The Tartan Challenge


Bill and I debated a lot over whether or not to include Tartan in Transparency Quilts. Bill wanted to include it because he loved the complexity and the efficiency with which he was able to design the construction. I was hesitant because I was worried that it was the most complex pattern in the book by far and requires better-than-average craftsmanship. Although I thought that the transparency itself was really successful and the finished quilt is beautiful, I wondered if it would be too hard for the average quilter. In the end we decided that it was important to have different projects for different skill levels so we kept it in.

We also decided to include this quilt in response to the comments we sometimes hear about the Modern Quilt Movement. Some suggest that the Modern Quilt Movement is simply about abandoning rules and concerns over craftsmanship. The idea is that “rules” inhibit creativity and that “letting go” of concerns about matching points and sewing consistently will result in quilts that look fresher and more modern.

Bill and I feel that there are times to design and sew in a completely intuitive way but that sloppiness is always just sloppiness. How you decide what goes together is an entirely separate issue from how well it is constructed. Whether or not you plan a quilt completely or whether you work intuitively and improvisationally, striving for good craftsmanship should always be a goal.

Tartan is a good example of a quilt that is modern yet requires a very high level of craftsmanship and planning. The sewing is simple but to make this quilt successfully, you’ll want to make points match pretty closely. In the book, we offer pointers on how to do that more easily. You only need six fabrics but you’ll want to spend some time making sure that the color relationships are successful.

Many people have called the studio to see if we are kitting any of the quilts in this book because some people are finding fabric selection for the transparencies challenging. These quilts were made in 2010 (the book publishing process is a long one) so most of the fabrics are long gone. However, we thought it would be helpful to show you some Kona solid equivalents of the colors used in the original quilts. So here are some colors that would work for the Tartan palette:

[Note: Computer monitors are calibrated differently so the darker blues may look like a bunch of black blobs to you but we chose these colors based on actual swatches.]

Hello Sunshine

design, inspiration, quilting

One of the things we love about creating transparency quilts is the depth you see in the colors as well as the composition. Hello Sunshine appears to be a relatively straightforward baby quilt but in one place the overlapping colors make sense – a light over a darker fabric yields a shade in between. However, look at the light centers. We’ve played with the visuals to have two medium tones overlap two darker tones and the result is a yellow that is lighter than either of the other colors used.

This example shows how the transparencies don’t always have to be logical in terms of the overlap color being the shade that would result if you really did overlay the colors with, for example, an overhead projector. What matters most is that the gradations between the different overlays aren’t too much of a leap.

I think the most useful section of the book is “What Works, What Doesn’t and Why.” We intentionally put together a series of UNsuccessful transparencies so you could see what went wrong. Let me know if you want to see any more of them and I can add them to future posts.

By the way, we were happy to read that Library Journal has included Transparency Quilts as a “not-to-be missed” title for quilting along with our second book “Modern Quilt Workshop.” Thanks for the shout out Library Journal!

the calm of Whisper

design, fabric, quilting

Readers of Quilts Made Modern may remember that I spent 8 months hand quilting a quilt called Small Change made entirely with Cherrywood fabrics. Cherrywood hand-dyed fabrics are more expensive than mass-manufactured prints, but have a softness that’s just not found anywhere else.

While the design thinking behind Small Change was the interplay among rich colors, Whisper is all about the subtle differences within a very desaturated — even drab — palette. We used all of the colors in the Potters’ Wheel Palette (part of the 8-step bundles that Cherrywood offers) and added a few other taupes as well.

Note that because the fabrics aren’t patterned and the colors were low in contrast we were able to use swirled stitching in the circles and a simple stipple in the field. The stitching really transforms a quilt when it’s this simple so if you make a quilt with Cherrywoods, it’s worth thinking through the quilting because it will really show.

I have to add that designing and making this quilt was a leap of faith for us. These are not colors that are considered “hot” in the quilting fabric industry. I once had a fabric sales rep tell me that we should only design and use fabrics that grab your attention from the second you set foot in a shop. It was painful to hear that. I didn’t want to believe that we had to scream all of the time. So I was particularly relieved and encouraged when one person after another at Quilt Market said how nice is was to see such an unusual palette. See. There’s room for quiet after all.