What Makes It Interesting? Part 2

I continue to think about “interesting,” because I want to make interesting quilts. I want them to challenge and engage me in the process, and I want them to engage the viewer/owner when done. Keep in mind that you don’t have to like a quilt to find it interesting. It doesn’t need to be “pretty,” or in a style you prefer. It doesn’t need to be one you’d like to make yourself.

In Part 1, I mentioned a few characteristics that can make quilts interesting to me. They include

  1. something unexpected
  2. balance with asymmetry of placement, shape, color, value, pattern, or texture
  3. movement, a sense of direction
  4. rhythmic repetition
  5. imperfection

There are three other things, or perhaps more specific characteristics, that I’d like to include on that list. They are color, combination of fabrics, and story.

Color
There’s no denying that color creates strong reactions in many of us. Who doesn’t have at least one “favorite” color? According to the lay magazine Psychology Today,

… color preferences derive from our preference for the objects that typically have these colors…

Our individual preference for a particular color associated with these objects (a living room wall or an automobile) will be produced and reinforced by the positive feedback associated with the object and the color it has.  Everyone has a somewhat different life experience, and so as people increasingly experience pleasure in something they bought in a particular color, they will tend to chose similar objects in the future with the same color.  This leads to a self perpetuating situation.

So color preferences help keep us safe, by choosing foods and other items with which we’ve had a good experience. We choose clothing colors that either show us off or protect us, depending on our needs. Some quilters I know prefer bright, saturated colors, while others reliably choose earth tones or muted hues. If you usually quilt with 1800s reproduction fabrics, you will probably notice, and spend more time looking at, quilts made with similar colors.

I’m not sure that is enough to make a quilt “interesting.” (What do you think? I don’t have a very well-formed thought on this.) It seems to me that for color to make a quilt interesting, there needs to be something unexpected going on. My blog friend Judith of jmn Creative Endeavours said in a comment, “One factor I try including in all of my quilts is an unexpected colour – when I get that right the quilt comes to life. It doesn’t take much of that colour to have an effect … Most people looking at one of my quilts don’t see what I’ve done, they just feel the effect.”

Recently I did a guild presentation with trunk show. More than once I found myself thinking, about my own quilts, that I’d used an unusual color combination. For example, the quilt below uses red, coral, teal, aqua, periwinkle, lemon yellow, and acid green. Certainly the colors aren’t the only thing going on, or the only reason someone might look at this. (And they’re not necessarily ones you like or would choose! It’s okay if you don’t like it.) But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen another quilt with this combination.

Contrast this with Dizzy, which I showed you in the last post. The few colors are pulled directly from the print floral in the middle border. Because the floral sets the palette, there is no surprise in the colors of other fabrics used.

Combination of fabrics and story are two more factors that create interest for me. I’ll discuss those more in a couple more posts.

23 thoughts on “What Makes It Interesting? Part 2

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Value differences have a big effect! It can be hard to see them, which is where using a B&W picture of your project can help. When I teach or present on value, some people ask why it matters, since saturation of color can mask the value. But we all perceive things a little differently, and some people don’t see color well. For them, value would be the more important. I think it’s worthwhile to consider both, because they both contribute to the full picture. THanks.

      Reply
  1. snarkyquilter

    Re:color, I think a valuable lesson is to use a wide range of values to give a quilt depth. Many quilting fabrics are in medium values, and it’s hard to find dark values (beside black). Just one color or a multitude of colors can work if you take them through their tint and tone hue changes. I use my phone camera a lot to check my values range in black and white. Re: Bonnie Hunter quilt patterns, I agree, too much sewing.

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Checking value as you work is a great idea. I rarely do it, depending on my “instinct” (or experience) instead. But sometimes I’m surprised after the fact! And YES that too many fabrics are in medium values. It does make choosing a range harder.

      Reply
  2. KerryCan

    I wish I knew more about color theory because I think color is hugely important in interest but I don’t know how to manipulate it in my quilting or weaving. I know complementary colors add zip but I think I need to pay more attention to value, getting out of the mushy middle of tones . . .

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      You might be right, that value is the element to work on. As you know, I love a lot of value contrast and have to work harder to be aware when less contrast is better. I think your red and white project gives you a lot of opportunity to appreciate value difference. But it might be harder with the weaving. hmmm. Things to think about….

      Reply
  3. Shasta

    What makes a quilt interesting to me is the unexpected – an unexpected combination of colors or patterns in the fabrics, an unusual design. As a quilter, some unusual layouts and “how does that block go together?” helps add interest.

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Agree. This goes back to my first list, I think. Asymmetry is somewhat unexpected, I think, as is imperfection. 🙂 I love exciting color combinations and I think they can elevate an otherwise uninteresting design. Thanks!

      Reply
  4. zippyquilts

    Color certainly isn’t all that’s needed to make a quilt interesting, but I suspect good color selection is necessary for a good quilt. And I agree with Paula that the colors have to work together.

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Indeed! No one element is the whole thing, as they need to work together. Color, value, shape, size, placement, line. And the specific colors used are a matter of personal preference. Thanks, Mary.

      Reply
  5. Paula Hedges

    Color will grab my attention, but I think it is more how that one color works with other colors around it. It is difficult to break down exactly what draws my eye. I do think it is a combination of color, pattern, and quilting, especially if viewing quilts at a show. One may not be something I would make, but I can always appreciate the time and work that has gone into a quilt.

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      This is such a great point: I can always appreciate the time and work that has gone into a quilt. I really do love quilts, even, or maybe especially, those that beginners have made. 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting.

      Reply
  6. katechiconi

    I think your friend Judith is right, the addition of an unusual, unexpected colour can inject visual excitement, richness and interest even if the layout of parts is perhaps even a bit dull or plain.

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      You are so good with your color use, I’m not surprised at your appreciation here. But yes, a solid but plain design is enlivened with good colors, in a way that isn’t necessarily the reverse. (Bad colors can still kill a great design.)

      Reply
  7. Kerry

    It IS interesting because it dares to be different. Actually I like the red linking it together – while someone might say it’s the blue that is the link. Then it draws the eye inwards to the other areas, then you see the shapes and patterns. To me it is saying “YIPPEEE!” don’t know why, it just is – star jumps? LOL!

    I think it just needs the right amount of brightness to catch the eye first – the shape or pattern that makes a perfect balance without being detrimental to the rest of the quilt. Your friend is so right with that unexpected colour insert.

    The first Bonnie Hunter mystery quilt that I did had lots of Japanese fabrics (and some Aussie ones for good measure). When the mystery was revealed I didn’t like my blocks together – too fussy, so I added black sashing with cornerstones that matched one of the fabrics and that made a huge difference and calmed it all down. It wasn’t love at first sight – but I love it now. Plus it made me work outside of my comfort zone, even if I did change a colour or two because I didn’t want it to be exactly the same. LOL!

    I think Lisa’s colour choice sounded nice too.

    Sorry – I have a terrible habit of waffling on with a keyboard! I blame you for making me think so much! 😉

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Hi Kerry. I like the description of how you saved your Bonnie Hunter quilt. In truth, I like her older designs better than what I’ve seen recently. I think the complexity doesn’t always help. (And that’s something I have to remember for my own work, too!)

      Reply
      1. Kerry

        This year I haven’t started yet, but there are piecing bits that I haven’t done before, so it will be a stretched out tutorial for me. I don’t want to do the full size but I do want it to be my last (gasp from ardent fans) because I want to be more individual, I don’t want a houseful of Bonnie quilts –
        I want my own. Plus production line sewing on a huge scale is boring to me – sorry folks who enjoy that, but I do have a short attention span!

        Amish quilts can be used as an example of the unexpected, also very much admired.

        Time to explore other things, colours, patterns! And to boldly go where Kerry has never gone before. I thank you for this, Melanie, because I really enjoy seeing your quilts and reading your take on things – very interesting and very refreshing. 😀

        Reply
        1. Melanie McNeil Post author

          “I don’t want a houseful of Bonnie quilts – I want my own.” What an excellent way to put this! I truly think we’re all capable of designing our own, even beginners. Some people don’t choose to, even if they know they can. It’s hard for me to understand this, but it isn’t my choice and I need to be more accepting.

          Reply
          1. Kerry

            With designers like Bonnie people feel comfy/safe – nothing wrong with that and I’m really grateful for the quilting sessions. But there also has to be the intrepid explorer to just be brave enough to discover things for themselves because that’s probably the biggest learning curve after the basics.
            Quilting covers such a vast range of things – even historical value. It is fascinating to me!
            So I bid you goodnight. Or good morning eek!

  8. Created by Bella

    Good morning Melanie. I have given your “What makes it interesting” thought a lot of consideration since yesterday and this is my opinion. Setting personal color preference aside, I believe that it is the quilting design that makes or breaks a quilt. I have seen quilts that are assembled with the most hideous colors, yet they were quilted with a variety of designs that complemented both the design and the colors. I have seen countless other quilts, where the designer spends hundreds of dollars on the best fabrics, batting and backing, then then they have a quilting company stitch the entire quilt with an all over pattern that flattens out the whole piece, rendering it flat and boring.

    With thoughtful quilting any design can bring forth interest, balance, texture, and a sense of movement, not to mention, something unexpected. With a well thought out quilting design, you can also complement some colors and down play another to bring about a sense of balance and harmony.

    Just my 2 cents. BTW, This was/is a great topic and article.

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I’m with you on this — I’ve seen very pretty piecing that was ruined by thoughtless quilting, and I’ve seen quite “modest” efforts at piecing or design that have been elevated by good quilting. At best they work together to create the whole picture.

      Thanks much for reading and commenting.

      Reply
  9. Lisa

    I totally get this. I entered a quilt in my local guild show one year and I was lucky enough to have gotten comments on it. It was made of traditional (but not the floral ones) Japanese fabrics in red and blue with a cream background. The suggestion was that the quilt would have been better if I had added a touch of another colour to the mix. That was a wonderful piece of feedback to get. Some of my friends reacted defensively on my behalf but I thought the comment was great.

    Reply
    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Thanks, Lisa. I think it can help to get feedback from another source. Even when it isn’t valid, it still can give us another factor to consider. You were lucky to get some good information. btw, the color set you chose sounds great! 🙂

      Reply

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