Colours of the Tropics A quilt

"Colours of the tropics" . A quilt

Colours of the tropics was a quilt I made in 2009, hot on the heels of The Four Seasons of Harvey.

The WAQA (West Australian Quilters Association) was holding another annual exhibition, this time the theme was Tropical Delight

I had been wanting to do a Macaw for ages, and after my success with Free motion Machine Sewing with the previous quilt, I was confident enough to do another. 

Making the Macaw

A good a place to start as any, but one that governed the size of the overall quilt, I knew from the image I had selected to make that he needed to be in the top left corner, his wings outstretched as he swooped in over the scene. He would stand proud at the top of the quilt, and I wanted the gold of his undercarriage to be almost like the sun coming through. I had chosen to put the tri coloured Macaws into the centre of the quilt, so this one was a solo feature, setting the tone for the quilt. 

Making a Macaw for Colours of the tropics quilt by Yvonne Chapman Brooks
sewing begins macaw Colours of the tropics quilt by Yvonne Chapman Brooks
Macaw wing By Yvonne Chapman Brooks

Diving to the depths.

The diver was a fun piece to make, complicated, but looked really great as a centre piece.

I used 3 different materials for the ocean, 2 patterned, and a hand dyed yellow for the beach. The coral was made from 2 different yellow felt squares, the fish were individually made and inserted between the coral before more pink felt made the pink coral. This was over sewn with thread and beaded. Air bubbles are iridised beads, and the hair was sewn with glossy embroidery thread. 
I was asked if it was me in the panel, alas no, I swim like a brick!

Connecting the pieces together

Parrot panel in the making. Colours of the tropics Yvonne Chapman Brooks

Construction is always a detailed process, I would cut out the pieces I had made and place them together, layering and changing things around, adding more, finding the best layout so everything flowed together as you viewed the finished quilt, your eye following tail feathers down or logs and branches left and right, moving from each individual subject to the other effortlessly, yet not missing anything.  

There were so many individual pieces to make in this quilt, Birds, snakes, spiders, frogs, foliage and water, butterflies, flowers, rocks and trees. I lost count of the pieces, just kept making them until I felt I had enough to fill in the gaps. 

Using various different fabrics from dress fabric, cottons, my own  hand dyed cottons, velvets and silks, plus hundreds of beads, this quilt took nearly a year to make. 

Some were large pieces, like the Macaws, Toucan and the trees. I fashioned those on the tropical fig trees whose root systems are like buttresses holding up the enormous trunks. I decided the best way to frame the quilt was with the trees either side, and flowers along the top.   

Hibiscus and Passion fruit flowers

I probably made more flowers than I actually needed, and I recall using them on other projects, there are still a couple of hibiscus in my stash at home. They all started as flat pieces of coloured fabric, but with a bit of stitching and thread painting they came to life. 

palm leaf, colours of the tropics by Yvonne Chapman Brooks
palm leaf, colours of the tropics by Yvonne Chapman Brooks
Passion fruit flower, colours of the tropics by Yvonne Chapman Brooks
Hibiscus flower, colours of the tropics by Yvonne Chapman Brooks
Fig leaves and fig eating parrot , colours of the tropics by Yvonne Chapman Brooks
Fig tree, colours of the tropics by Yvonne Chapman Brooks


The tropics are full of the most amazing fauna. I chose birds that would be big and bold, the Toucan was gorgeous in black velvet, slightly padded to stand out , and with iridised tulle to create a glossy shine. 

I hunted for vibrant fabrics with texture and shine, Ulysses butterflies were Velvet and silk,  Kingfishers made from satin and dress making fabrics. 

The mossy rocks were cut from mottled brown fabrics and then sewn with small zig-zag stitch, in a circular free motion to create a soft mossy covering.  I used rather cheap, matte yet glary, almost dayglo thread, in limes and yellow-greens,  knowing they would “fluff up” over time, and create a soft wispy look, along with greens and dark green polyester thread for depth and a bit of shine. There were about 5 different threads in those rocks, 

Hibiscus flowers were fun to do and most references were taken from my garden. small gold seed beads and pearls made the stamens. They were appliqued on using small zig-zag stitch, which I  worked into the flower so it wasn’t really seen as an outline.

tropical snake , colours of the tropics by Yvonne Chapman Brooks
Iguana , colours of the tropics by Yvonne Chapman Brooks
Poison Dart frog , colours of the tropics by Yvonne Chapman Brooks
Orb spider, colours of the tropics by Yvonne Chapman Brooks

The Orb Spider web was made up almost entirely of beads.  The web was sewn in silver metallic thread, and the water droplets were clear seed beads.

Sewing with metallic thread poses a problem over layers of fabric as I had discovered with previous quilts, it kept snapping, so frustrating! So the spider web was sewn before other layers were added around it, the beads helped to “Quilt” that area by sewing the layers together. I realised that for exhibition and competition the quilts had to be “sewn to with an inch of their lives” which was very challenging with just a normal sewing machine, and not a “long arm” beauty like most of the competition used. I could be found buried under huge layers of quilt just about able to see.

My poor machine …

It would clunk away through sometimes up to 10 layers of fabric. I must have been doing something right though, I chose good,  heavy duty needles and only broke 2 in the whole project. 

Finishing the Quilt

Tree frog , colours of the tropics by Yvonne Chapman Brooks
Tree frog , colours of the tropics by Yvonne Chapman Brooks
Dart frog, green boa snake, fruit bat, colours of the tropics by Yvonne Chapman Brooks

In total there were 9 frogs in the quilt, some hidden away, and the only piece on the entire quilt that I did not make was one of these frogs. It was a tiny pre-made embroidered frog. 

The fungi was made from felt, and sewn onto a long branch that formed the bottom of the quilt, covered in moss, and lizards, then covered in small flower shaped buttons in three shades of green.

The fungi stands free held onto the quilt with one layer of the circular pattern stitching . The whole quilt is so very tactile. On display, the viewer just wanted to touch it, to  feel the various textures. 

It hangs in my hallway with my Four Seasons Quilt, often admired by visitors, its quite an imposing quilt at 1.6M x 1.3m 

It won second prize in the WAQA quilt exhibition that year, I know the backing let me down, as I used calico to back it, I should have used a nicer fabric. 

Hiowever…it won Peoples choice.