Details Tell the Story

One goal that is consistent with every quilt I create is to let the design tell the audience its story without the need for words. I want my audience to "get it" without needing to read my artist statement. Therefore it's critical that the visuals of the design communicate clearly and effectively in the absence of speech.

To create successful visual communication, every detail matters. And that's the situation I found myself in when designing my latest quilt (working title Paradise, although that will probably change by the end of the project.)

Paradise template
This is the template for 'Paradise.'

The Story

The purpose of this quilt design is worldbuilding. Every large quilt I make is part of the same imaginary world, and this one is no exception. Sometimes I tell stories that focus on a single microcosm of that world, but other times I like to give a broader view of what the world is like to live in (ie. "build" the world).

Paradise is intended to share a new part of my steampunk world with viewers. It's an introduction to the elves, a faction of people who have so far not appeared in any other quilt. That means it's an important opportunity for me, the artist, to visually tell my audience what makes the elves different and important in the world. But I wanted to do so in a way that was subtle.

The biggest difference between elven society and human society is that while humans have developed engineering and steam power, the elves use magic. One of the easiest ways to communicate "magic" without being heavy-handed about it is to show objects floating. Floating things, especially things that would not normally float in the real world, send a message to viewers that there is another force at work (ie. magic).

I went through two iterations of floating things before arriving at the final design. Here are the things I tried and why I liked/disliked each.

Idea #1: Floating Staircase

My first idea was to have a floating staircase around the cliff, extending from the castle all the way down to the water.

Paradise template with steps
A floating staircase extends from the castle down to the water.

I nixed this idea because the scale is off. Each step of the staircase in this design is 1/8" tall. I'm physically unable to make the steps any smaller because the fabric would be destroyed when quilted. Unfortunately, though, the steps are too large in scale to fit with the size of the castle. Someone walking on those steps would be too large to fit through the doorways above; someone who could walk comfortably through the doorways would be too small to walk down that staircase normally. This idea, although a good one, just was not going to work.

Idea #2: Floating Airship Dock

My second idea was to have an extra building floating on the right, connected to the cliff by a small bridge.

Paradise template with floating airship dock
A floating building hovers over the water on the right side of the stone arches.

I initially thought this building could be an airship dock, but that didn't make sense story-wise. The airship is carrying an emissary from the human world on a diplomatic mission. Airships are not a regular part of elven society, so it makes no sense for the elves to have a port and dock intended exclusively for their use. Furthermore, the building looks a bit silly floating over there. Back to the drawing board.

Idea #3: Crystals and Tower Defense

My third idea, and the one that I and my family liked the best, was to use floating crystals. Here's the design:

Paradise template with crystal lanterns and towers
Crystal lanterns and defense towers float around the castle.

The crystals act as a focus for magic and provide different benefits to the elves. One benefit is providing light, and there are crystal lanterns along the land bridge walkway and more floating around the castle.

The floating towers with crystals on top are dual-purpose; they can act as lighthouses, providing light to ships in the darkness, but they can also be used as a defense system by beaming concentrated light at enemies that get too close. And because they're floating, they're easily repositionable as needed.

These crystal lanterns and towers were the best way I could think of to convey to viewers that another force (magic) was at work here without being too over-the-top obvious, and I'm very happy with the design. All that's left to do is see how it all looks in fabric!