My maternal grandmother’s 90th birthday is coming up and I wanted to make something special and meaningful that celebrates her life. I have been thinking about making a family tree quilt for years, but it is a pretty complicated project and I was a bit daunted. This was the perfect occasion to go ahead and do it. I have written out my process for making this family tree quilt.
Making my family tree quilt
I started by looking through search engines at images to get some inspiration for family trees and also tree quilts. I did some basic sketches and decided I definitely wanted to put the tree on some hills to ground it in a scene rather than just floating in space on a solid fabric. I wanted to incorporate our ancestors in some way and thought to put their names on the roots. That meant a more developed root system. The tree started to look symmetric, so I emphasized the symmetry of the tree shape. I drew nested circles for both the ancestors and descendants, with each circle denoting the boundary of a generation.
I also filled out a genealogy chart and contacted family members with questions about ancestors, correct name spellings and who should be included from each branch of the family. I signed up with Ancestry.com and started documenting with exact names and dates. I decided I was primarily going to use first names for the quilt, but wanted to get it all documented in one place while I was at it.
I made a major branch for each child and minor branches splitting off for each grandchild. The roots were pretty basic, each one split off into father and mother, except for one remarriage which I gave an extra root.
I went through my fabric stash and thought about colors. I chose four dark greens prints for the hills in the background. I selected 10 light to medium light greens that were solids or near solids for the leaves. I wanted a lot of variety, but you don’t need as many different fabrics. Just make sure that you are able to read the names printed on it. I went with a medium solid brown for the trunk. The darker the brown, the harder it is to see names printed, so I went lighter than I usually would for a tree trunk. I used a much lighter brown for the hearts. And I chose a very dark greenish brown semi solid for the binding fabric.
I made my quilt sandwich by layering the backing fabric, cotton batting, and sky fabric. I appliqued the dark green fabrics on to the sky fabric to create the hills. I traced the quilting circles with pencil on the sky and yellow marking pencil on the dark green.
I quilted the generation circles and satin stitched the hill edges in dark green sulky.
I traced my tree and heart shapes onto the paper side of the fusible webbing (reminder to always reverse your images when using fusible webbing), ironed it onto the brown fabrics, cut along the lines and ironed the tree onto the background.
I free motion quilted around the edges of the tree in dark brown sulky thread and satin stitched the heart in red.
I went ahead and wrote my grandparent’s names in the hearts and the ancestors on the roots. I wanted to test the pen (Pigma archival ink) and make sure I didn’t make any mistakes on the tree before adding all the leaves.
I then cut up the rest of the fusible webbing into 10 roughly even pieces and ironed it to squares of the light green fabrics for the leaves. I made a leaf template and drew leaf outlines on the fusible webbing paper. I varied them a bit in shape and size to add variety. I made the four daughter’s leaves much bigger because I wanted to emphasize them and also have enough room to write their middle names too. I cut out 50 leaves. I laid my quilt on the ironing board and arranged the leaves in the appropriate places, one for each person and making sure that the base of the leaf was within the correct generational circle. This is a tricky part and if any breeze comes through you may have to adjust or start again. You can work one branch at a time, but I wanted to get a sense of the whole and moved leaves around to get a color balance and to get everything to fit in some of the tighter places.
I used Pigma pen to write all of the names on the leaves. At this stage I was able to pull off a couple of leaves that I wanted to rewrite. Once I was satisfied I had the names all correct, I free motion quilted around the edges of all the leaves in green thread. I used little leaf motif to travel in between some of the applique leaves.
I made a hanging sleeve, bound the edges and signed the back. I got it finished and mailed out just in time to get there by her 90th birthday!
If you would like to order a personalized family tree quilt for your own family, please contact me for an estimate at firstname.lastname@example.org or convo on Etsy.
Family Tree project details:
This project assumes an intermediate level sewing experience and familiarity with making a quilted wall hanging, fusible applique, and free motion quilting. It took about 6 hours of planning and 6 hours of sewing. My finished project was 18″ wide and 30″ long, but you can adjust the size as needed. You are welcome to use this design for personal use only. Please email me for licensing and permissions for commercial use.
blue cotton fabric for sky (20×32″)
backing fabric (20×32″, 18×6″)
cotton batting (20×32″ )
1-4 green fabrics for hills (fat quarters or scraps)
medium brown solid cotton (18×28″)
4-10 light to medium light green solid or near solids
1.5 yards fusible webbing (wonder under)
binding fabric (3x 1.5″ strips or enough to bind your quilt)
Pigma pen archival ink – I used black size 05
Sulky rayon threads – light blue, dark green, med green, red, dark brown