Stormy Night

Last spring, I got a wild idea…. What if I took Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” painting and forced it into the Storm At Sea quilt block pattern?

So I pulled an image of “Starry Night” into Photoshop, overlaid the Storm At Sea pattern on top of it in a red grid, and printed it out. I then spent about a week using colored pencils to transfer the pattern over by hand into a blank grid, like so:

Pencils version of Stormy Night

For the next year, I hoarded fabrics that were in the color ranges I knew I’d need. This winter, I finally started pulling all of the fabrics and putting together a fabric palette that I’d be able to work from:

Fabric Palette

Rather than make large blocks, which would make the piece turn out to be about a twin-sized quilt top, I decided to create paper foundations for the blocks in a much more manageable size. So I built those in Photoshop and copied them all at the same time at Office Depot, with plenty of spares in case I screwed up.

Paper Foundations

Each of the 357 foundation blocks was assigned a number, and each section of the block was assigned a letter code corresponding to the color in the fabric palette that I’d need to create the image. I had to reverse the layout of each block so that when assembled, Stormy Night wouldn’t be backwards (since foundation paper piecing produces images in reverse). Some letter codes in the fabric palette had up to 8 different fabrics to choose from, so I had lots of variety when I started assembling the quilt top. The hardest part of the assembly process was getting those blocks labeled properly and keeping track of where I was on the original pencil drawing.

At a retreat in early February of this year, I started to assemble the blocks. I got the first two rows (of 17) done, and it was tremendously exciting to watch it starting to come together after a year of dreaming about it.

First Two Rows

Back at home, I was a woman obsessed. In spite of schoolwork, I managed to get three more rows done before the next weekend.

First Five Rows

I found the moon particularly fascinating, since there are no curves in it at all but it still looked curvy from a distance.


That spurred me on and I got even more done the following week, and reached the halfway point!


I chain-pieced the rows as I was working, to waste less thread. So this is what it looked like as I worked. I generally worked on 2-3 rows at a time. Any more than that and it got confusing and too slowly-progressing to be very interesting.

Chain Piecing

When I started getting down into the town area, I really started to get excited, even though it was much harder to choose the right colors for the foundations — the variety in colors in the original painting is much less dramatic in this section and I wasn’t trying to get the swirling effect anymore… Now I was just trying to make sure that the color choices suggested buildings and hills and trees, rather than wind and stars.

Two-Thirds Done

The red roof in the final third of it is what drove me to the finish — I couldn’t WAIT to see the whole thing all together. Here are all 357 blocks pinned independently to the wall:

357 blocks done!

And here they are, all attached to each other and lying out on the grass:

Stormy Night on the grass

Several of my friends observed that the cypress trees section is the same color variation as the grass underneath, so it looks like there’s a big hole in my quilt. There’s not — that’s all one big piece! It’s about 63″x51″ in the above picture.

Here’s the back, with all of the foundations still attached.


It took a while to get all of the paper out, but that’s a strangely addictive activity so I had it completed in a few days.

But the edges? What about the edges? What seemed like a good idea in design didn’t really work as well in practice, because the “canvas edges” were too jagged and distracting. I needed to put Stormy Night in a frame, like the one it sits in at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. So I started working on that.

Here was the first shot at it:

Frame on Stormy Night on design wall

I ultimately decided that it needed more shadows, much like the gilded frame has in the MoMA. So this is what I finally ended up with. This photo is from a balcony, looking down about 15 feet at the quilt below, which is why there’s a distorted arm in the bottom left corner.

Final Frame

Now it’s time to quilt it… I spent a day layering it and getting it ready:

scattered pins
ready to pin-baste
pinned and ready

So now, here I stand at the jumpin’ off place, trying to get the courage to quilt it. Soon, soon…

12 thoughts on “Stormy Night”

  1. Holy moly, Elaine – this quilt is amazing. If this doesn’t win an award somewhere …

  2. Amazing accomplishment! Thanks for sharing the process. I would love to do an art quilt and you gave me lots of ideas. Kudos for saving thread.
    Hope you win.

  3. Wow. I love the technique you used. Thanks for sharing the process. This really turnout out great! I never have that much patience for planning. It is really beautiful. Your patience has paid off big!

  4. Thank you! 🙂 This is probably the first time — well, I guess the second, officially, since I did a test run with Storm At Sea once before — that I’ve done this much planning. I’m very pleased with how it came out and I’m trying to figure out what to do next…

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