Ventures into quilt (block) design

What made me fall in love with modern quilting is the potential to play with graphic design and fabrics at the same time. In this post I will explain the design process that went into my first original block design, the “Organic Diamond” block, which was recently published as “block study” in Modern Monthly by the Modern Quilt Guild.

Emergent patterns in tiled designs

Long before I learned about quilting, I was fascinated by tiles and the magic that happens when they are combined in different ways to create unexpected secondary patterns. If you visit Lisbon, for example, you can find large-scale tile designs that cover full facades. While strolling through the streets I played a little game with myself, trying to guess from afar, the pattern of the tiles that made up the larger design.

An old block shines in a new light

This fascination underlies the design of my organic diamond block. The starting point was the classic flying geese block. I thought that it could be interesting to design a second block that would lead to a visual reinterpretation of the flying geese pattern when it gets combined with it. The result is a block (made up of a “ray” and a “flying geese” unit) that reminds me of both rays of light and stylized flower shapes, hence the name “organic diamond”. What I love about the design is that it lets a classic block appear in a new light by dissolving and extending its shape.

Block design on a 1 inch grid in adobe illustrator.

Virtual exploration of possible quilt designs

I designed this block in Adobe illustrator on a simple cartesian grid. Also in illustrator I then tried out different ways in which the two blocks (and it’s mirrored or rotated versions) could interact. I started with just pairs of two blocks. The figure below shows all the possibilities: The blocks in the first row are generated by two “ray” units, the ones in the second row by two “flying geese” units and all the ones below are combinations or one “ray” and one “flying geese”. To me some of these combinations clearly look more appealing than others, mostly because of the aforementioned secondary patterns that are created. However, this effect can be strongly influenced by the choice of color used for different areas in the block.

Exploration of how pairs of 2 blocks interact.

Some quilt designs

The nice thing about having a half-square rectangle as the base block shape is that you get a lot of possible combinations for the tiling of blocks. In the mini quilt design on the left, for example, some of the “flying geese” sit upright while others are rotated by 90 degrees.

Screen Shot 2019-03-05 at 2.01.07 PM
Ideas for mini quilts. The left one is what I went for with my  “organic diamond” block test quilt (see below).

The blocks also lend themselves nicely for designs that use negative space and depending on the color (and value) choices, the patterns can appear three-dimensional.

I also liked that it seemed easy to extend these designs into larger quilts. I think it would be fun to make any one of them. Just have to find time and the right fabrics!

An idea becomes reality

For my first attempt of realizing this design I decided to make one of the mini quilts that are shown above. I attempted — and mostly failed — to construct the “ray” block by precutting the pieces using just a ruler and a cutting mat with a 1 inch gird. The end result is pretty wonky, but I was still pleased with it.

After this experience I decided that foundation paper piecing was probably the way to go (though if someone comes up with a better construction method that doesn’t involve lots of paper, I’d love to know!). Luckily, generating paper piecing templates from a design in illustrator is pretty straight forward. For my first larger quilt with this design I picked up fabric in a range of teal, turquoise and muted yellow tones and I think they could work well together. As design I chose one that looks a little tribal to me.

Screen Shot 2019-03-15 at 11.50.05 AM

Due to a number of other projects I’ve been working on in parallel (mainly the Riley Blake fabric challenge and the AMH Dear Diary quilt) progress has been very slow. Here’s a small sneak peak at how the blocks look in real life. For me it’s always a special pleasure to see a (virtual) design become reality!

I’m super excited that the Modern Quilt Guild decided to publish my design and I’m looking forward to interpretations of this design by other quilters!

P.S.: If you decide to make something with this block please tag it with #organicdiamondblock, so I can find it!

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