Negative Space Can Be A Positive Thing

I like negative space in a quilt.


Overall, there is a lot of negativity in this old world – negative news, negative people, negative thoughts, negative bank accounts – and I am not a fan of any of those.  However negative space in a quilt is something I can get behind.  Let me explain what I mean.

Every image has the potential of having a positive and a negative.  Since it’s still fairly close to Valentines Day, let’s think about paper hearts – you know, the kind we used to cut out of construction paper.  The paper is folded in half and one half of the heart shape is drawn, intersecting with the fold of the paper.  When you cut out around the drawn shape, a heart is produced.  This is the “positive” of the heart.  The “negative” is the space left on the construction paper where the heart was.  It’s still the shape of a heart, but it’s empty – a negative.

That’s what negative space is in quilts – it’s empty space that a quilter can use for all kinds of positive things.  And that’s pretty simple, but it’s pretty close to the truth.  Let’s take a look at a “traditional” quilt.

Quilt with sashing

This little quilt has a lot going for it.  The blocks are set on-point – which to me automatically makes a quilt more interesting than straight across horizontal and vertical rows.  It has a nice double border.  It has nine-patch cornerstones.  For me, anytime cornerstones are pieced or appliqued, that’s a lot more interesting than plain squares of fabric.  And since this little quilt is about 68-inches square, that means that the nine-patches are small, and it takes some skill to make them turn out well.  But this quilt also has some great negative space going for it.

Notice the sashing (the white fabric strips around each blocks).  These are plain strips, about 3-inches wide.  Also notice there are some nice, non-pieced setting triangles in this quilt (the light blue triangles). There is absolutely nothing going on in the sashing or the setting triangles.

Now let’s take a look at this quilt.  Again, this is a “traditional” quilt.

Quilt with pieced sashing

The first thing that probably jumps out at you is how different the sashing is in this one.  The sashing is pieced – three strips of fabric sewn together to make each sashing.  The cornerstones are mixed.  Some are nine-patches, and some are plain squares.  It’s set on-point and the setting triangles are not pieced and neither are the cornerstones in the borders.  Again, this is a wall-hanging, so none of the blocks are large – so again, some skill is shown in matching the corners of the tiny pieces.

In both quilts, there is a good balance of pieced blocks and “negative” (plain) pieces.  Why is that important?  Those negative spaces allow your eyes to travel across the quilt at a leisurely pace and take in the quilt without feeling rushed.  You don’t think so?  Then let’s look at this quilt:


This is the 1718 Coverlet.  It is a thing of beauty and a joy forever.  It’s amazing, since a great deal of the fabric used was silk, that it’s held together this long.  It is English paper pieced and it is astonishing.

It also gives me a headache when I look at it.  Not that I don’t appreciate it or the skill and art that was involved to make it – it’s simply that I don’t know where to look first and the whole thing makes me kind of edgy because there is nowhere for my eyes to rest as I try to take it in.

Go back up a few paragraphs in this blog and compare the 1718 Coverlet to the two earlier quilt images.  This gives you an idea of how negative space – those patches of fabric that have nothing going on in them – makes a quilt work.  Instead of giving the viewer a feeling of unrest, it allows he or she to rest between blocks and take in the quilt a bit at the time.

Let’s twist the definition we’ve given to negative space just a bit and now let’s think of it in context of applique.  Look at these two tulip blocks.

In reality, these are two different sized blocks.  One is a 10-inch finished block and one is a 6-inch finished block.  However, what is striking with both of these blocks is the balanced blank space around each group of flowers.  The blocks allow enough negative space to let the eyes rest and to allow the flowers to have enough room to show off and not be too crowded.

Balance, my friend.  It’s all about balance.


Now I know what some of you are saying – there are some quilts out there that don’t have negative space and they work just fine.  Like log cabin quilts.

Okay, let’s take a close look at these.  I love log cabin quilts and have amassed enough soft yellows and blues to make one soon.  Log cabin quilts are quilts made from strips of fabric that form border around a center square.  Take a look at these images of log cabin quilts.


While there is no negative space as we’ve discussed above – no plain sashing or cornerstones – the designers have given the illusion of negative space by arranging the colors of the fabric to form seemingly non-pieced triangles.  These allow not only the eyes to rest, but also to travel safely across the quilt.

See, you gotta love negative space.  It really works well with a quilt.  It’s necessary and essential for any good, balanced quilt.  Even if it’s only the illusion of negative space.  Now…what do you do with all that negative space?

Well, quilt it, of course.  That negative space is an opportunity to let your quilt artist or yourself show off some serious quilting chops.  I think the Modern Quilters really do it best.  They’re not afraid of negative space.  As a matter of fact, they relish it and use the opportunity to do some great straight-line quilting.


Straight-line quilting not your thing?  Well, there are always feathers and wreaths and all other kinds of quilting motifs.

feathers - Copy

If the block is appliqued, you can always echo-quilt around the design in the negative space in the background or meander around it.

applique block

So, in summing all this up, there are several things to remember about incorporating negative space in your quilt:

  1. Don’t be afraid of negative space in your quilts.  It’s necessary for balance.
  2. That negative space can be a great place to showcase your focus fabric.
  3. It can also be a great place to show off yours or someone else’s quilting talent.
  4. Plan that negative space with as much skill and attention as you do your pieced or your appliqued blocks.
  5. If you’re still a little hesitant about using negative space to your advantage – after all, it does take some time – avoid using white or black in that space. Those tend to make the negative space pop out at the viewer.  Let your focus fabric or another quilt fabric fill those empty spots.


Until next week, Quilt with Excellence!


Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam





Another Shake Up in the Quilting Universe

Well, the quilting/fiber arts world has been shook up again this week.  Coats is shutting down its production of FreeSpirit Fabrics effective immediately.  Coats deals primarily with active wear and foot wear.  It purchased Free Spirit/Westminster Fabrics a few years ago.  According to  Stephanie Leichtweis, who became president of North American Crafts at Coats in October, Coats has “Worked diligently for the past few years to make this (Free Spirit and Westminster Fabrics) a successful part of the Coats Craft business here in North America.  But I am sorry to say that, despite our best efforts, we have continued to struggle with an inherent weakness in the business model and have not been able to demonstrate a profit.”

What does this mean for quilters?  Through FreeSpirit Fabrics, Coats had one of the largest and most influential stables of fabric designers ever.  Tula Pink.  Kaffe Fassett. Brandon Mably.  Philp Jacobs.  And those are just to name a few.  After May 1, it’s all over but the fat lady singing for FreeSpirit.  Tula Pink was just about ready to launch a new fabric line, too.  I think, by everything I’ve read, that will proceed, as pre-orders for that line have been very healthy.

This does not mean some of our favorite designers are out of a job.  Nope.  I imagine they will continue to design fabric.  Now they’ve just got to find a new partner to help with distribution and printing.  Will that be difficult?  I’m not sure.  You will remember in 2016 and 2017 I ranted and raved about the rate at which LQS’s were closing their store fronts and more and more quilt stores are moving to an on-line presence only.  The large on-line presence of such fabric conglomerates as, massdrop, etc., has definitely changed up the fabric shopping experience.

However, we’ve always counted on being able to somehow acquire the fabric by the designers we love.  Is this also now in question?  Let’s take a look at exactly what Stephanie Leichtweis said – Coats has worked diligently for the past few years to make this (FreeSpirit and Westminster Fabrics) a successful part of the Coats Craft business in North America.  But I am sorry to say that, despite our best efforts, we have continued to struggle with an inherent weakness in the business model and have not been able to demonstrate a profit.”

That is the same issue that LQS’s, larger big box fabric stores (think Hancock Fabrics), and book publishing companies have faced.  And while lots of these folks love quilters and quilting, unless they can turn a profit, they have no other choice but to close.  I think in Hancock’s situation it may be a little different – that was a great fabric store trying to be a one-stop home dec center.  Most folks that sewed didn’t go to Hancock’s to buy a table or a couch – we went to buy fabric and notions.  And with more and more of the floor space taken up by stuff other that fabric, Hancock’s lost a lot of its loyal base of customers.

So, while Coats may love its designers, they did a pretty crappy thing this week by taking all of them off-guard by announcing they’re shutting down FreeSpirit without giving the designers a heads-up.  Everyone is scrambling while Coats is looking to turn red ink into black in order to be able to stay in business.  I can’t blame any business entity for wanting a healthy bottom line.  But I can and do blame them for the way they handled it.


Going forward, what does this mean for everyone that quilts?  If a company that is as large as Coats is struggling to turn a profit on fabric, it once again means that quilters will have to adapt.  It may mean that we have to pay more per yard for quality fabric if we want that Tula Pink print or Kaffe Fassett yardage.  It means that we may have to carefully use our stash and purchase an extra yard or two of a designer print when we find it.  It could mean that if we really want that Mably or Jacobs fabric, we may have to resort to to get it – they may be the only resource carrying it.  And that means pulling away business from our LQS’s and that is not good.

We will adapt.  Quilters always have, and we always will.  I just think the next few years are going to be very interesting.  It will be fascinating to see how the market absorbs this new turn of events.


That said…I’m starting a new quilt called Stars Over Baltimore.


It’s a block of the week offered from Piecing the Past and it’s designed by Debbie MacInnis.  I got in a little late to purchase one of her kits, but I discovered Jo Morton’s New Hope fabric line and fell in love with the pinks and purples.



I’ve only made three quilts with any type of reproduction fabrics, so I’m excited to start this one.  My main partner-in-crime, Janet, is making this one, too.

I wasn’t able to get all my fabric from the New Hope line, so last Saturday several of my other quilty friends and I took a little road trip to Madison, North Carolina to Stitch Party Studio.  This outstanding quilt shop is located at 124 W Murphy St and is owned by Cathy Bogan.  It’s on a quiet street that is lined with older storefronts that have been charmingly updated.  I love this shop.  It’s bright and the owner is wonderful and so helpful.  She has marvelous lines of fabric and everything is displayed so you can see it.

Go there.  It’s worth a special trip to Madison to shop at Stitch Party Studio.

I purchased these fabrics to go with New Hope.  I can’t wait to get started!


Until next week, Quilt with Excellence!


Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

DSC01091 (1)


Even the Best Laid Plans…

I’m not sure what happened but I checked my calendar today and somehow it’s now Wednesday.

I’ve been writing a blog for several years now and I do have a plan of action for each week’s post.  I normally keep a list of topics I want to explore in the notes app of my iPhone.  This list covers everything from quilters I want to interview to things that inspire me to quilting problems I have faced down and solved.

I pick three topics and begin to write on all three, starting and stopping until they’re finished.  I normally always have three weeks’ worth of posts “in the can” at any given time. Sometimes it’s more but never fewer than three.  The weekend before the blog post on Thursday, I take the pictures and edit them.  They are then loaded up into my media files on WordPress.  Generally, no later than Tuesdays about lunch time, I have this week’s blog completed and after an additional round of editing on Wednesday it’s loaded up and scheduled to post on Thursdays as soon as I turn on my laptop.

But if you’re a regular reader, you know that my life has been the perfect storm for the entire month of January.  Between no heat, home renovations, stomach flu, and bad colds, I’m just proud of the fact that I haven’t missed a weekly post.

However, I have depleted my backlog.  Hence, my dismay when I looked at the calendar today, realized it’s Wednesday, and the “can” is empty.  So, this week’s blog post is simply a show and tell of what I’ve done in my studio this week.  I have a couple of very serious handwork projects going on at the moment, but I am not ready to show those at this point.

In January, I set some goals for my studio.  One of these goals was to go through all of my thread, separate it, discard the old thread, sort it by hand piecing/hand applique thread, colored machine thread, and regular piecing thread – then come up with a better storage system.  Until now, all of applique thread (both hand and machine) was stored in a spare project box.  While that did keep it all together, it was difficult to see exactly what I had.  I decided to invest in three of these boxes:

thread storage box

Not terribly expensive, these can be found at Joann’s and of course through Amazon.  These make it easy to see everything that I have.  I have my hand sewing thread in one of these and the rest of the thread in two additional ones.  The only spools that do not next inside these boxes are my Superior Thread machine applique thread and my larger spools from Connecting Threads.

Not only did it make my thread easier to see, I also got rid of some super old stuff.  Thread does have a shelf life, and although today’s thread remains viable for a number of years, eventually like everything else, it will show its age and begin to break as it’s fed through the machine.  If it’s older than 10 years or so, toss it.

At the beginning of 2018, my guild’s new first vice-president, Matthew Emerson, issued a challenge.  This challenge is to make a small quilt/quilt block, approximately 12-inches square, finished.  Do one for each month of the year and bring to the guild meetings to show off.

The only thing I could think of when Matthew issued the challenge was “What fun!”  Several months before Dragonfly closed, I purchased a tabletop quilt frame from the store but had yet to make a single quilt to put on it.  By the end of the year, I’ll have a dozen.  This is what I came up with for February.


I planned.  Honestly, I did.  But sometimes even when you’re paying attention to the details and the basics, making your work as excellent as possible…stuff like this happens.  I know this picture is poor quality, but can you see what happened?


YUP.  A binding seam showed up at the corner.  Oy-vey.  But I managed to get my way through it without too much trouble.

I already have March’s small quilt laid out on paper.  And I know what I’m pretty sure I’ll be designing for April and May.

Until next week…Quilt with Excellence!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam



Jelly Rolls, Layer Cakes, and Charms

jelly roll 1

I seem to attract Jelly Rolls…

Not the confection – the roll of cake with the sweet filling – but the fabric jelly rolls.  If you’re not familiar with that quilty vocabulary, let me explain.  A few years ago, fabric manufacturers decided to make pre-cuts of some of their most popular lines.  These are called layer cakes (10-inch squares), charm squares (5-inch squares), and jelly rolls.  Jelly rolls are 2 ½-inch x 42-inch strips.  There are usually 40 to 42 strips of these in a roll, two of each of the fabrics in a family.  They are cut in the factory-setting (hence, they are pre-cut before purchase).  Sometimes they are cut accurately, and sometimes not so much.

Jelly roll 2

The thought was, that because these sizes were some of the most frequently used in quilting, quilters would purchase them in large numbers, especially since the cutting was already done and the variety of fabrics was excellent.

Yup.  Pretty much right on all those accounts.  I have an entire bin of jelly rolls – over a dozen.  Of all those, I have purchased three.  The others I have won either as guild door prizes, as a contest winner, or were given as gifts.  They are all beautiful and I have immensely enjoyed looking at them on a shelf in my quilt studio…because frankly I had no idea what to do with them.

Until recently.

A friend of mine who was at the 2017 Drop Everything and Just Quilt! Retreat suggested that since so many of us had such a variety of pre-cuts, we should form a group and sew through as many as we could which always frees up space to buy more.   I was all for that, except the only pattern I had ever seen using a jelly roll was that strippy one from those Jelly Roll Races, and to be honest, that pattern did nothing for me.

So, I Amazoned jelly roll patterns and within 2.5 seconds, this book, written by Pam and Nicky Lintott appeared on my feed.

Jelly Roll Book

I purchased it and a couple of their other jelly roll books.  These ladies have been working with those 2 ½-inch x 40-inch strips for a while and they’ve come up with some great ideas.  They have also discovered that you can use this ruler:



And cut 2 ½-inch triangles to make half-square triangle units.  I love Creative Grid Rulers.  They have the non-skid patches on them that really help you keep your cutting accurate.

I am currently making the Lintott’s Circle of Friends Quilt from Jelly Roll Quilts in a Weekend.  The squares are large – 18 ½-inches unfinished – and there are nine of them in this quilt.  I’ve finished four, nearly through with the fifth, and will hopefully have the top put together before our jelly roll group meets again in March.

My blocks for Circle of Friends.  The safety pin at the top indicates that this is the top of the block and that I’ve oriented it correctly when I lay my quilt top out.  Since these blocks are symmetrical, it really doesn’t matter, but putting that pin in is a habit I’ve had for almost 30 years.

The meteorologists are predicting snow and ice for here on Sunday.  I’ve got a mini-quilt I need to finish as Halo and I need to have some serious “us” time.  I’ve filled the bird feeders to the brim and purchased three bottles of wine.  Let it snow!


Until next week, Quilt with Excellence!


Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam