. This let me made incredibly detailed designs. But the technique was super laborious and made for some difficult quilting (just look at the astronaut’s fingers below!). When I fell in love with traditional piecing, I knew I needed to remake this quilt in a more accessible version.

Space Shuttle Quilt: Astronaut hand
Astronaut’s hand with thumb for scale

The inspiration

Always dreaming of a far off adventure, space was a corner stone of my nerdy childhood. As a 90’s kid, the space shuttle is what I came to associate with space travel. It brought us Hubble, built the International Space Station, and put the first American women in to space. Like a converted travel van, it allowed astronauts to stay longer in space. When it came to space, there were so many things I could draw inspiration from, but the space shuttle will always be what I picture when I think about space.


Design wise, the space shuttle is the spacecraft that stands out from all the others. Besides the lunar lander (which I would love to design a quilt for), the space shuttle has a shape unlike any other spacecraft that has become before or since. The true inspiration for the Space Shuttle quilt came from a picture I saw in one of the many space books: the space shuttle floating over the Earth.


Space Travel Quilt Inspiration
Credit: NASA

Designing the ‘paper pieced’ quilt

Armed with an inspiration, I set about designing what became known as the ‘Out of this World’ quilt. I knew I wanted the space shuttle front and center, but I needed astronauts. Then, even though it wasn’t realistic, I wanted the entire Earth to be seen on the quilt so people got the sense the shuttle and astronauts were floating in space and not crashed into the ocean. To give the quilt a little more color, I added the flames out of the engines (even though those would be swallowed in the vacuum of space).


The last design element I really wanted to add were stars. Sure, there would be sparkly off-white stars, but I also wanted to add stars that weren’t quite visible to the eye–like most of the starts in the universe. I tried to do this with expensive batik fabric that had some wisps of blue in it. But the one I bought was still too dark and blended in too much with the black. Lessons for next time.


Out of this World Quilt: stars


This ‘paper pieced’ design taught me a great many things about quilting, namely the nightmare of ‘Y’ seams. The entire black background, stars, and the astronauts face masks were all pieced diamonds. While I got really good at them, it’s not something I enjoyed sewing. The diamond piecing also led to points where 6 seams come together. Not only was it a nightmare trying to line these seams up. It created these road bumps I had to try to quilt over. Never again.


Out of This World Quilt


Designing the traditional pieced quilt

Going into designing the traditional pieced quilt, I knew these problem areas would be things I needed to be fix. The first thing I needed to figure out was the background or ‘space’, if you will. While I wanted the stars to stay, the diamonds had to go.  Still, I wanted to give the quilt more of the original depth I had been trying to achieve with the batik fabric. The stripe I chose not only allowed me to add the depth to the universe, but also helped keep the background simple.


Also to help simplify the piecing, I rotated the space shuttle from an angle to vertical. This allowed me to align the shuttle with the background stripes to make the all the pieces naturally align. It was really only in the Earth that I had to break down sections of the same color for all the pieces to come together with traditional methods.


The astronauts

The hardest part about designing the traditionally pieced Space Shuttle quilt was getting rid of the astronauts. I tried to incorporate just one of them, but the design of a space suit doesn’t translate well to the straight lines and 45° angles of traditional piecing.


AsI stepped back and looked at the new Space Shuttle quilt for what it was, and not what it had been. I realized the new quilt was already complete. The astronaut would have made the quilt too busy.


Out of this World Astronaut


In the future, I would like to make an astronaut quilt, featuring a larger, more detailed, character. Getting to design such a quilt with the limitations of traditional piecing will take some time and practice.


The Space Shuttle quilt

The Space Shuttle quilt was a fun experiment in taking a free-form design and redesigning it within the bounds of traditional quilting. Traditional piecing a fantastic technique for all levels of quilters with some patience and precision. My hope is that the new Space Shuttle design made the quilt more accessible for quilters of to make.


Space Shuttle Quilt Pattern

Sew on!

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