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The “Algebra” of Quilting

Detail from "Radically Ruched Roses."

Do you ever think that designing quilts is like solving an algebraic equation? It’s probably insane for a math-phobic soul like me to suggest such a thing, but I swear it’s true. Look, you’ve got a bunch of variables to solve before you can create the quilt you’re mulling over in your head. There’s the idea, fabric, design plan, technique, execution, quilting, and finishing. Get all those elements lined up and you’ve got a quilt.

So that’s i + f + dp + t + e + q + f = Q. That’s Algebra–right?

The challenge is getting all the variables to add up properly, which takes research, drafting/ redrafting, and best of all, a few fabric shopping excursions. You might audition an idea for a while and then drop it after you test a variation. Hey, you’re doing math by solving for the unknowns! Back and forth you go—perhaps sidetracked by other things and projects—and sometimes, years later, everything falls into place and Eureka! Equation solved!

Spiraling roses in my sketch and a feature in a recent Elle Decor with similar blossoms by Sonia Delaunay.

That happened to me recently.  Remember that workroom cleanup I mentioned last month?  Well, I found a sketch I’d drawn from when I was developing ideas for a proposal that eventually yielded my book, A Dozen Roses: Beautiful Quilts and Pillows, from Martingale & Company (co-authored with Catherine Comyns).

The idea for spiraling roses came from a page of beach towel images I’d torn from House Beautiful or some other interior design magazine—sorry I can’t find it to show you. The best one was a blue and white towel with horizontal stripes curling into snail shell shapes.  I saw roses where there were seashells and so I sketched out my idea.

Thoroughly Modern Rosie by Beate Nelleman and pillows from A Dozen Roses: Beautiful Quilts & Pillows

My Danish quilting friend Beate Nelleman took the sketch and developed a quilt pattern for us to include in the book. Her quilt was terrific and a wonderful addition to our collection of projects, but it was her riff on my theme,  not the original idea. Now as I look at my projects included in the book, I can see how I extracted elements from that drawing to use in other ways, but seeing the sketch again prodded me to bring that idea to life in my own way.

So, here’s a peek at Radically Ruched Roses still under construction. Check back in a few weeks for a pattern to download for our regular readers. Mind you, the quilt top does use miles of bias tape, but Elaine Beattie, long-arm quilter extraordinaire, has a suggestion.

Look at the Simplicity Bias Tape Maker/Presser she found included below. My experience is with the Clover bias tape makers.  And, if you don’t want to do any of that, consider giant rickrack and ruched bias tape, but making the bias strips gives you far more color and pattern choice.

Tools for manual method--Clover bias tape makers--or automation via the Simplicity product that feeds and presses the strips.

Just picked up my mail and found the latest issue of The Quilt Life (we’re the article on page 46)–it features my Flower-Powered Quilts special exhibit at the World Quilt Show last November. Wow! It’s such a pretty issue plus you can see the wonderful contributions of my very talented quilting friends (Christie, Darra, and Laura among the contributors).

Keep your eyes open for the August 2011 issue on the newsstand. BTW: Alex Anderson just told me that the magazine is offering an online sneak peek at the issue starting on Monday, June 27 along with a special subscription rate.

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