Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at whipup.net over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Alissa Haight Carlton lives in Los Angeles and is one of the founders and president of the Modern Quilt Guild.  She has written two books, Modern Minimal: 20 Bold and Graphic Quilts and Block Party: The Modern Quilting Bee. She blogs at handmade by alissa.

My creative process for designing and making a quilt is something that I’ve consciously worked at developing. I’ve come to realize that if you don’t have a process, how do you know where to start and where to go from there? I’ve also realized that my process changes, depending on the purpose of the quilt. If a pattern is going to be written up for the quilt, I always start by sitting down and designing the quilt. I use Illustrator for this. My abilities with the program are limited, but I love that I can design everything to scale, so I know my numbers will all add up. Once the quilt is designed, I get down to the leg work of following my own pattern and making the quilt. I often find this tedious as it feels purely like labor, but I’m driven by my desire to see my vision become reality.

If I’m not going to write a pattern for the quilt, I work in a completely different (and, for me, a much more fulfilling) way. I tend to keep my design process going throughout the making of the quilt, which makes the construction feel less like labor and more like part of the creative process. I thought that I’d show this process through the designing and making of a specific quilt (the one pictured above).

Let me begin by saying that the single most important tool for me with this process is a design wall. I simply tacked some cotton batting to my wall that fabric sticks to. This way, I can put things up, step away, hem and haw and just generally look at it a lot. Getting a design wall was transformative for my quilt design and I’d recommend it to any quilter out there. You can see it here on the left side of this photo of my (never this tidy) studio space. It takes up a whole wall and is 100% worth it.

The first thing that starts me thinking about a quilt is usually the colors and fabrics. For this quilt, which was a commission, I was given some guidelines in terms of the colors requested, so I pulled all of my fabrics that I thought could work.

From there, I didn’t know what direction I was headed, but I knew I wanted to do some improvisational piecing, so I cut a whole bunch of the fabrics up into strips and started piecing.

I love improv piecing. I never worry about where the quilt is headed – I just enjoy the process and working with the different colors and fabrics.  I also tend to focus on shape and color placement quite a bit since I usually work with solids. I  have turned to solids more and more as I’ve progressed in my quilting. I personally find a lot of patterned fabrics placed together to be busy and that takes away from the graphic feel that I to go for in my quilt designs.

Once I’d pieced a fair number of the improv blocks, it was time to start thinking about where I was going to go with them. Now try as you might to avoid it, at some point you have to decide where you’re going with a design… Unless the quilt is going to be improv from corner to corner and then squared up at the end, you eventually have to do some planning and dreaded math. When I reach this point, I turn to Illustrator. I’d been thinking that I wanted to create stripes with the improv piecing (I like the idea of improv within a structured context) so I took a photo of the blocks lined up and cropped it to be a strip. From there, I put the photo in Illustrator and messed around until I came up with a plan of this simple woven effect.

You can see that I just stretched and squeezed the one photo as needed to fill in the stripes. I wasn’t concerned with getting it to look just right since the only goal here was to sort out placement of the stripes within the negative space. Since I work to scale in Illustrator, I can also establish sizes of all of my piecing and negative space portions this way.

So from there, I kept on improv piecing until I had enough to fill in all of the strips, and I cut out all of the pieces of fabric to fill in the negative space – placing it all up on my design wall as I went along.

Here’s where I made a mistake – one that happens to me semi-regularly. I didn’t go with my gut. The pale yellow was the only fabric that was almost right that I had in my stash, so even though my instincts were telling me it wasn’t completely right, I kept on going because I was eager to make progress with the quilt. After walking away from my design wall and coming back to it a day later, I knew I had to make a change. A pale tan was in order, not a pale yellow.

A trip to the fabric store later, I had the right fabric and I got down to business finishing the quilt top.

Once I finish a top, I always make the back using up fabrics I have left from the front. To be honest, I pay very little attention to designing these backs and tend to just put them together as the fabric I have allows.

When it’s time to quilt, I think long and hard about how to best compliment the design of the quilt. I tend to not think about quilting before it’s time to do it. I’ll think it through while I’m basting, and I take my time making the decision. Here I quilted the negative space with very dense straight lines that echo the piecing design and then I filled in the improv stripes with less dense lines. I stopped and started so that the quilting followed the “weaving” effect of the piecing.

From there, all that’s left is the binding! Again, this is something that I don’t think about until it’s time to do it and my instincts usually point me in a direction. I like to use the binding as a frame of sorts, so I’m usually drawn to one of the darker colors in the quilt top. Here I went with one of the darker yellows.

And there you have it, how I design a quilt, from start to finish. As I mentioned earlier, I love to keep the design process going through as much of the construction as I can. I get very bored by the labor of making quilts (yup. I’ll admit it.) and I’m not the type who can sit down and make the same block 100 times. I almost never make the same quilt twice. I’m driven by the desire to see what will come next and sometimes my quilts turn out very differently from how I’d first imagined them. I am also not scared of making mistakes. I have started many projects and once I was half way through I realized I simply didn’t like where the quilt was going so I stopped. I put it aside and chalk it up to a learning experience that I can apply to future quilts. Or maybe it can be chopped up and used in a different way? You never know where your ideas, even the bad ones, might lead you!


Guest series 2012: I asked fellow bloggers, makers and creators to write on their creativity and focus their essay on one of four topics: creativity and health, creativity and business, creativity and parenting or creativity and process. I am very excited to have a wonderful lot of fellow creative folk guest posting here at whipup.net over the next couple of months. Please welcome…

Chawne is a multi-craftual quilter who channels all her nervous energy into making blankets and quilts to keep folks warm. She blogs about the processes at Completely Cauchy.

Thanks a bunch to Kathreen for asking me to guest post about my creative process. I thought that I might illustrate my “process” with my most recent patchwork project.

My style of patchwork is predominantly improvisational with use of the full color spectrum at once. Overall, my inspirations for patchwork quilting are historical: the quilters of Gee’s Bend and Anna Williams, while Malka Dubrawsky provides some food-for-thought with colors.

Sometimes I sketch ideas beforehand, but most often my quilts are started impulsively without any planning other than choice of fabrics. But when a quilt is intended to be large, I will stop for a moment to sketch out some ideas on how to incorporate the impulse pieces into a cohesive design. In either case, the final product rarely resembles the sketch. Really, this brief planning is more of a moment to make sure that the engineering of the construction is sound and that the materials available are optimized within the vision.

A few weeks ago, my friend Lynne sent me a small packet of scraps of Oakshott shot cotton in various colors. I enjoyed the immediate constraint of the various sizes, shapes, and colors of the scraps that served as initial constraints on the patchwork possibilities. I envisioned using the fabrics to make miniature traditional precision-pieced quilt blocks for a smaller-scale quilted wall-hanging.

But after making as many quarter-square triangles as the fabric constraints would allow, only a few skinny strips remained. Without enough fabric leftover to make much else, I use my own improvisational techniques to make small blocks of improv (see my simple improv tutorial). It was impulsive to deviate from the precision plan and I couldn’t yet see how the blocks might work together. All these pieces were left on my sewing table for a few days as I reconsidered the design.

Days later, more fabric arrived (a gift from the owner of Oakshott) and I kicked into high gear on a much larger idea. There must be a way to combine precision-piecing with improvisation. The traditional blocks could serve as a calming influence on the potentially wild and crazy improv sections, maybe?  That is, exerting a modicum of control on what might become an un-tameable beast should, at the very least, be interesting.

Block by block, the design was doubtful. But things seemed to come together in the end. This is still a work-in-progress: the patchwork still needs to be quilted. Any ideas?

My own creative process is most effective when working under severe constraints–either given by limited fabric resources or by limitations in the ability to build a good patchwork that will stand the test of hard use and laundering. Sometimes I succeed, but  other times I have to go back and begin again. But working improvisationally means that “mistakes” become “opportunities” in a second attempt at a design.



In last weeks newsletter I showed off a few Colours of Australia which I loved so I thought I would do another colour palette inspiration from a photo I took of a corner of my house this week. Doing this can really give you some insight into your style.

A few weeks ago my family and I got together for a crafty baking sort of fun time to experiment with Easter baking and crafts. The result is our Easter themed Action Pack mini-mag – hope you like it! And hope you have a wonderful holiday weekend whether you celebrate Passover, Easter or something else!

This past week at Whipup has (quite accidentally) had a bit of a quilt/fabric focus with a guest blog post by David Butler (Parson Gray) showing us his new fabric collection (which I am seriously in love with) and a guest post by fellow Canberra quilter discussing modern quilting and reviewing a couple of recent Modern quilt books. But why stop there! Here are a few more fun quilting inspiration links to really get you wanting it.

And the quilt love doesn’t stop there! Reading this week…
  1. Make It Sew Modern: Gather, Twist, Pleat, Texture by Vanessa Christenson (Martingale & Co Inc January 2012). Very stylish simple beginner sewing projects (and includes some low- and no-sew projects too) that are achievable and elegant. With clear instructions and illustrations and uncluttered photos – these sewing ‘starter’ projects will get you going with making whole cloth and simply pieced quilts, simple bags, scarves and accessories. Sweet book!
  2. Fresh From the Clothesline: Quilts and Small Projects With Vintage Appeal by Darlene Zimmerman (Krause Publications November 2011). You might know of Darlene Zimmerman through her fabric ranges with Robert Kauffman or through numerous books on quilting she has written through the years. Her latest book is full of vintagy styled quilts and smaller projects made from traditional blocks and using repro feed sack fabrics. Very pretty! Instructions are clear and there is a good section in the back with techniques. I do have a big problem with this book though — most of the quilts require specialty rulers and tools and only some include a template instead. So if you don’t have these rulers and don’t plan on purchasing them then you will be disappointed in this book. However if you like a ruler/template/tool and want to collect a few and know what you can do with them and you want to make a few repro vintage styled quilts then this is the book for you!
  3. Sew to Swap: Quilting Projects to Exchange Online and by Mail by Chrissie Grace (Krause Publications November 2011). There are a few things to love about this book: 1. The projects are contributed by 17 designers (many are bloggers) which gives the book variety and interest in style, fabrics and designs. 2. The book is all about the online quilting community and all the lovely things that go along with that such as swaps and virtual quilting bees. It includes tips to get swapping and showcases various online virtual quilting communities. 3. The illustrations are amazing! 4. The projects are fun and range from pillows to mini-quilts and full sized quilts — all able to be swapped and shared and worked on as a group.

[Thanks to publishers and distributors for sending me books to review, I don’t get paid to post reviews but I am an amazon affiliate] (Australians can purchase craft books online through can do books or booktopia or else browse booko for the best prices.)

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Julie is a slightly unhinged fabric junkie! She is also stitching and crafting obsessed. As well as being addicted to tea. And cake. She is mumma to three beautiful little girls and cares deeply about the world they will inherit.  Julie blogs sporadically at Relish.

Modern Quilting

The “Modern Quilting” movement is happening around us and yet, what is modern quilting? What does that term mean? And how many people are actually aware of the movement? With the release of a number of books with the title “modern” recently, I have been thinking about what the term, in relation to quilting, really means.

When looking at art, there is a (reasonably) definitive period into which modern art fits. There is a generally accepted timeframe (from about the 1860’s to the 1970’s) and within the overall modern art movement, there are many styles (including impressionism, cubism, expressionism and fauvism). There are also many interpretations of the styles by many different artists but collectively, they form a movement that was an important turning point in the way we see art – these artists shifted art from being commissioned pieces for the wealthy, to being accessible to the greater population. Artists began to create for the sake of art rather than for a specific purpose (i.e. portraits of the privileged), they formed communities and practiced together, developing technique, discovering mediums and refining skills.

For me, there appears to be a great difficulty in defining modern quilting. However, when I began to think about modern art, I quite quickly drew parallels to the modern quilting movement. As modern quilters, we too are stepping aside of tradition, using colour in new ways, changing the rules if you like. We too have many styles within the movement and we too have developed communities, both online and in the real world. We are inspiring one another to push boundaries and experiment with our craft. Modern quilting, for me, is a movement that does not discard tradition but rather uses it as a basis to embrace change, to explore and to bend (and break) the rules.

While thinking about what modern quilting is, I have also been wondering about how popular or well known it is. A recent conversation with a quilter friend posed some interesting questions for me. My friend is very much a “traditional” quilter. The quilts she produces are stunning, technically precise and more than worthy of quilt show prizes. She is prolific in her crafting and belongs to both the local guild and a social quilting group. Yet, she knew very little of the online quilting community, did not understand what I meant when I mentioned modern quilting and was completely unaware of the style I was referring to. In addition, my local quilt shop stocks virtually no solids and certainly none of the fabric ranges that immediately come to mind when I think modern – certainly no Anna Maria Horner, Joel Dewberry, Anita Hoey – I do most of my fabric shopping online for this reason. When I have taken some books into the store looking for fabric that may be suitable for a project, the owner has not heard of the authors and is not aware of the blogging crafty community that I feel so connected to.

I want to know if this modern movement is known amongst quilters outside of it, are others aware of it? Can they appreciate modern the way I appreciate traditional without having to work that way? Or do they just not know that there are other options, because like me, their LQS does not stock the fabrics and books that allow them to branch out and they don’t follow the online quilting community? I wonder if modern quilting will one day be studied as we now study traditional quilting? Will it be recognised as a time of change, of inspiring a new generation to become sewists?  Modern quilting raises so many possibilities but what I’d most like to know is what you think? How do you define modern? Are you a modern quilter? And if not, how do you define your style? I’m really interested to hear your thoughts…

Two modern quilting books

I have so many books on the shelves that I just like to look at. I buy them and love them and am inspired by them. I also use them to get a creative fix when children and life get in the way of me actually stitching. Today I want to tell you about recently published ‘Modern’ quilting books which inspired the modern quilting thoughts above:

Book 1: Modern Mix by Jessica Levitt, (Stash Books 2011), features 16 sewing projects including quilts, pillows, bags and other projects (apron, camera case, table cloth, wall hanging) made using vibrant saturated prints and a range of Kona solids. The ‘modern’ aspect of this book centres on how the designer uses fabric and colour and the author offers advice on fabric selection and design and colour, which can be useful for building confidence in making a selection.

Book 2: Modern Minimal by Alissa Haight Carlton, (Stash Books 2011), features 20 minimalist quilts in a variety of sizes. I have serious quilt envy after coming across this book! While the design of each quilt is simple, the effect of the bold colour and contrast is stunning. The author provides two quilting options for each quilt and those who are more experienced can challenge themselves with the quilting detail as the designs lend themselves to showcasing stitches.

Comparison:  This is the hard part. Both books are beautiful and I am inspired by a number of the projects in each. I really like the layouts, Stash Books have achieved a clean and clutter free design (a modern essential) with lots of white space that makes these books easy to read. Both books contain projects that are straightforward and many would suit beginners.

In terms of ‘modern quilting’ I am more drawn to  Modern Minimal for the contemporary designs, use of colour and contrast and the move away from traditional blocks. It provides an inspiring platform of ideas from which to launch further creativity. It guides while encouraging exploration. In Modern Minimal I felt I was seeing something new, I enjoyed the improvisational piecing section and also the clever use of colour. This book is a beautiful example of ‘modern’ as it moves away from the traditional block assembly. The quilts are all achievable in terms of difficulty level and time – (which appeals to this time poor Mumma). In addition, as these quilts are made with solids, they are relatively budget friendly. While Modern Mix provides a variety of projects suitable for all levels of sewist, and the use of fabric and colour is bold and eye catching. By simply changing the fabrics and colours the traditional quilter would feel right at home with many of these designs — perhaps this will help to expose the modern movement to a broader audience.

Do you, like me, enjoy books just for the eye candy? Or do you purchase them because you will absolutely make a pattern you’ve seen? I like the tactile nature of a book so often I will purchase one that I see online because I just have to touch it, I just have to touch and flip those shiny new pages… Are you satisfied with reading online or do you like to touch too?


Welcome Weeks Ringle from the Fun Quilts studio who is visiting here today and discussing her and her husband Bill Kerr’s new book Transparency Quilts, their new magazine Modern Quilts Illustrated and talking to us about colour.

Kathreen asked me to write about color – how we use it and how we think about it. My husband and business partner Bill Kerr and I both have Masters degrees in design so we were taught color theory using the seminal books on color theory such as Johannes Ittens’ The Art of Color. Ittens’ book describes the terminology of color and the relationships between colors. However, understanding color and designing with it are very different things. We’re not big believers in “color tools” or formulas for color work rather we like to teach people how to “see” and think about color in new way.

Although those nice color forecasters at Pantone will tell you that this year the important color is “Tangerine Tango” and last year it was “Honeysuckle”, our aim is to design with an approach to color that will make our work seem fresh 20 years from now. Trendy colors come and go but great color work is timeless.

In our new book Transparency Quilts we show quilters how to look beyond hue (or color) and look at value (the lightness or darkness of a hue) and saturation (sometimes referred to as intensity). We describe in the book how to look at fabrics in a different way so you can begin to see that placing some fabrics next to others creates the illusion of a transparency. We have numerous examples of transparencies that don’t work because we know that it takes some visual cues to understand the complex relationship among a group of fabrics.

In general we approach designing with color with an idea or sometimes a question. We did a fabric line a few years ago celebrating the diverse flora found in the US. So while there were the predictable pinks and greens found in most traditional florals, there were also soft blues and greys for the succulents found in dry climates and deep greens found in the ferny forests of the Pacific Northwest. Occasionally we’ve asked ourselves questions such as “What would happen if Marimekko went to Guatemala? What would that look like?” or “How could you take Civil War fabrics and make them modern?” To us it’s the juxtaposition of two disparate design vocabularies that sometimes yields interesting color work. Sometimes it’s a memory. The inspiration for the color work in one of our quilts was my grandmother’s favorite swimsuit that she swam in along the shores on Virginia in 1968. It was a lovely 60s palette of aqua, light blue, olive and a seaweedy green that still looks fresh and sophisticated.

For a quilt that appeared on the cover of American Patchwork & Quilting a few months ago, we asked ourselves how far we could push the idea of eclectic – eclectic in pattern as well as color. As we gathered 36 very different fabrics together we knew that we’d have to have some constraints or it would turn into visual mayhem with Kaffe Fasset prints next to Civil War reproduction fabrics next to primitive prints next to traditional florals. So we eliminated very light fabrics, very dark fabrics and bright fabrics. By limiting our palette to medium-value, medium-saturation fabrics, we soon found that everything pretty much looked good together.

When I was a landscape architect I knew a renowned plantsman who began every garden design trying to figure out where his favorite plant would go. He had a go-to palette of plants that he liked to use and they formed the starting point of every design.

We work very differently. We’re out to discover new palettes, new combinations of colors and prints that you’ve never seen before and that you would never have thought to put together. A great compliment to us is hearing someone say, “I would never have thought those colors would look that good together.” The same goes for prints. In the second issue of our magazine Modern Quilts Illustrated we’ll be combining the fabrics of two designers at opposite ends of the design spectrum.

If you’re about to start a project you can do the same thing at home. Think about who the project is for or what you want the quilt to be about. Is it for a soft-spoken friend or a high-energy child? If you’re working off a fabric you love, what colors beyond the colors in the fabric would compliment it? Is it a bright fabric that might be calmed with a neutral or is it a large-scale print that might be easier to work with if paired with a smaller-scale print? For a little color inspiration we have included in Modern Quilts Illustrated a fun feature called Palette Chasing. We find an interesting palette in some part of the world and we reassemble the palette using currently available fabrics. Our first chase was at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The rich palette may be over 100 years old but it’s a classic. Future issues will take you around the world in search of great color work because spending a little bit of time planning color work never goes unrewarded.