Designs in Motion

Designs in Motion

Are you searching for ways to make your quilts more lively, more exciting? Would you like your viewers to linger longer, exploring the color, the pattern and the fabric choices you've made to discover how you achieved such an intriguing design? If so, consider creating the illusion of motion in your quilt.

You can employ simple design devices that will invite the eyes to follow a line or a progression or search for differences or similarities. Of course, the quilt doesn't move; your eyes move and that movement creates the illusion of motion over the surface. Your quilts will convey more energy and your viewers will be delighted.

Choose Patterns with Diagonal Lines

Whereas vertical and horizontal lines indicate stability and balance, a diagonal line conveys motion. Is it leaning? Falling? Stretching? Will it, can it stay where it is? All is unpredictable. The center square in the block shown at right tips slightly in contrast to the stable vertical and horizontal squares in the sashing.

Quilts made from this block are engaging because the center squares are unbalanced, but the repetition makes us comfortable. For a more jumbled effect, each block could tip the center squares in the opposite direction.

High contrast between a patch with a diagonal line and its surroundings intensifies the feeling of motion. Study the pinwheel block shown at right. Areas of greater contrast seem more active than where the fabrics are closer in value.

Choose Settings with Diagonal Lines

When set on point, its balance is uncertain. The diagonal lines make it seem precarious. This form creates a little tension--and it gets our attention. You can see this in Cobblestones shown at right. The quilt has much more energy with the blocks set on point rather than if they were set straight.

Repeat the Diagonals

The more a certain angled line is repeated, the more forceful the motion.

Think of the traditional Flying Geese pattern. Your eyes can't help but travel in the direction the triangles are pointing. The traditional Lightning, composed entirely of offset triangles, zigzags across the quilt -- and at a more compelling speed when in high contrast with the background.

Rotate the Shapes

Dutchman's Puzzle, composed of the same "geese" units but now grouped in pairs, forces your eyes to travel around the square.

And the old favorite Snail's Trail, composed of strategically placed triangles and squares, leads your eyes in and out as you follow the swirls, creating depth as well as direction.

Combine Different Kinds of Angles

To get the illusion of curves from straight seams in patchwork, combine shapes or blocks that have 45° angles with others that are made from different angles. The Storm at Sea block uses both 45° and 60° angles. The direction changes gradually, and your eyes see it as a curve. The bands of blue seem to wave and ripple across the surface of the quilt. No wonder it has been a favorite of quilters for so many years.

Many two-block quilts like this create exciting surprises in secondary designs when different angles meet.

Curve the Applique

Bending branches and graceful stems keep the eyes moving, whether it's with patches or embroidery. Our eyes, seeing parts of a curve, automatically complete it. In the block shown at left, notice the piecing in the leaves; their curved center seam joining the two greens adds more movement to the design.

Pick a Plaid

Plaids are ideal fabrics for creating movement. Made of vertical and horizontal lines, these fabrics can be cut off-grain to create the illusion of motion. Of course, the more contrasting the print, and the more off-grain your cutting, the more confusing the pattern may become. Be careful, your quilt may make you feel woozy!

Notice how the slightly off-grain plaid patches in this block from Miller's Crossing, shown at right, give a casual ambling motion to the quilt. If you'd like less motion, cut only a few patches off-grain.

Pick an Action Print

Even in a straight-set Nine Patch, your quilt can convey energy and the illusion of movement if you incorporate prints that swirl or twirl or ripple or wiggle. Interspersed with more stationary prints, it's fun to follow their interrupted line to continue the movement.

Use a Stripe

Our eyes automatically follow the lines of a stripe. Cut parallel to the outer edge of the "blades" in the block at right, these lines force our eyes in a circular direction. Had they been cut parallel to the longest side of the triangle, the lines would direct our eyes outward.


Gradate the Color

Gradations help the eyes travel by providing small steps from light to dark or from one color to the next. We follow the flow and the quilt design seems to move. Warmer and lighter colors usually come forward, cooler and darker colors recede; cool colors move us slowly, the warmer colors send us racing. The gentle teal and blue colors in the block at left give the illusion of liquid movement.

The gradation of color from peach to dark pink in the block at right suggests a woven design. The lightest color appears to be closest to us. As the value darkens, the patches seem to recede; we've created an undulating motion.

Scatter the Color

A scrap quilt can be made more dynamic by scattering small color surprises over the surface. A bright color with neutrals, a cool color in a warm setting, a dark color among mediums all will attract attention. The quilt becomes more lively as our eyes search for "matches."

Incorporating these design concepts into those on your design wall will guarantee more dynamic quilts that will reward both you and your viewers.

--Caroline Reardon





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