I put a lot of effort into fussy cutting blue & white fabrics and choosing tobacco-yellow coloured triangles to twinkle in the background, and achieved an effect which Kaffe said he really liked. Roll on six years and last week I hauled it out of the UFO pile to evaluate it. The original piece, designed on a twin-size flannel sheet in class, had sewed up to the dimensions of a small lap quilt. I had lots more cut squares so I could make it bigger. But when I put it up on my design wall, I really enjoyed looking at it but I didn't think it was going to work nearly as well on a bed - too busy and you would lose the effect of the fussy-cutting. I also liked the resemblance to a mosaic tiled floor, like a fragment displayed in a museum.
That got me thinking sideways, and after a bit of Googling, this is what I've come up with.
Artist's canvas stretchers
There are dozens of shops online selling artist's stretcher bars which are intended for stretching canvas for artwork. Some of these can be very expensive, some only sell in pre-set sizes, but I eventually found StretcherBarsOnline which would make up bars to my exact specification and include the appropriate number of cross-braces. Including courier delivery on my specified day, this came to the princely sum of only £27.84! That's cheaper than buying backing fabric and wadding.
The bars I chose are about 1.25" deep by 1.75" wide, so quite robust enough to stretch a quilt top over, and yet the assembled frame is fairly lightweight. The frame arrived unassembled with all the joints pre-cut. There were no assembly instructions but you didn't really need any, the joints just push together. They fit very tightly and no glue or nails are required. Don't forget to measure the two diagonals to check they are the same measurement, if they are not then your frame isn't square and you need to tap the joints on the longer side to adjust it.
How I did it
The first thing I did was to cover the wooden frame with some sheeting (from an old duvet cover) to protect the quilt top from the wood and from dust on the reverse. I googled 'how to stretch an artist's canvas' to find out the best way to deal with corners. The frame has a recess on the back of the bars so that you can staple without worrying about protruding bumps. I used a lightweight staple gun and inserted staples about every three inches.
Next, I laid the frame flat on the carpet and placed my pressed quilt top over it, right sides up. I had specified a frame size that would allow the quilt top to wrap around to the sides by about 3/8th of an inch, to add to the effect of a fragment of tiled floor. I had previously sewn on a 5-inch border of grey fabric all around the top. Now I pushed pins into the softwood frame to hold the quilt top in position, all around the frame. I went all around once, then went around a second time making slight adjustments so that the quilt top was held smoothly. I wasn't stretching the top drum-tight, just pinning it so that it was smooth and so that the overlap was the same all the way around.
Then I carefully lifted the frame up off the floor, flipped it over (trying not to dislodge the pins), and put it back down on the floor face down. Then I went around with my staple gun again, folding the grey fabric over the edge and stapling into the recess around every two inches. The pins held the top in place, so I just needed to smooth the grey fabric over the bar without having to tug at it. The final step was to trim off the grey fabric on the reverse so that it was even with the wooden bars, easy enough to do by running sharp scissors along the inside of the bar.
Then the exciting part: taking out all the pins and lifting the frame up to reveal the finished 'artwork'.
I wasn't sure where I was going to display this, but while I was working on it in our blue-painted living room, I realised how well it fit in there. Then I discovered that it would fit perfectly into the alcove, so it seems that's where it belongs.
Hanging it was easy: just get your helper (DH) to hold it up in the desired position so that it's level, then make a couple of light pencil marks along the top edge. Remove the frame, and measure down the width of the stretcher bars (1.75" for mine) from your marks and drive in two sturdy headless nails, as perpendicular as you can. The lightweight frame will just sit on the two nails quite well and stay flush to the wall.
Ta da! I'm really pleased with how the blues pick up the wall colour, and the yellows pick up the gold mirror and touches of brass in the room. Plus I can see it all the time from the sofa instead of it being quilted and hidden in a cupboard with all my other quilts.
[ignore the very ugly TV and cabinet - one day it will live in a bespoke cupboard to conceal its hideousness]
I hope this is a useful mini-tutorial for someone - leave a comment if it's helped you!