We always look forward to Quiltmaker‘s annual staff challenge because you never know what the challenge will entail. This year’s theme was Surprise Yourself!, based on the book of the same name by Charlotte Angotti and Debbie Caffrey.
Surprise Yourself! follows Charlotte and Debbie as they approach their different design processes. Charlotte starts with the fabric for inspiration, while Debbie starts with the pieces and the math.
We used the guidelines in the book for this challenge. We could use four basic units: Four Patch, half- and quarter-square triangles and Flying Geese; we could add squares and triangles. They all had to finish at 3″, 6″, 9″ or 12″.
We invited Charlotte and Debbie to sew with us. Debbie’s thoughts are below.
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Challenge quilts are great for pushing me out of my comfort zone. While the piecing was mainstream to what I do (After all, Charlotte and I wrote the book!), the fabrics and the limitation to stay within a fabric line were big challenges. The Timeless Treasures Tancho collection has just eight pieces, and I added some of the Soho solids for contrast.
One rule in our challenge was that the finished size of the pieced units had to be 3″. When I saw the Decorative Squares yardage, I knew I had my starting point. Each of the squares on that fabric was 3″ across and looked like painted tile. I began by cutting them out and putting the “tiles” on the design wall.
I went on to piece the challenge units, using the ivory tone on tone Fans fabric as the background in each unit and numerous black and gray solids from Soho. I was fairly sure the ivory Fans would be the background to tie the quilt together. Plan B was that I might use solid black for the background.
Once I had pieced some of every unit I added them to the “tiles” on the design wall. I continued piecing units and rearranging them on the design wall to create movement. I realized that I wasn’t showcasing the other print fabrics from the line. That is when I decided that the Large Floral with the black background was not going to be the border. Instead, it became my background.
There was only one thing that bothered me. It had large white flowers that overwhelmed the ivory in the other fabrics. I cut the floral background into 3 1/2″ wide strips. Then I cut away the white flowers in each strip, leaving behind all of the other colors—in random lengths of 3 1/2″ wide strips. I started filling the blanks on my design wall with these rectangles, cutting them to fit. Once I had all the pieces on the wall, sewing the quilt together was a simple task of making horizontal rows.
The quilt was still incomplete. It needed a border, but not just four rectangles of a fabric. I had asked for yardage of a backup choice for the border, Flower Circles.
I cut that fabric lengthwise into four border strips, two narrower than the other two. Cutting the borders on the lengthwise grain kept the circle motifs intact. Then, I split each border into a 1:2 ratio. I added a 1/2″ strip (1″ cut) of solid black to both sides of each of the narrower pieces. Matching the design, I sewed the wider part of each border to its appropriate piece. Do you see how the circles are matched? It looks like I appliqued the narrow black strip to an intact strip, but I pieced it.
Finally, I added the borders to the quilt, using partial seaming.
Designing quilts using basic units is really very simple when you approach it with an open mind and allow the fabric to tell you what happens next. Give it a try. Surprise Yourself!
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