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Little Ways to Make Your Quilt Yours

 This year is quickly drawing to a close.  Most of us (despite all the Christmas hullabaloo) are looking at 2022 in the rearview mirror.  There’s less and less of the calendar on the wall and the shiny new one is just waiting to be unwrapped and hung up in its place.  With this in mind, I’d like to take some time to review this year of “Make Your Quilt Yours!”  We’ve covered a lot of territory in 52 weeks.  However, I would feel remiss if we didn’t review a few of the ways we can take a quilt pattern and make a quilt from that which reflects our tastes, our personalities, and our concerns.

  1.  Substitute the colors.

For some quilters this comes easy.  They take a look at the pattern, review their stash, and make a list of what fabrics on hand matches the yardage and value requirements.  They may let this simmer over night to make sure they’re in quilting Zen about their choices, then grab their rotary cutter and get down to business.

For other quilters, this may not be as easy.  If a quilter has been used to picking out fabric which resembles those used in the pattern (or purchasing a kit), the decision to stray from this can cause some anxiety – will the quilt look right with my fabric choices verses the designers?

Let me reassure you, there is a way to make sure your quilt will be just fine.  It all has to do with color value.  Color value is defined as:  The value (also called lightness or luminosity) of a color is a measure of how light or dark a color is while its hue is held constant. The lightness of an object depends on the reflectance of that object.     As a former physics teacher I could go into color waves/particles, refraction of light sources, etc., but I won’t.  The concept of value which is important to all quilters is this – the lightness or darkness of a fabric.

That’s it.  That’s all you need to be concerned with.  And now the question you may have is, “How do I tell what the value of a fabric is?”  As quilter, it’s important to know all quilting fabric falls into three value categories – lights, mediums, and darks.  As a matter of fact, if you have an older quilting pattern, when the yardage is listed it may only note so many yards of lights, so many of mediums, and so many of darks.  However, these directions were written back in the day when fabric manufacturers actually produced true darks.  Most of what masquerades as darks now are really mediums.  So how do you feel comfortable about the choices you make? 

It’s honestly not hard.  Most of us are in possession of this:

A cell phone. And one of the neatest features on a cell phone is a camera and the camera plays a major role in determining the color value of fabrics.  Let’s say we want to make this quit:

But we want to make in a different color way.  No problem.  Take a picture of the quilt pattern front.

Somewhere in the camera settings on your phone, you have the ability to change the picture’s appearance from a colored photo to a black and white one.  You want to find that setting and flip the picture to a black and white appearance.  I have an iPhone 12 Pro.  I simply pull up my picture, tap edit on the top right-hand corner of my screen and find the saturation button at the bottom.  I click this on and lower the saturation level to -100.  The colored picture changes to a black and white one.    This black and white image is very important.  The areas which show up as white or nearly white are the lights.  The gray parts are the mediums, and the nearly black sections are your darks.  Simply reference the black and white picture against the yardage requirements in the pattern directions and you’ll be fine. 

I would also repeat the same photo process for the fabric.  I would do this because, like I stated earlier, fabric manufacturers are producing fewer and fewer true darks.  Most of the fabric families on the quilt shop shelves are actually mediums, even though they may “read” dark when compared to the other fabrics.  Take a picture of the fabrics you want to use, flip it to black and white, view it with a critical eye.  Make sure you have a fabric which will work as a true dark.  The use of only lights and mediums in a quilt can result in a “muddy” looking quilt top.

  •  Change the size of the quilt.

When I started quilting, my target patterns were always small quilts.  There were reasons behind this:  smaller quilts took less fabric, therefore cost less; smaller quilts took less time to make; and smaller quilts were easier to quilt on my regular sewing machine.  The longer I quilted, the bigger the quilts became and soon I was making bed quilts almost exclusively.  Now I have more bed quilts than I need, and I’ve gifted quite a few to family and friends.  So, my quilting has gone back what was in the beginning – primarily small quilts I can use as table toppers, table runners, cuddle quilts, and lap quilts.  I still make a few bed quilts, but not nearly as many as I did years ago.

However, what hasn’t changed is the appeal of certain quilts.  I still make the quilts I like, only I tend to make them smaller. 

You may find yourself in a similar situation.  You may not need bed-sized quilts or may not want to invest in the expense of all the fabric.  If you quilt your own quilts on a domestic machine, it’s certainly easier to handle the bulk of a smaller quilt than a queen-sized.  If any or all of these conditions describe where you’re at in your quilting journey, don’t be afraid to shrink the quilt.  Make the blocks smaller or make fewer blocks.  Just adjust your borders accordingly.   Or leave the borders off entirely. 

The same holds true with enlarging a small quilt pattern.  You can increase the size of the blocks or add extra borders.  The only word of caution I would issue is this:  be careful with applique quilts.  Sometimes the applique pieces lose their characteristics if enlarged or shrunk too much. 

For a more detailed description on how to do this, go here:  https://sherriquiltsalot.com/2021/10/20/running-all-the-numbers/ where I have all the math formulas there for you.

  •  Alter the borders.

Personally, I think borders can be the most underrated part of a quilt.  If a quilt was a sentence, the borders are the end punctuation.  Therefore, borders can be a question mark, a period, or an exclamation mark.  Let me explain.

It’s super-easy, once you get to the end of the construction of the quilt center, to just measure it for the borders, cut out some fabric strips, and sew them on.  At this point, you’re probably ready to bring closure to a project which may have taken weeks or months or years, but who’s judging?  I call these borders periods.  Even though the fabric may be lovely, you may have added a flange, or even multiple borders, but they’re all still just fabric strips, measured correctly and sewn on.  They’re the Friday sigh of relief after a long week at work.  Nothing particularly ugly, but nothing really eye-catching either. 

Border question marks are those quilts without borders.  Is the binding large enough to serve as a border?  Should it be considered a border?  Does the quilt need borders?  Why doesn’t the quilt have borders?  So many questions…

Then there are the borders which are exclamation marks.  These are the ones which not only frame the quilt center in the loveliest possible way but are works of art within themselves.  You can tell the quilter took the time to plan and execute borders which aptly draw a conclusion to the quilt.  They not only frame the center, but also pull the eyes to and from the center.  They complement it and repeat certain elements in the quilt which brings both cohesion and conclusion to it. 

Next to substituting color choices, altering the quilt border can be one of the easiest ways to put your signature on a quilt.  If the quilt pattern has some applique on it, it’s easy to repeat the applique in the border.  If the quilt is pieced, use some of those blocks in the border.  Allow the border to echo what’s in the center of the quilt.  Not only will it add a bit of pizazz, but it will give the quilt cohesiveness. 

  •  Develop some signature elements.

If you’ve walked in the quilt world long enough, you know there are some quilts you can look at and just know who they belong to.  Judy Neimyer is one.  Most of her quilts have this dazzling center with lots of spikey elements and flying geese, softened by some circular motion or elements.  Kim Diehl is another.  She can take traditional quilt blocks and turn them on their heads or put them in such a sweet setting that it makes you immediately want to make one of her quilts.  These designers have consistently used these “trademarks” to their advantage.

There’s no reason you can’t do this, either.  This can be approached in so many different ways but let me offer a few suggestions.

  • Have a signature color.  I admit, this one is one of mine.  Most of my quilts (not all of them, but most), have purple in them somewhere.  Purple is my favorite color and is usually found somewhere in my quilts – even if it’s just on the label.  This one has gotten so bad that if my quilty friends can’t find purple in one of my quilts, they’re a little disappointed.  It’s kind of like Find Waldo, but with fabric.
  • Add some sparkle.  I don’t mean actual sparkle, such as is in metallic fabrics.  Adding sparkle to a quilt means finding a fabric which may be unexpected and adding it to your quilt top in small amounts.  Some quilters call this their “zinger” fabric.  It adds just a bit of a different twist to a top.  For instance, let’s say you’re making a quilt which is primarily purples and greens.  Your sparkle may be an over-dyed orange fabric, used sparingly in the smaller pieces of blocks.  It adds spice to the quilt top and helps the eye move across it. 
  • Have a signature quilting motif.  This motif doesn’t have to be large.  It can be worked into the quilting in some way – it doesn’t have to be the primary motif.  For instance, mine is hearts.  Most of the time – especially if I quilt my own quilts – somewhere on the top will be quilted hearts.  I have a friend who quilts her name into the quilt.  I chose hearts kind of by accident.  It was one of the first quilting motifs I learned to do by hand and machine.  I have gotten really good at making them and use them judiciously. 
  • Quilt your conscience.  This one can be a little tricky, and truthfully, it may be the one signature element about your quilts only known by you until word gets out.  I came upon this idea when researching a blog I wanted to write about Quaker Quilts (which I shelved – not enough information available and I felt an actual person with Quaker beliefs could do it better and more accurately).  During the pre-Civil War Era, Quaker women refused to purchase fabric or cotton for batting which was produced by slave labor.  They held steadfast against the enslavement of any persons and could not in good conscious use anything produced via slave labor.  Therefore many Quaker quilts were made of woolens, linens, silks, and fabric imported from England (which had outlawed slavery years before America did).

Today, the idea of quilt your conscience may include quilting “green.”  It could mean using batting produced by environmentally friendly methods, or fabric dyed in such a way it doesn’t hurt the environment.  It could mean upcycling left over quilt blocks or making scrap quilts in order to reduce the among of fabric in landfills. 

This also could mean quilting current events – goodness knows enough of us did during Covid.  These quilts not only are a historical marker, but also provide quilters an emotional out for their feelings, their fears, and their thoughts. 

  •  Design a signature label.

I hope by now I have drilled into your mind the importance of labeling your quilts.  The label should list your name, city and state, the date the quilt was completed because the date it’s started and the date it’s completed can be years apart, and who the quilt was made for and the occasion (if any).  This is the minimum which needs to go on the little fabric label on the back of your quilt.  However…you don’t have to stop here.  The printing can be done in your favorite color.  You can handwrite the label, embroider it (by hand or machine), use a favorite applique element, or ink in a small picture.  The wonderful designer Tula Pink includes an esoteric fact on her labels – something I started including on my label several years ago.  Somewhere on my label will be the average price of some household good that particular day.  It could be a loaf of bread, a cup of coffee or a gallon of gas. 

SONY DSC
SONY DSC
SONY DSC

If you’ve made the quilt during some kind of  major crisis, such as COVID, it’s good to indicate that somewhere on the label, too.  It puts the quilt in historical perspective. 

By adding more than the standard information on your quilt label, you’ve made that element of your quilt uniquely yours.  All changes don’t necessarily have to go on the front of the quilt.

I hope this blog helps you in two ways.  First, I hope it assists you in overcoming any anxiety you may have about changing up quilt patterns.  Remember, it’s just fabric and it’s just a quilt – and honestly, there are very few things which can’t be “fixed” on a quilt.  Secondly, I hope it inspires you to make each quilt you construct uniquely yours.  These design elements don’t have to be large or complicated.  They can be small and tucked away in a corner or on the back of a quilt.  Dream big, start small, and then work your way into making a quilt truly reflect you, your values, your sense of humor, and the love you have for quilting.

Until next week, Make Your Quilt Yours!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri

6 replies on “Little Ways to Make Your Quilt Yours”

Wonderful advice! I always try to make a quilt my own. Does it take some thought? Sure, but it’s worth the extra time and effort. Thanks for continuing to blog, your information is invaluable!

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