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When Quilts Make Demands

When Quilts Make Demands

I walk a fine line between randomness and control with my quilts. I like scrappy—which is random—but not so scrappy that the design deteriorates. And I like control, but I need to remember that too much control over a design can make it flat and uninteresting. I’m fairly comfortable walking that line most of the time as I try to keep those parameters in my head.

Lynne Tyler, of the Patchery Menagerie blog (it’s a great one, and thank you to Heather for mentioning it) made a comment in a recent blog post that has stuck with me. She said:

I've always felt that at some point, a quilt starts making demands. "The quilt wants this, the quilt wants that..." What's really happening is a design develops and you have to respond to it, but find ways to continue to what's going on in the quilt and yet expand upon the idea that is there. I tell people that the farther you get along with stuff like this the more limited your options become. In other words, every choice you make informs yet limits the choices you have yet to make. 

This could, of course, apply to all sorts of creative activities, but these thoughts resonated especially loudly with me as I was sorting the HSTs for the Ritzville quilt. These are the “demands” of the Ritzville quilt at this point in the process:

  • I used a total of 31 blue fabrics. (Randomness in the number but control in the color). I need 16 HSTs per block. Thankfully, I did not use 32 blue fabrics. (I wasn’t keeping track as I went along.) I like the fact that I used 31. A little wonky math makes for a more interesting design.

  • The blue fabrics are the dominant color in this quilt and they are driving the design right now. I don’t have the same number of HSTs for each blue fabric, however, because I used differing amounts depending on what I had. Some were cut from fat quarters, some were cut from half-yard pieces, and some were cut from remnants from my stash. (Randomness).

  • Some of the blue fabrics are paired with white fabric and some are paired with cream fabrics. I want a roughly equal distribution of white and cream throughout the quilt. (Randomness and control.)

  • A few of the blue fabrics are much brighter and tend to pop in the blocks, so I want to use them more sparingly. (Control.)

  • Because I have more of some blue fabrics than others, I want to make sure that those HSTs get used in every block. This will spread them out throughout the quilt and also provide an “anchor” of sorts for the design. (Control.)

Keeping these issues in mind, I sorted the HSTs into piles based on the blue fabric used:


The HSTs are organized in sets of 8 clipped together with Wonder Clips. As I start a block, I pull one HST from the group of 8 and then put that group on the bottom of the pile. Each block starts with six of the most abundant HSTs. I then choose from the remaining groups of HSTs to get a total of 16. I lay those 16 out on the cookie sheet in a pleasing arrangement and sew the block together. Each time I start a new block, I pick from different combinations of HSTs.

So far, this system seems to be providing a good balance of randomness and control. There will be some surprises—there always are—but having some sort of system lessens the odds that those surprises will wreck the design. And the quilt is always talking. I put the 10 completed blocks up on the design wall yesterday evening (you’ll get a picture in the next blog post, most likely) and stood there for a while listening to what the overall design was saying. I heard loudly and clearly, for example, that I shouldn’t be so fussy about making sure that a dark blue triangle is in each corner of the block, which I had been doing, because when the blocks are put next to each other, those dark blue triangles form a square that becomes a bit too dominant in the design. Duly noted. I’m also not worrying so much about where the white/cream background fabrics land in the blocks and in the layout. You would have to get up close and personal with the quilt to see them, so I am letting that be a random aspect of the design.

Speaking of math, I suspect I have enough HSTs here for two large quilts, possibly two king-sized quilts. Our church participates in two Mennonite relief sales, one in Ritzville, Washington, in the fall and one in Nampa, Idaho, in the spring. If we end up with two quilts, one could go to each sale.


I am sewing today and tomorrow and then my self-imposed work vacation comes to an end. I do plan on going to the sewing day at church on Thursday, though. Hopefully they won’t cancel it. I was planning to attend in August and again in December and both those dates were canceled. I am beginning to think I am bad luck or something, LOL.

Yarn is on sale now at all the craft stores. I did a resupply of Lion Brand Homespun this week and put the yarn in the sewing room at church. We keep a stash there so that anyone who wants to can come in and get enough yarn to make a prayer shawl.

I also picked up a skein of this at Hobby Lobby, just to play with it:


I think it will make some interesting dishcloths, although knitting with it may be hard on the hands. It’s pretty rough.

I haven’t shopped for yarn in so long that wandering through the yarn sections at Joanns, Michaels, and Hobby Lobby has been educational. I am a bit dismayed to see such an abundance of chenille-type yarns, though. Unless manufacturers have figured out how to fix the worming problem that is so common with chenille—strands of yarn will randomly lengthen and stretch out of the fabric—knitters might be disappointed with their creations.

Hello 2019!

Hello 2019!

A Soft Launch

A Soft Launch