“Digging deeper” quilt top design

My projects typically start with a fabric that simply inspires me. When I browse fabric stores, there are typically fabrics call out to me, but I don’t always know immediately what they want to be transformed into. Often it’s not a single fabric that attracts me, but combinations and the challenge is to figure out a project that will best bring out the interactions between the different materials.

This is the story behind a quilt top I recently completed and which I have given the working title “digging deeper”, inspired by the archeological vibe I got from the fabrics that led to this project.

The fabrics

It all started with a selection of 6 prints that I stumbled upon at Finch Sewing Studio about two years ago. The were all designs by Carolyn Friedlander for Robert Kaufman: Carkai and Doe, her 4th and 3rd collection.

At the time I didn’t know Carolyn Friedlander, a quilter and fabric designer, but since then I’ve been studying her quilt designs and I’ve become a huge admirer of her modern, fresh aesthetic.

To “calm down” and bridge the prints shown above, I chose a second set of 6 solid fabrics, which “cite” colors that appear in the prints:

Finding the right block design

While the fabrics really appealed to me, I somehow couldn’t figure out what the right block design was for them. This is the reason for why I let the fabrics sit for two years before starting the quilt.

The crucial bit of inspiration came from browsing quilts on the Robert Kaufman website, where I came across the Lusk quilt pattern by Carolyin Friedlander. I thought that these were simple enough to still let the prints speak for themselves, while offering the opportunity to mix 2-3 fabrics per block. Further, I liked the idea of creating (and breaking) a visual lattice structure. The lattice gives a bit of depth and together with the square blocks it reminds me of an excavation site (like an abstract version of this one or that one), picking up the archeology theme of the patterns. Additionally, the wedge shape of the diagonal bar gives the lattice has a midcentury modern feel, which I like.

I though it would be a nice challenge for myself to figure out how to recreate these blocks without a printed pattern. It worked out okay, I would say. Some blocks were a little wonky, but I didn’t mind too much and it’s not that obvious in the finished quilt top.

The arrangement challenge

Making the blocks was somewhat iterative: I’d discover fabric combinations that I liked and try out new ones based on what I had already done. As a general rule, I did not combine two prints in a single block, but I did make some blocks that just featured solids.

When I had finished about 30 blocks, I started sticking them to a white board to try out different arrangements (image above). Here I loosely followed three rules:

  1. Frequently use pairs of mirrored blocks next to each other.
  2. Where non-mirrored blocks meet, carry over one of the fabrics from one block to an other.
  3. Occasionally breaks the grid symmetry by rotating the blocks or using “empty” squares.

Below are two images of my final arrangement, one in color and one in grey scale. There were some parts that I was sure about pretty early, for example the “upward pointing” set of three blocks that don’t form a lattice (right side of the quilt top). I also decided to give the quilt a gradient from darker, more saturated colors in the bottom to lighter ones toward the top.

The part that I struggled with most, was how to properly incorporate the darker blocks. I ended up creating two clusters of dark blocks, a small and a larger one that balance each other out a little. And I used the lattice to “diffuse” the blocks out into the rest of the structure. In the grey-scale image I’ve made some indications trying to illustrate these thoughts.

Overall I’m very pleased with the way this turned out. To further emphasize the idea of the excavation site I got a textured, sand-colored linen/cotton mix fabric (Essex Yarn Dyed in flax from Robert Kaufman) for the border. You can see a tiny bit in the picture on the left below, but it’s hard to appreciate the texture in this image. For the backing and binding I’m using one of Carolyn Friedlanders Architextures fabrics.

At the moment I’m busy basting the quilt and thinking about quilt designs that are suitable for a beginner like me and will do this quilt top justice!


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