Sunday, September 16, 2012

Tug Comanche

A commission came from an old friend and US Coast Guard veteran to design and make a quilt of the US Coast Guard Tug Comanche to be presented to the non-profit foundation which is restoring the ship. He served
on the Comanche's sister ship USS Modoc and planned on presenting the quilt at that crew's reunion in Tacoma, Washington the beginning of September. The Comanche has a long history - built and commissioned as an ocean going tug during WWII she served in the Pacific towing damaged ships to safety. After the war she was transferred to the Coast Guard and stationed in the Pacific Northwest. She was later owned privately as a working tug.

My client requested that the Comanche be pictured as she was when she was still used by the Coast Guard and provided small resolution scanned photos from the 1970s. He also asked for her to be shown steaming in Puget Sound with Mt. Rainier in the distance. If possible there should also be signal flags fluttering, seagulls and orca. I gulped .... And then said "sure....".

The size of the small scanned photos he emailed me and of those I found on the Internet was definitely a problem. I had to interpret and in some cases imagine some of the details on the ship. For the basic layout and composition I put together a photo mock up in Photoshop and then drew a full sized cartoon from which I constructed the basic quilt top.

The fabric selection was fairly easy. An ombre printed blue Mckenna Ryan print provided all I needed for the sky and a Hoffman Bali batik stripe in aqua and purple was the answer for the ocean. cherrywood cotton solids were perfect for the ship itself. I digitally printed some of the details including the anchor, the both Coast Guard crests, the flag and the name of the ship on my inkjet printer and fused them in place.

At this point I brought out the paints and using a combination of Fabrico markers, Tsukineko inks and Jacquard fabric paints added shading and dimension, rigging, highlights to the ocean waves and the seagulls. The pod of orca were painted individually, cut out and fused in place. The bow spray and the wake of the ship were done with painted and heat shrunk cellophane cut in slivers and applied with glue before stitching down. The serendipitous discovery of signal flag printed fabric at a local quilt store certainly made that job easier... Just cut out and fuse them on. My US Navy vet husband says that the ship is "over flagged", but I was having so much fun putting them on, I couldn't stop.

For free motion quilting I used polyester invisible thread to outline the motifs and then YLI silk for the rest. The texture and realism of the ocean was greatly improved with undulating lines of quilting.

The finished quilt was presented as a surprise to the Foundation last weekend at the reunion to much acclaim, I'm told. I was certainly happy to bring this historical ship back to its old gloried appearance.


  1. Beautiful job, Sally. Chris is an old friend of ours, too, and my father-in-law, George Mills, was at the Coast Guard reunion when the quilt was presented. Thanks for all your hard work and expertise!

  2. Great quilt, Sally! Good to see the full process on your blog!