Starting Secret Garden

Secret Garden is an Esther Aliu designed appliqué quilt. Exquisite, complex, many textured and not unlike preparing a traditional French cassoulet. It needs a long list of ingredients, intense preparation, hours and hours of simmering. It cannot be hurried.

The pattern (inspired by the book The Secret Garden) is wonderfully whimsical, featuring a lock and key, a cat amongst the flowers, and a patrician bird holding a chain. Each flower pot and collection of leaves and blooms is varied. Yes, there are repetitive sections, but plenty here to delight the mind and senses during the long process of creation.

It’s a bit daunting. How to eat the elephant? Pick a small piece, bite, chew slowly and thoughtfully. With the elephantine enormity of the task in front of me, I picked a small square that is secondary to the overall design, assembled my selection of fabrics for the piece, and began. Cautiously, with intent.

First step? Hours spent looking at the Secret Garden (SG) quilts that others have made on the Esther Aliu FB page. Hours thinking about it and looking at my chosen fabric. I picked up the batik fabric combos last summer at a local quilt shop, so I have thought about the fabrics over many months, glancing at them as I worked on projects through the fall and winter, turning them over in my mind. Once Sandra and I chose SG as our next challenge project, I sharpened my ruminations.

The second step was choosing the finish size. As written, this is a large quilt, 80″ square. Sandra and I decided we would prefer a wall hanging size and decided on working the quilt at 75% size. The hundreds of component pieces will be smaller, adding another layer to the challenge. Because of the sizes of the pieces, I will be doing mine as a raw edge project.

Thirdly, I pulled out my appliqué supplies: Heat n Bond Lite, pencil, light board, Sulky Sticky stabilizer. The four squares require 16 of each of the components – background circles, leaves, buds, bud leaves (I cut the two bud leaves as one applique piece) and leaf highlight.

The background circle fabric was selected because it contains all my overall quilt colors – burgundy, avocado & blue. I experimented with a couple different leaf highlights and selected the deep blue.

My starting square.

Drawing the shapes accurately on the Heat n Bond is critical. The shapes are then trimmed and ironed deftly onto the wrong side of the fabric. (Over-ironing can mean that glue is lost.) Trimming precisely is also important, to assure that the pieces fit together properly sized with a narrow overlap between shapes.

Threads to match and/or complement the pieces were selected and a tight blanket stitch used to machine stitch around the shapes.

Starting with a smaller component (rather than a large one) gives a nice boost when beginning a large project. “Yay, I completed something!” It also helps me to envision the larger project and make decisions about fabric placement for upcoming sections; I can now clearly see where I want to go next and what that might look like.

The background for this square is “Faded Denim” by Moda Grunge. I just love this color!

When I realized that there was a book as inspiration, I decided that I really had to read it. The Secret Garden, published in 1910, is a “children’s book”, but I found it a delightful read and recommend it! And now I understand the significance of the lock & key and who that bird is!

I am alternating this quilt with another large project, anticipating that Secret Garden will be “slow stitching” and take me through the rest of the year.

Happy sewing all,



  1. Oh Lennea I’m so so glad you are making this quilt, it is my favourite of all of Esther’s because it was my favourite book as a child and one of Esther’s as a child that was where her inspiration came from one of her favorite childhood books. I did these 4 blocks with turned edge applqiue and it was my biggest challenge, it was almost my down fall too!!!! Thank you once again for such a great read and tutorial. I’ve only just found time to read it before flying out, I leave her at 6am in the morning. It is now 8pm. Cheers Glenda

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I just read the book this week, and it is a lovely read. I have watched other post this quilt, but when I was a newby just three short years ago, SG was overwhelming. Now I am really looking forward to it. Enjoy your holiday!


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