Ninja Cells Quilt

blue cells quilt

There is no way that I could have maintained the shred of sanity to which I have clung through graduate school if it wasn’t for my Girls. I’ve been meeting 5 female classmates for dinner, every other week, for the last 6 years. I cannot even begin to put words to how much support, and love, and advice, and compassion, and help, and advice, and friendship they have given me. Epic amounts. Incomprehensible amounts. As my Girls are graduating one by one, I wanted to give each of them a special thank-you for the role they have played in this phase of my life. So, I asked each to give me favorite data and I used that to design and make a quilt for each Girl.


My science inspired thank-you quilt series begins with Erica’s Ninja Cells. Erica took this image of two cells under a microscope years ago and saved it because it makes her think of two ninjas fighting. She could image the cells using a fluorescent microscope because they express GFP or Green Fluorescent Protein, a protein that shines green when exposed to the right range of fluorescent light and whose discovery earned its discoverers Nobel Prizes. The darker circle in the middle of each cell is where the nucleus is (the compartment in the cell where DNA is stored) and the GFP is excluded from the nucleus. For those of you that do speak science, Erica told me that the cells were primary human fibroblasts that had been immortalized by exogenous expression of telomerase and had the AAVS1 locus tagged with GFP by using a zinc finger nuclease.

echo quilt around cell arm

I made this quilt 48″ x 48″, a lap quilt size, so that my Girl can snuggle up on the couch, enveloped by love and science. The individual blocks are 8″ x 8″ finished size and each square is individually pieced. I chose a range range of tone-on-tone blues for the cell bodies and off-whites for the background (major thanks to my mom for letting me raid her stash for this project!). The combination of colors and textures seemed perfect for Erica’s style and I love the almost shabby-chic aesthetic juxtaposed with giant ninja cells!

tone on tone low volume quilt background

Of course the piecing of this quilt was a bit of a nightmare, especially for a not-advanced quilter like myself. But I eventually decided that I was okay with things not aligning perfectly and that it added to the shabby-chic charm. I did learn from the process so if I decide to tackle a project with so many curved pieces again someday, I have a few ideas about how to make my templates a little easier to use.

quilted cells quilt back

Since my mom is away from her longarm for several months, I got to quilt this on my own, on my home sewing machine. This obviously severely limited the type of quilting I could do, especially as I don’t have a set-up for freemotion quilting on my home machine. So, straight lines it was! I stitched echoes around the cell bodies, stitch-in-the-ditch between each quilt block in the background, and a cross through each background quilt block. I love the way it looks from the back since you can clearly see the cell shapes on the back of the quilt too!

ninja cells quilt in lab

I’m delighted to report that Erica adores her quilt (as does her husband who is also a scientist and a self-professed member of the “SeamstressErin fan club” :)!

Comments 13

  1. I love it! What a great story behind a super fun quilt! I love the way you quilted it and am amazed that you pieced that sucker! I would have appliqu├ęd those tendrils on! :) Good luck as you finish the quilts and your degree!

  2. This is wonderful! The design by itself is totally awesome (yeah science!), but it’s even better when you explained the back story. What a beautiful and personal present to give your friend.

  3. THIS IS AWESOME!!! Love how you translated the inspiration – your friend is a lucky Girl! I just made my sister a baby quilt and it was a super cheap, easy cop-out quilt since I Was so busy but I totally caught the bug. I could totally see myself quilting more in the future….

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  4. I really like this quilt Erin, science quilts are very hip! And even more so coming from a real scientist. (I love quilts like this that challenge the ‘traditional’ perception of patchwork as a very old fashioned craft) This is such a lovely gift too, and so meaningful, I’m sure your Girl will treasure it. x

  5. Not always a fan of quilts, particularly traditional ones ( I know, I’m wierd!) but that quilt, that quilt is FABULOUS !!

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      I don’t think you’re weird :) The more I quilt the more I appreciate traditional quilts, but I certainly didn’t start with any appreciation of them. Thanks for the compliment!

  6. I love this!! It’s so interesting when science and craftiness intersect to form such a unique product. Best of luck to your friend as she graduates and starts a new chapter of her life!

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