I’m finally getting time to tell the story of the “Tree of Life” commission that I’ve been working on for over six months. So here goes.

Tree of Life Final Sizing - Cindy Grisdela Art Quilts

Last June I got an email from a rabbi in Reston, VA inquiring about the possibility of commissioning an artistic table cover for his congregation’s Torah table. He had found my work on Etsy and liked my sense of color. It was coincidence that the temple was just around the corner from my house!

The cover would be large for me–about 55″ x 65″–and it would need to be colorful and include a tree, to represent the Tree of Life. I wasn’t sure about taking on the project, since my work is typically abstract and nonrepresentational, so the tree might pose some issues. But the rabbi and the cantor were really excited about the prospect of me doing the work, so I agreed and sent them a contract. I decided that it would be good for me to stretch outside my comfort zone and try something new.

The chairs in the temple have maroon upholstery, so the background of the piece is a collage of red and gold fabrics. The image above is the cover just before the final finishing–so you see the raw edges still.

Tree of Life Begins - Cindy Grisdela Art Quilts

I enlarged an image of a tree with a large root base and placed it on the background as a starting point for the design. The tree would need to be enlarged several more times, but much of that was done right on the design wall cutting up the pattern and adding more fabrics. After several design meetings, we agreed that the tree roots and branches would be cool blues, grays and purples, and the leaves would be warmer greens with some gold and orange.

Tree of Life Design in Process - Cindy Grisdela Art Quilts

Tree of Life in Process – Cindy Grisdela

I’m a piecer, and I rarely use fusible techniques in my quilts, but this one was an exception. I used the enlarged pattern as a guide and fused the trunk and leaves to the background.

Tree of Life Fusing Trunk - Cindy Grisdela Art Quilts

I brought my iron right over to the design wall and fused everything at once–keeping my fingers crossed that nothing shifted during the process!

The stitching involved a wood grain design on the trunk and branches, a swirl design on the background, and veining on the leaves. Below are some process images:

Tree of Life wood grain - Cindy Grisdela Art Quilts

Wood Grain Stitching – Cindy Grisdela

Tree of Life background stitching - Cindy Grisdela Art Quilts

Background swirl stitching – Cindy Grisdela


Leaf Stitching Tree of Life - Cindy Grisdela Art Quilts

Leaf Stitching – Cindy Grisdela

I decided to fuse the leaves on after I had completed the background stitching so there wouldn’t be awkward nooks and crannies to fill. I used variegated thread to complement the fabrics I was working with–purple for the tree, gold for the background, and green for the leaves.

There are always interesting twists in any commission project, and this one was no exception. After I had pieced the top, I showed it to the rabbi and the cantor, as is my custom with commission work. The reason for this is that it’s possible to make changes while it’s still a top and before the quilting stitches are added. After the quilting is done, changes are difficult or impossible.

We talked about backing–the third layer of the quilt underneath the top and the batting. And they asked if the quilt could be made reversible with a white back, for special holidays when the cover needed to be white.

Tree of Life white back detail - Cindy Grisdela Art Quilts

Tree of Life detail of white back – Cindy Grisdela

I took a deep breath and said yes–it could be white. That added another whole layer of difficulty to the project! I can’t see the back when I’m stitching, so it took longer to check the underside frequently to make sure I hadn’t accidentally acquired thread nests, puckers or pleats on the back. Fortunately, it worked out OK!

I learned a lot from this project and was pleased to present the Torah table cover at services last month. No pictures of the presentation unfortunately.

Thanks for reading this long post! What’s your take on commissions? Do you enjoy the challenge or dread the process?