Lake Louise Quilt



I love Lake Louise! The original photo is by James Wheeler and is used with permission. I had been looking for the right photo for about 15 years. I wanted the quilt to feel like you’re the only one on the lake, with a gentle, fresh morning breeze on a brilliant day that would never end. I wanted the best of both worlds being snowy mountains and beautiful green grass. I have called this quilt, O Canada! (My soul belongs to thee). This is because I feel I’m really a Canadian trapped in an Australian’s body!


Lake Louise quilt Fiona Schiffl title

It’s done!


A quick whinge…This quilt is impossible to photograph. The quilting softened the harsh lines and made the water sing but it doesn’t quite show up in the photos. The colours are softer than the photo shows, and the water and grass are lighter. The contrast is definitely not this bad but I just couldn’t fix it in editing. Whinge over.

The quilt took about 18 months (full time) over a 4 1/2 year period to do. I used the wonderful Cynthia England’s Picture Piecing technique. It took about 5 weeks to draft and about 6 weeks to quilt. It has about 6000 pieces but…each white and light grey piece has a piece of batiste underneath so they are double patched.  This was to prevent the seam allowances being seen through the top. It’s worked perfectly. Then there are the pieces that were so small they were chopped off or added to increase the seam allowances. These extra pieces aren’t figured into the count but they were cut and sewn none the less. To combat the quilt top’s natural tendency to stretch, I added a full layer of batiste either side of the batting too. These all added to the weight of the quilt – it weighs 2 kilos. Oh yeah, each piece was fussy cut, even the white ones (and the batiste) to cut down on the amount of stretch in the end as I tried to get the grain lines all going the same way. I didn’t do a fabric plan as I just pull out fabrics as I go. My sewing room looked like a fabriholic’s dream or everybody else’s sewing rooms. I’ve been collecting fabrics for this quilt since the 90s. The quilt measures 165.5cm x 105cm.

I call it a miniature quilt on steroids. Some pieces are the size of a pin head. Why did I go that small? Because I could. Also I didn’t have a fabric I could use with the right blend of colours. There were many full days of work that resulted in only a 4” square of progress. What made the quilt more difficult than normal were the amount of seams. In many areas, the seams are 1/8” thick. I was worried about breaking needles when it came time to quilt but the machine handled them. Long skinny patches on angles require a lot of seam allowance.


Lake Louise quilt Fiona Schiffl seams

It was scary to look at the back but it formed a little trapunto which was cool. At this point, you don’t expect the seams to sit nicely, even in an alternative universe.


Lake Louise quilt Fiona Schiffl detail 6

I like to get the smaller pieces done early on in any quilt so the big pieces are relaxing later on. There are so many pieces 1/8th in size. Every time I look at the quilt, I see something different. The sky didn’t look amazing with a light colour, so I went for it.


Lake Louise quilt Fiona Schiffl detail 4


The quilt changed a lot with the quilting. The patches faded away and left a picture. I was most impressed with the change in the water. The patches just blended together like they were painted.


Lake Louise quilt Fiona Schiffl detail 3

The quilting makes it look like there are twice as many pieces.


Lake Louise quilt Fiona Schiffl detail 1

I popped in some sunlit trees as I was getting tired of dark greens. It also leads the eye up to this area of the quilt, that’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it.


Fun fact. There’s a face (almost full size) in the lower mountain. Some people can’t see it and it only popped out at me after a couple of years of staring at it. It’s not as clear now the quilting is done but he’s looking up. It’s easier to see in real life standing a couple of metres back from the quilt. I haven’t named him but Rock Hudson or Rocky Balboa entered my mind. Now you know where to look take a look at the photo of the full quilt.


Lake Louise quilt Fiona Schiffl detail 2


Look at how much depth is in the quilt when the photo is reversed! I noticed it in the reflection on the window one night. I can’t believe how different it looks.


Lake Louise quilt Fiona Schiffl full quilt in reverse

Wow. It still blows me away every time I see it like this.


I finished the quilt in May and entered it into our state show. It was up against stiff competition (quilters who enter in the US shows) but came out with a runner up placing (2nd place) in the pictorial quilts category. The 1st place winner got best of show too. I’m over the moon! I think I succeeded in my goals. There were two people at the quilt show that said they could feel and smell the clear air when looking at it. I was lucky that it was hung at the end of a row where you could stand back about 5 metres from it. I don’t get to see it from that distance so it was a treat for me.

This quilt was made during some of the worst and best times of my life. It was a double-edged sword few years but having to look at this beautiful photo become a quilt was a real blessing. Images of Lake Louise have always given me contentment, peace, inspiration and like nothing else matters in the world. Had I not gone through those awful times, I wouldn’t be where I am now as a person but oh boy, they were long, hard things and lessons to learn and heal from. That’s life.

One day I want to hang this quilt opposite my bed where it’s the first and last thing I see each day. I made a quilt of Lake Louise many years ago. It was an appliqué and covered the wall at the end of our hallway. The view is from a mountain top and had a great trompe l’oeil effect. It’s a funny thing to feel like you’re walking down a hill when walking down your hallway. If you went outside and looked at the end of our street, you would have seen acres of spinifex, red dirt, millions of flies and an iron ore train yard. The temperature was 30-45 degrees C nearly every day and the strong winds carried a ton of dirt which didn’t do anything for my already lack of fashion sense. You couldn’t have had more of a stark contrast in landscapes.

If you have ever wanted to make a landscape or photo realistic quilt, I highly recommend the Picture Piecing technique. It’s fantastic, amazing, surprising and easy to do (you don’t have to use very small pieces). Also check out James Wheeler’s photos online, they are lovely! If you can’t go to your favourite place, bring it to you instead.

Happy quilting,





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