Planning the Layout of a Sampler Quilt

Yes, I’m still here, but I have been pretty quiet on the blogging front. I’ve been sewing and knitting, and trying to get things done in between periods of  general busyness and bouts of fatigue. I have a few things (mostly knits) that need photographing before I can post them here, but I have been working on a quilting project that I wanted to share with you.

This year I joined in making a block-of-the-month quilt with my quilting guild. It was for a sampler quilt, and each month we were given a pattern to make a traditional quilt block or blocks. At the end of nine months we had to come up with a layout for the blocks and put them together ourselves to create a quilt. There were six blocks at 12-inch finished size, and three sets of four blocks at 6-inch finished size (which could be put together to create three 12-inch blocks if desired).

I decided right from the start that I wanted this quilt to have a slightly more modern feel than the usual sampler quilt, so I chose some fabrics that I’d bought a few years ago to go together. They are a little different than my usual selection of floral or leafy prints. I also selected a couple of lighter fabrics and a light background fabric to go with them.

fabric selection

Fast forward nine months. The blocks were finished, and now I needed to figure out how to put them all together.

First I put a piece of the background fabric on my portable design wall to provide a semblance of sashing strips. After some pondering over layout options, I tried one out on the wall. This layout started with the idea of putting the 6-inch blocks in vertical or horizontal rows, and then putting the bigger blocks between them. I inserted some solid blocks of fabric as well, to fill some empty spaces. (For those paying attention, I did not make the final month’s block (I didn’t care for it) so I do only have five 12-inch blocks).

possible layout 1

I liked this layout. It was a bit unusual, and I liked the block of the main print fabric at the top, which balanced the visual weight of the Fair and Square block in the lower left corner.

I tried a similar layout next, with a strip of green inserted between the bottom two rows.

possible layout 2

I didn’t care for that very much – the green strip seemed overpowering, and broke up the layout too much.

At this point, the idea of moving blocks around on my design wall over and over again seemed daunting, so I took a photograph of the first layout, printed it up on plain paper, and cut the blocks out. Then I played around with them a bit on a white paper background. This is a fun and easy way to try out different layouts with minimal work involved.

finding possible layouts

The picture above shows the layout that I decided to try out on the wall next. And here it is, more or less.

possible layout 3

I was pretty happy with this, but I did do a bit more tweaking to balance out the distribution of colours and visual weight, and to have all of the angular movement going in one direction.

possible layouts 4

I liked this layout a lot, so I decided to go with it.

The next step was to calculate how much fabric I would need for the sashing strips between the blocks, and for the outer border. I did this by sketching the layout to scale on graph paper, showing the blocks at their finished size (the ones up on the wall all have a 1/4” seam allowance on them, which distorts the layout a little bit).

scale sketch of layout 4

Of course, I ended up needing more fabric for the sashing and border than I had left of the cream-coloured background fabric. So, back to the stash I went. After a bit of searching, I came up with a fabric that coordinated nicely with the fabrics in the blocks, and did a nice job of setting them off. And I had a lot of it!

possible layout 4 on sashing fabric

My next task is to sketch out a cutting layout, so that I can make the best possible use of my sashing and border fabric. I’ve been working on that. I’m trying to leave myself the option of making the outside border a bit wider than the 3” width I am planning for the sashing strips. I might end up making more slight alterations in the layout as I begin to sew the blocks and sashing together. I’ll see how things look as I go.

Planning the layout of this quilt has turned out to be a lot of fun. There are so many different ways to go, especially if I remain open to some new and different ideas to fill the space. Using solid blocks or strips of fabric, or leaving open spaces of background fabric to fill with quilting really opens up the options.

Block names:

Top row: Log Cabin, Fair and Square, Mother’s Baskets

Second row: Broken Dishes, Log Cabin

Third row: Baby Blocks, Peace and Plenty

Fourth row: 3-D Bow Tie, Steps to the Alter


The Colourful Postcard Exchange

A class challenge: we chose partners, and we each picked a personal colour scheme; we made two postcard sized quilts (4 x 6 inches), one in our own colour scheme and one in that of our trading partner; we gave our partner the postcard we made in her colour scheme, and received one in our colours in return. It was a fun exercise in working in colours we might not normally choose, and in working on a small scale.

My colour scheme was greens and browns (nature colours). My partner’s colours were drawn from a piece of fabric she gave me to use. It was a lovely fabric that had graduated colours along its width, from yellow to a lovely blue. It was kind of cruel of her to leave it to me to cut into this pretty fabric – I swear I was practically hyperventilating for the first couple of cuts. You know how that is, don’t you? Fabric so lovely that it’s almost impossible to cut into. Well, perhaps the solution to that dilemma is to make your friends cut it up for you!

After pondering for a long time what to do with that lovely fabric, I decided to make an off-centred four patch with each rectangle a different shade picked from the graduated colours. Then I dug out a ball of sari silk off-cuts and found some strips that were the right colours to coordinate.


The four patch was first backed with a piece of batting. The silk strips were stitched down using a couple of the decorative stitches on my sewing machine. I love the way the silk coordinates with the colours in the fabric. The strips look a little like ribbon. It still didn’t look quite finished to me, so I added some hand stitching in a simple running stitch in embroidery cotton, and a little curve of seed beads to break up all of the straight lines. To finish off the postcard, I backed it with a piece of Vilene heavy interfacing, and stitched twice around with a satin stitch in four different coordinating thread colours. I’m quite pleased with how it turned out. I like the combination of the messy silk edges with the more controlled looking design.


I’m afraid that I got a bit lazy when I made the postcard in my own colours. Rather than trying to create something artistic, I decided to use it as a way to practice some thin strip and curved piecing. I used a method that I learned from an episode of The Quilt Show (episode 711) from guest quilter Rosalie Dace.

Once the top was pieced, I backed it with some batting and backing fabric, and quilted it using various programmed stitches from my sewing machine, playing around a little bit with the stitch settings just for fun.

Here is the postcard that my trading partner made for me in my colours. She was much more artistic in her work than I was, and I just love it. The tree trunk and grass are thread-painted, and the fabric leaves are embellished with stitching as well. It has a very three-dimensional look to it that isn’t really captured by the photo.


In my next post I’ll show you how I made a page for my art quilt book to hold the postcards.

Little Fishies

When I decided to participate in an ATC swap at my local art gallery last month, I realized that I didn’t have enough made to join in and still have some left over for future swaps or for gifts. So, I hunkered down and made another batch. For inspiration, I looked back to the first ATC I made, back in December of 2008. It was an underwater themed card:

Under the Sea ATC, 2008

This time I made a whole batch of them at once. Here they are in progress, still all in one piece:

Under the Sea set, 2010

You can see the grid lines I drew on the fabric, and at this stage I have fused on the leaves and sea life.  The leaves are cut from two different fabrics, one a leafy print and another that looked a bit like coral to me. The shells and starfish are cut from a novelty print, and the little fish are cut from another print. When placing the items, I tried to work with the background fabric, taking note of the placement of the little schools of fish.

After fusing, I stitched around the edges of the fused pieces with rayon thread, and used rayon thread to add some extra plant growth using a thread-painting technique. After cutting the cards apart, I then sewed a satin-stitch border around each one, to attach the card to the backing of heavy Vilene interfacing. And here they are:

Under the Sea set, 2010

Here are a couple of close-up shots, click on them for larger views.

Under the Sea 1-6

Under the Sea 7-14

These little projects are a fun way to use some of those novelty prints that we all seem to accumulate. I have several fat quarters of odd and interesting things that might one day make it into ATCs or postcards.