Rooftop Water Towers

This quilt design was inspired by all of the rooftop water towers you’ll see as you perambulate around New York City. You might think the rooftop water tower is just some rotting old, unused piece of infrastructure from a bygone era, but after reading this article from 6sqft you’ll realize they’re just as much in use today as they were decades ago. As a result, the rooftop water tower has become a well-recognized symbol of NYC, appearing in graphic designs on hipster tees, screenprinted tea towels sold at outer borough flea markets, and stenciled graffiti walls throughout the city.

When I was working on my BK Snaps quilt, I wanted the blocks to represent different “snapshots” you would find around Brooklyn. Of course, I had to include a rooftop water tower. I used scraps to make my prototype block, and it was so cute I decided right then and there that I would design a whole quilt around that block at a later date.

A few months ago I finally started working on a bunch of different water tower blocks. I was determined to only use scraps for the blocks themselves and improv piece them so they were each unique. Once I made a few, I started thinking about the overall layout I would want for the quilt top and decided I wanted it to look like a gallery wall of “framed photos” of rooftop water towers. So I framed each block with matching solid strips of fabric and kept making blocks in different shapes and sizes until I was satisfied with the layout.

As I was piecing the quilt top, I began thinking about the overall quilt design. Because the blocks are scrappy and cutesy, I wanted the quilting to contrast — maybe something a little more graphic and urban. I decided to fill the white background sashing with various triangular shapes and sharp-angled polygons filled in with very dense matchstick quilting. Then every once in a while, I would break that up with a more open grid-like quilting design. I find the overall effect to have a graffiti-like quality, which I think is appropriate for the subject matter.

Because the majority of the quilting is very dense, I decided to keep the quilting inside the blocks very simple. I stitched in the ditch around each water tower and then quilted easy wavy lines in the “air” around each tower. I ultimately decided to not quilt inside the actual frames at all because I wanted a noticeable break between the dense quilting of the sashing and the very low-volume quilting of the water towers. (A distinction you might notice more on the back of the quilt.)

My final design decision was using a striped binding to frame the entire “gallery wall.” I was fortunate enough to have this fabric on hand, and the colors of the stripes are varied enough that they seem to match whatever colors are near them. And the colors of the binding are light enough that they don’t take the eye away from the blocks, which should be the focus of the quilt.

Et voilà! That’s my Rooftop Water Towers quilt! It took me FOR-EV-AH to finish, but I’m so happy with how it turned out. I really love how it combines urban imagery with a traditional crafting style. Have you ever been inspired by your surroundings and created something as a result? I’d love to hear about it, so please post comments and questions below. Share your own crafting stories, please! Happy making, everyone!!

Published by Andrew Ve Hansen

I live in Brooklyn with my husband. I'm obsessed with all things quilting! Some of my other interests include taking advantage of all of the culinary delights this city has to offer, hanging out with my friends, board games and tabletop RPGs, reading, watching movies and tons of TV, crafting, and going to the theater (especially musicals).

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