Carousel, the Kaleidoscope Quilt

Motivation, inspiration, energy, effort, time. All are needed ingredients in our creative work. It’s not unusual to feel short on at least one of them. This time of year, especially, I find it hard to pull it all together. I don’t force things; absent deadlines (a source of motivation,) I just plod along a little more slowly.

So far this year I’ve finished two quilts and a couple of small projects, so I am moving along on things. But lack of my effort has prevented you from seeing any of them. 🙂 Today I’ll reveal the first completed of those and tell you a little about the process.

Carousel kaleidoscope

XX’s Carousel. January 2016. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

The center of this quilt was made using the process developed by Ricky Tims in his Kool Kaleidoscope Quilts book. The book is well-written and easy to understand, even for someone like me, challenged by many pattern directions. The book’s large gallery of photos was submitted by students and others who used his process. They give proof of the variety possible, given differences in colors and settings.

As said above, the book is easy to understand. However, it’s worth noting that the quilt provides a few challenges. All bias edges, 12 narrow 30° wedges joining in the center, and odd angles all tested my capabilities.

To summarize, the center is built as a set of 12 30° wedges, adding up to the full 360° it takes to go all the way around. The quilter starts with drawing a wedge on freezer paper, and then subdividing the wedge into 5 sections, according to the instructions. The section closest to the point becomes the very center.


Each of the 5 sections is cut from strata, or strips of different fabrics pieced together in layers. If you look at the photo above, you can see the brilliant pinkish-red in the very center is one strip, continuing out to the green print out at the points as the last strip in this section. I made TWO matching strata, aligned their seams to interlock, and then used my piece of freezer paper as a template to cut the 12 pieces. The freezer paper doesn’t get ironed on, just taped with blue tape loops on the back. Then pieces are cut, adding the seam allowance all the way around the template.

Continue to create parts without assembling them yet into wedges. This video gives a better idea of that process.

* Read the instructions first.
* Use a design wall or dedicated space to arrange the segments. Don’t trust that you can keep them organized without it.
* When dividing the wedge into sections, make the centermost section larger than your first instincts suggest.
* Strata should be about 10″ deep, and made from about 5 strips each. The outer strips should be the widest.
* Aligning wedge sections is tricky. Remember you’re using a 1/4″ seam allowance. Once seamed, the long edges should line up reasonably well. If they don’t, fix it before going on.
* When you need to trim the outside edge of each wedge, try this: put two pieces of blue tape on the undersides of 2 long rulers. Smooth out the wedge on the cutting mat, and then line up one of the long rulers to the real 1/4″, with most of the ruler OFF the wedge. Then line up the other one to the 1/4″ on the other side. Stick the 2 rulers down. Put the paper wedge into the middle of that, trying to get it to line up well on both sides. It might not, but do the best you can. Hold down the paper as your template. Move the long rulers out of the way. Trim that outside edge 1/4″ away from the paper template.
* Mark the point at the center tip of the wedge before you move the paper template. This gives you the mark for sewing the points together.
* On the outside segments (cut separately from the wedges, and made from background fabric,) add an extra quarter inch or more to the outside edge of each. This will give you room to trim the edges without losing the design. Use a regular 1/4″ seam allowance for the interior edges.
* Square the kaleidoscope block before adding borders. Otherwise you’ll get waves that will never quilt out. The easiest way to square probably is to fold the block in half along a seam. Line that up as well as possible along a cutting mat line. Use a large square ruler to create a stable set-up on that line. Then use a long ruler to cut your edge, perfectly perpendicular to the long seam. If you’re making a 36″ finish block as per his main instructions, make your cut 18.25″ from the center point. Do this for each of the four sides. You should have plenty available to trim, since you added a little extra margin in the last step. Your goal is square and flat, 36.5″ unfinished. 

Even with this, I had a couple of problems. First, I had trouble with getting my presser foot close enough when I sewed the last seam joining the quadrants together. That meant my very center was a little loose. I fixed this by hand-stitching it snugger. It’s not perfect, but it turned out okay.

Second, because of how I cut the segments on my wedges, I had nice sharp pinky-red points on 6 of my wedges, and dull, rounded green and blue “points” on the other 6. To fix this, I appliquéd purple points on them. You can see this with the top picture, and the slight overlap of those top and bottom points onto the green border. I actually like the way it turned out, but I’d do it differently if I do it again.

And final design notes: as with every quilt, this one gave me some design surprises. I had planned to use a different first border, a batik with all the colors used in the center. However, it didn’t provide enough contrast to the dark green background batik. The pale green print repeats the pale greens from the center (though it is different from both of them,) giving contrast in both color and value.

After that, as often, I got a little stuck. I asked my favorite color consultant, Jim. He suggested using the narrow orange, to repeat the orange strips in the center. They brighten the whole piece and remove some of the sweetness from the adjacent pale green.

Then I added the next border. It is a mottled print of purple, turquoise, and olive green. My intention was to use it as a spacer and then build the quilt out farther. However, the more I looked at it, the more it felt “done” to me. So I stopped. The final touch for color is the binding of dark plum, echoing the dark purples in the center.

If you’re interested in making this block, I would encourage you to go ahead. It’s rather a process, but one that is logical once in the midst of it. For me it suits both the analytical and aesthetic parts of my brain. And I sure haven’t ruled out making another one!

25 thoughts on “Carousel, the Kaleidoscope Quilt

  1. Jessi

    I really enjoyed seeing this quilt last night. It is very interesting to see your tips- though I think Ricky’s video may have scared me away from the process 🙂

  2. Shasta

    Congratulations! Your quilt was featured on an email from Ricky Tims! “Have you made a Kool Kaleidoscope yet! Check out this recent blog post shared with us from the Catbird Quilt Studio “

  3. snarkyquilter

    Thanks for including the video with your post. It made many of your cautions much clearer. Yes, a fudge factor is enormously helpful when finagling tricky angle seam matches. The only thing that would make your quilt better is a rotating display for it, with a spotlight of course. It’s a lovely reminder that spring blossoms and new green leaves are on their way.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      😀 thanks — that made me smile. Yes, I know the cautions/tips aren’t very meaningful on their own. For someone in the midst of it, though, having another approach besides that, or supplementing that in the book would help. Hence the first tip to read instructions first. 🙂

  4. Shasta

    This is gorgeous! Thank you for sharing the process, as I thought this was beyond my skill level. I definitely need to try this, and have ordered the book from the library.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Oh yes, do go ahead and try it. I’d say it takes more care than skill. Literally, just being careful with your strata seam allowances (they don’t need to be a full 1/4″ but they DO need to be the same on matching strata sets,) careful to line up 1/4″ seams when you join wedge segments, careful when trimming later. And it’s fun that the resulting design is a big surprise. I’ll look forward to seeing what you do with it.

  5. colorpencil2014

    So impressive!! I love this design and the colors are so perfect. I saw a few friends of mine designing a quilt together for another friend who is very sick. I was fascinated…it is indeed a special way of looking at color, fabric and pattern. xo Johanna

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      It is a different way of looking at color, especially when you consider how we learn to dress ourselves as we grow up. If there is one bright or strong color, we’re told to moderate it with neutrals. In quilts, though, we get to celebrate lots of strong colors right next to each other. Thanks for taking a look.

  6. katechiconi

    I am in awe of your clarity of mind in taking this one on! Just looking at it makes me nervous… It’s a beautiful finished result, a sparkling kaleidoscope and I love your fabric and colour choices. I hope you do make another, I’d be interested to see what you do next time to ring the changes.

  7. larriclaire quilty

    Thank you for sharing all your input on this quilt. I cannot express how astounded I am with this quilt. It is totally amazing how you have pulled this together. Also, I love all the information you share on your messages. It has been quite a learning process to me and I thank you. I look at them over and over to take the information and roll it over in my mind so it becomes mine and I can pass it on to my quilting buddies.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I assure you it is easier than it looks! However, yes, it is pretty amazing how it comes together in the end. I’d like my brain to engineer something as this has been engineered, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do so. Thanks for reading and commenting. Feel free to give your quilting buddies a link directly here.


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