Tree of Life

Bobbie Edds of Paducah, Kentucky contacted me in January 2019 to collaborate on an idea she had for a gift for her Priest, Dave Johnson -as a retirement gift for 30 years of priestly ordination. She requested a king sized quilt using the Tree of Life as a centerpiece. She worked with me via text, email and phone calls and gave me the important details of the quilt. She gave me sketches she hand drew and sent them to me.

Some of the details in the quilt she designed included 4 hearts - representing the 4 close family members who had passed away - Mother, Father, Sister and Brother. In addition to the hearts of the Tree of Life - the 7 churches and cathedral that Rev. Dave Johnson represented as well as baptism, holy orders, matrimony, confirmation, extreme unction .

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Saint Stephen Cathedral

Saint Stephen Cathedral


If anyone can tackle this project - well, I’m that guy. The deadline for completion was May 27th, 2019 and I needed a plan, a timeline, a pattern and lots of help as we only had about 4 months of time to turn Bobbie’s thoughts and ideas into a king sized 110 x 110 quilt.

First, I contacted Carolyn Zanko, also known as one of the best math head quilters in Duluth when it came to design. She came to the studio and I showed her the rough draft of the sketches and we got out the graph paper and ordered all the supplies. Here’s Carolyn with the bolts of fabric we ordered in Kona Cotton Solids.

Carolyn Zanko getting the fabrics ready for cutting.

Carolyn Zanko getting the fabrics ready for cutting.

Carolyn came up with the math and prewashed the fabrics and started sewing the sawtooth inner borders as well as the applique Tree of Life center block. All the math and cutting was done by Carolyn before she left for Hawaii for 4 weeks.

The next stages were to find good images for the surrounding blocks on the internet and somehow transfer the images unto fabric. I was able to use a projector and projected the images from the internet directly onto the blocks with a water soluble blue pen. How would we create the 7 churches and the 5 scenes? Hand Embroidery! Similar to “red-work” but using green and black thread. I knew Hand Embroidery was a very slow technique so I called upon the Award winning hand embroiderer -Teri White. She came to the studio and we hovered over a computer buying the perfect green and black embroidery 8wt thread by Aurifil. Here are some of the blocks in process. Teri completed the hand work for the cathedral and the 5 scenes.


I started to work on the hand-embroidery blocks - and I realized it took me an entire weekend to finish ONE block by hand. I called Leslie Hughes who was coming to the studio and watched as this project started to become a quilt and offered to help finish the churches. When Leslie offered to help me - I knew we would get this quilt finished by the deadline. Without these 2 women - I don’t think it could have happened in 4 months.

Once the blocks were embroidered and appliquéd - I had to finish the Tree of Life center block hand- applique’. Cheryl Dennison who is my right hand woman since 1997 - helped me glue tiny snippets of fabric to our appliqué “map” and the prep work began for the appliqué. She took over the sewing of the blocks, squaring up the blocks, sewed sashing and the final borders once the applique was finished. Cheryl also made the backing which is also Kona Cotton in “Dove”.

After hours of hand-embroidery, the hand-applique design began and the center Tree of Life became the focal point. This center pattern was slightly modified and re-drawn from a Amish Tree of Life Applique design that came from the Pennsylvania Amish and hearts, flowers and grapes were added. The hand-work was rewarding

And then the quilting began! The full sized photo of the finished quilt is at the bottom of this page - But if you are still with me - I bet you have questions. How do you remove all those blue marks? What batting did you use to make it look like that? (Quilters Dream Wool and Poly select) How many hours did this take? Hundreds?

Here are some photos once the quilt was on my longarm quilting machine. The main borders were premarked before I loaded my quilt to the frame. The purple disappearing ink went away in 2 days but the blue marks had to be removed. This is the best product in the world for blue pen removal.

Shout out to Blue Line Eraser for the best product to remove blue pen marks

Shout out to Blue Line Eraser for the best product to remove blue pen marks

Bobbie gave me creative freedom to quilt anything on the quilt but I had an idea of the traditional quilting she loved. She had shown me some of the quilting styles she liked and we went from there. The focus of the quilt is “The Lord Jesus is the Tree of Life” and it started to feel like God’s work. God’s work in the quilting community is a term that means “as quilters -we can offer comfort”, That’s God’s work. That’s my job, man. This thought kept me going forward and the quilting became joyful. Here’s some in process photos of the quilt on my APQS longarm Millie frame (she’s the best machine and my best friend).

The following are the in process photos which included a hanging sleeve, binding and the backing label. The finished quilt photo is below.

Tree of Life Quilt for Rev. Dave Johnson for Bobbie Edds by Karen McTavish and the Quilters at McTavish Quilting Studio (112 x 112) Duluth Minnesota

Tree of Life Quilt for Rev. Dave Johnson for Bobbie Edds by Karen McTavish and the Quilters at McTavish Quilting Studio (112 x 112) Duluth Minnesota