Stitching Times serves up stories, examples and tutorials about needlework related crafts, especially quilting and crochet. Almost all of the projects shown have been designed by Kay Stephenson

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Improvisational Quilting: Floating Frames

For most of the quilts I design and make I start out with a pretty complete design on paper before I begin cutting into fabric. The quilt I made for my niece Coleen, dubbed Floating Frames, was not like that at all. When I saw this fabric collection from P&B Textiles in the Hawthorne Threads newsletter, I really loved it and ordered a half yard of most of the prints in the line, plus a couple of recommended coordinating fabrics. I always love it when online shops take the guesswork out of finding coordinates, don't you?
photo courtesy Hawthorne Threads
A couple of months later, after looking at it for a bit, I decided the colors would work for a quilt I wanted to make for my niece. However, I knew I was going to try something improvisational, so guessing the amount of fabric I would need was a bit of a challenge. Just to be safe, I ordered a few more prints and solids. Well and then I didn't think I had enough fabric for the backing... Before I knew it, I had 14 1/2 yards of fabric.

Hah! Talk about crazy town. The good news is that after making a quilt that measures approximately 50 by 60 inches, I still have almost six yards left in pieces ranging from more than a fat quarter to more than a yard. That's enough for another whole quilt top! 

But enough about stashing building and busting. The real question is this. How do you write up a pattern for a truly improvisational quilt? My conclusion is that I can't. Others have, I know, but I could never tell you at this point how to precisely measure and cut to make a quilt that looks exactly like the one I made.

I needed that big red dahlia for the center!
However, I can share a bit of process. The first thing I did was to cut out some large blocks (six by six inch) of the prints I wanted to be focal points. Next I cut strips of all of the other fabrics in widths of 3 inches, 2 1/2 inches, 1 1/2 inches, and one inch. I used these strips to build frames around the center blocks, building them up and trying to maintain a contrast of light and dark with small pops of red.

Frames floating on a black wall
After looking at the resulting big framed blocks, and laying them out against a black background this way and that, I decided that I wanted to set them on point and add lots of smaller blocks scattered in and around the larger ones - much like a modern grouping of photographs on a wall, but all askew.

This little block almost fell off the edge
This is where things got interesting. It was easy enough to cut various pieces of the colorweave black (my background fabric) and to join and square the blocks up into rows. What I hadn't counted on was the corners. In order to finish the corner pieces I cut a bunch of triangles. What I neglected to pay attention to was where the bias edge was going to fall on these triangles. As you can imagine, I had some fits (and colorful language) when these bias edges tried to warp the whole thing out of shape. Next time I would cut more carefully to place the bias edge (if there must be one) in the least difficult location. In my opinion, that is along an outside edge where the whole thing can be squared up if need be.
Quilt back
Despite my whining, this whole project really was fun, and I will definitely continue to do more improvisational piecing - even on point projects like this one. I even did a wonky piece job on the back of the quilt. Just a glutton for punishment I guess. Though I learned a great trick for making sure that a pieced back is lined up with a pieced front in this Wendy Butler Burns class on

Labels tell the story
So I can't give you a pattern to follow, but I can give you a suggestion. Buy a stack of coordinating fabrics and start to play. When you are finished, you can add a label like this one that tells the world, "I made this".

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