Tag Archives: Quilt design

What Makes It Interesting?

Not just beautiful, not just well-crafted. What makes a quilt interesting, one you want to look at for a long time? One that keeps bringing you back to it?

In these questions, I am not thinking of “art” quilts or wall-hangings. Rather, I’m thinking of quilts, whatever their style, that might be used as a bed or lap quilt.

What design characteristics make a quilt interesting? Is it easier to answer if asked what makes a quilt boring?

What makes a quilt uninteresting (to me):

  1. nothing unexpected
  2. perfect symmetry including all use of placement, shape, color, value, pattern, texture
  3. no sense of movement, nothing to direct the eye
  4. too much repetition — same shapes in same colors with same placement
  5. no repetition, too much movement, chaos — if there is too much going on, I shut down
  6. “perfection”

Things that can make a quilt interesting to me:

  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

Here are two quilts I made in 2017, for comparison. In some ways they are the same, with solid white backgrounds and lots of open space. They are both “pretty,” I think. But one is more interesting (to me) to look at than the other.

Dizzy. 60″ x 60″. 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

Fire & Ice. 68″ x 68″. 2017. Photo by Jim Ruebush.

So what’s the difference? In some ways, Dizzy is more interesting than Fire & Ice. Dizzy has more colors. It’s kind of fun to track the block colors back into the floral print border. There’s more value differentiation in Dizzy than in Fire & Ice.

But to me, Fire & Ice keeps my eye for longer. There is more to it that is unexpected, or requires more time to consider. There are more shapes and different angles in it, while Dizzy has only two basic blocks, the pinwheels and the variable (sawtooth) stars. In Dizzy, the blocks’ colors are also symmetrically arranged. If you see one quadrant of the quilt, you don’t need to see the rest. While that is essentially true for Fire & Ice, the repetition alludes to other shapes, rather than directly repeating. The outside corner blocks use a “wing” shape from the center block, but they frame different shapes. The solid red lines are various widths. The center block suggests some puzzles to its construction. The positive/negative space use of alternating hourglass blocks creates the main movement.

Besides, that, the design of Fire & Ice is far from perfection. The proportions of shapes are not quite right. The border of alternating bars has an even number, meaning the line is not symmetrical. There’s a lot of white space in the final wide border, especially as compared to the hourglass border. Some shapes are big and some are small. The lack of perfection is exactly what makes it most interesting.

To me, it’s useful to consider what makes an interesting quilt, because I want to make quilts that are interesting. I want to make quilts that someone might linger over for a long time, taking in the details. Ones that have a story to tell through their design. Ones that carry little surprises. Ones that pose some challenges in the making.

What characteristics make you linger over a quilt? Why do you keep looking? When you think of your own quilts, which ones do you still enjoy looking at, and why? When you think of “interesting,” what do you think of?

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A New Plan for an Old UFO

I’ve often boasted about not having many UFOs (UnFinished Objects, or quilt projects that haven’t been completed.) Why that would be something to brag about, I’m not sure. But it’s true, usually I finish what I start.

There is one long-time UFO, started several years ago.

There were multiple reasons for not proceeding with this. One issue was technical — I wasn’t sure how to do the Y-seams to set the points in a background. (Above they are not sewn together, just arrayed on batting to show them.) Another was that, once set, I didn’t have a good idea of how to show them off.

Almost four years ago I posted More of an Idea than a Plan. In it I showed one option for setting these star points.

I didn’t do this. I still like the idea, but I’m really not interested in making those log cabin blocks. Also, it turns out that the center resulting from the star points is bigger than I thought. Adding all those log cabin borders would make this a fairly humongous quilt. If that weren’t enough, I still didn’t know how to set the star points in background fabric.


Recently I got the star points out again. It turns out you can avoid using Y-seams if you extend the points with background fabric. The blue lines below illustrate the extra seams. The star block has six big segments, each consisting of a star point and two pieces of background fabric. Put together two star halves, and then stitch the long seam to create the whole block. Easy peasy.

The constraint I faced was not having quite enough background fabric. If you look again at the block above, you can see that the star itself is not the same width as height. The star points do not extend all the way to the sides. To make the block square, it requires “enough” background fabric to make the height and width equal. I didn’t have quite enough.

That gave me the next opportunity for problem solving. The easiest two ways to make a center square are to 1) trim it to square or 2) add borders to make it square. I had nowhere to trim; adding borders of different widths was the best choice.

The photo below shows my solution. To all four sides, I added borders of floral print on cream background. The top/bottom borders are narrower than the left/right borders.

The one-inch strip border in coral encloses all that and creates the illusion of uniformity. At least, for me it helps make the width differences disappear. That strip takes the center to 42″ finished.

The final border so far uses 4-patches on point for the edges, and broken dishes in the corners. I’ve talked before about using “easy” widths for borders, to make them divide into square blocks. This works even with blocks on point. With an edge of 42″, I divided it into 7 equal segments to have a 6″ border. 42″/7 = 6″.  Then I used the math of diagonals to find the correct block size. 6″/1.414 = 4.25″. Each of the 4-patches is a 4.25″ block. When set on point, they make a 6″ wide border.

It isn’t magic, and it isn’t mysterious. It’s just math. If I didn’t know all that and still wanted to use blocks on point, I could have made them any size and simply had them not fit perfectly. AND THAT IS OKAY!! And TRADITIONAL!!

Alrighty. This post is too long already. I’ll finish it soon with showing you a couple of options for the remainder of the quilt layout.