Quilting the Secret Garden

Last spring, my “sewing sister” Sandra in the UK and I decided to tackle The Secret Garden, an appliqué pattern by Esther Aliu, as a challenge project. I started a bit earlier and so am “ahead” of Sandra, but this quilt is so delicious to make that I am a bit envious that she still has a ways to go.

The FMQ is now finished; 13 months from start to completion. What a journey this one has been.Secret Garden is based on the book by the same name, and has wonderful story blocks which were so very fun to make (really, I want to start it all over again!). And yes, I had to read the book first.

When approaching the FMQ on a quilt I always think about whether the quilting or the quilt pattern is the star. With a detailed applique, the answer is usually THE PATTERN. I don’t want fancy FMQ stealing attention or competing with the applique. This means using matching or neutral threads for quilting.

My Secret Garden is raw edge appliqué, 94″ square. I used echo and McTavishing for the applique sections background in a 50 st white So Fine poly thread.

I started it at 75% of the pattern, planning to make a wall hanging. Fate intervened and a friend saw my progress and fell madly in love with it. She wanted a queen size quilt and now it has been expanded by adding a series of 6 borders. Hubby just laughed and said that every time I shrink one, someone wants it bigger. He may not be wrong. 😉

At the time of the request, I agreed and then was prior to falling ill to an autoimmune disease. It has been a challenge to keep going with it at the larger size, but like anything else, one just keeps going until the finish line is reached.

Reducing the pattern to 75% had the bonus of the entire middle fitting nicely on a queen size bed.

To construct the project, I started with a length of the periwinkle Moda grunge and 5 coordinating batik fabrics that I picked up a couple years ago hoping to find a good project. I just loved the fabrics, which meant it had to be a special project. And yes, this was special! I added a layer cake off of solid batiks and a couple stash fabrics along the way.

Each project, I select one block as my “guide” and complete it. I put it at the top of my design board. This reminds me of my primary color scheme (I can get off track!) The guide is used to check for color compatibility through the project as I bring in new fabrics and threads. Our quilter brains can wander a bit! The guide reminds me of my original vision and keeps me from dallying too far afield. For a complex project like Secret Garden, it is essential.

The cornerstone blocks were constructed first to remind me of my primary project colors…burgundy, avocado and cobalt blue.

The story blocks.

The Key Block

The “Key” block needed a good “pop” of contrasting fabric and I found it with this bit of coral in my stash.
I used two colors of thread on the rose, and then carried the coral into the stamens of the nearby flowers.

The Lock Block

The “Lock” block with all its vines and leaves and the large rose. I used a 24 wt thread and couched it to make the ivy vines.

The Harper Block. This one confused me a bit, as there is not a cat in the book! But decided to use my daughter’s cat as a model for this block.

“Harper’s block”. I continued with the coral threads in the stamens and added a tiny hummingbird. Notice that I also added a cat tail on the left.
The cat is modeled on my daughter’s tabby, Harper!

The Robin Block

My favorite block, the Robin block. The 53 bluebells were quite a chore. Phew! But I loved the leaves, the vintage shoe shaped planter (which was a thing back in the 1920’s), and that magnificent bird. An old bit of rock-like batik in my stash really added texture and depth. I brought the coral “pop” into this block with the flowers and the robin.
I adore this bird. The Secret Garden book has a robin as a significant character, so I decided to make a bird easily identified as robin. Rose gold metallic thread deco stitching is used for the “chain” in the bird’s mouth.

The Center Block and interior border.

The center is quilted using MonoPoly. I tried several different colored threads, but finally defaulted to invisible thread.
More coral stamens!
A deco stitch was used for the leaf centers throughout the project.

The first of the 6 borders is a narrow framing border in the blue grunge, FMQ with a simple swirl in soft gray 50 wt Magnifico. The second border is quilted with lots feathers in the same soft gray.

The next 4 borders…swirls on the blue, spiky frond-like feathers on the pieced border.
The fronds are quilted in a pink/peach/sage variegated thread that was also used on the avocado bias stems. Piecing this border also gave me the opportunity to use up lots of leftover fabric and applique components.
Feathers around the outside border in coordinating blue/green/purple 50 wt Magnifico.
Backside of the feather border.
Making this quilt gives us all the opportunity to unlock the Secret Garden!

And now I am sad that this beautiful story quilt will go live somewhere else, which is not the first time that this has happened. I may have to make a story block or two, or three, or all four for myself! I am also glad that I waited until I had several years of doing applique and Esther’s patterns (2018 was the first year!) as this is an intensive and detailed project.

Have I loved every single minute of making this? Yes, yes, and oh my goodness Yes.

Happy quilting, Lennea


  1. Hi you quilt is magnificent. You will be sad to see it go.
    I have completed mine up to backing stage . Will get to it soon 🤪

    Have fun on your next one .

    Liked by 1 person

  2. thank you for sharing your process Lennea, as always its totally inspirational! i was also glad to hear that you’ve ‘had several years of applique under your belt” before you started this project, i have many ideas in mind but some of them just seem too much for my skill set. hope for the future!!!!

    Liked by 2 people

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