Creating the Composition from 100 Days of Modern Quilting

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Compose…to formulate, devise, think up, produce, invent, orchestrate, choreograph.

As quilters we do all of the above to create the compositions that are our quilts.  The fabrics, colors, blocks, and how we use the space in our quilts are some of what we consider as we design and make our quilts.  Composition is the focus for Week 6 of the 100 Days of Modern Quilting.

We’ll look at how quilters use negative space in their quilts.

Proposal Moon by Jacquie Gering

We’ll see traditional blocks used in interesting ways.

Outside In by Jacquie Gering

And how even a touch of color can change the composition of a quilt.

Steely by Jacquie Gering

We hope you will be inspired by the quilters this week and their insights into composing their quilts.

Featured Quilt 1

First up in the Week of Composition is Dan Rouse’s “Ripple” quilt. We can all learn much from Dan when it comes to composing a quilt.

Ripple quilt by Dan Rouse


Tell us about this quilt.
“The Ripple quilt began last spring when Robert Kaufman Fabrics distributed charm packs to the quilt guild and challenged us to make quilts using only solids. About the same time Accuquilt sent me a fabric cutter to try out. As it turns out, combining solids from all (dusty) shades of the rainbow, and block-based quilt design are both outside my comfort zone, so I decided to wrap it up into one challenge.

I tried several layout options, and wasn’t pleased with any symmetrical tile patterns. The colors don’t have a lot of umph, and it just came off a bit sleepy. I ended up separating the units into one group colored centers and neutral edges, and a second group with neutral centersand colored edges. I then subdivided each of those groups into 8 piles by hue. Finally, I paired hues to make 8 block groups.”

Playing with the units I settled on the idea of water droplets hitting a pond, creating ring wavelets that soon disappear. I arranged the units around a central circle, filling with additional Kona snow as necessary. The quantity of drunkard’s path units was limited by the size of the fabric pack. This constraint became an opportunity to create a deconstructed sense of fragility in an otherwise stark composition.

Ripple quilt (close up)


The quilting uses several different colors, with all of the concentric circles around any drop in the same color. The colors are light blue, light ochre, moss green, deep red, and white. The drops overlap in different amounts. Some drops have more rings than others. Some of the quilted drops are set completely in the white background, with no drunkard’s path blocks, hinting at drop rings that have all but faded away.”

What do you consider when composing your quilts?
“I’ll start with something I don’t consider very much at all. I never start with a specific print or fabric collection. Rather, I start with a design idea, shape, or geometry, and find fabrics that work with that idea. With very few exceptions I have an clear idea what I want the quilt to look like before I consider a single fabric. The Ripple quilt was unusual for me in that I started with a pack of fabric and a drunkard’s path block as initial constraints, and didn’t compose the quilt until all the blocks were sewn.

To achieve the design it is essential to have contrast. The stronger and simpler the contrast, the easier it is to read the design. With more levels or gradation of contrast, the design becomes more delicate and achieves a sense of depth.  A high level of contrast clearly defines positive and negative space, ideally giving a sense of foreground and background.

There are lots of tools to achieve contrast. Value, or the relative lightness or darkness of a color, is an important compositional tool for quilters. Color hue is also very important.

Scale is all about size relationships and creating appropriate balance between the size of fabric prints, individual pieces, and positive and negative space.

Finally, rhythm is a key element in an interesting quilt. By arranging the elements with a sense of rhythm you direct the viewers eye across and around the quilt and create a sense of energy and movement in a static object. I use all the above concepts to varying degrees to achieve rhythm. I think the Ripple quilt is a good example of rhythm. The irregular construction and placement of the drop formations creates multiple paths and loops for the eye to follow, with the overlapping concentric quilting suggesting connections between adjacent elements, so the viewer doesn’t feel she ‘knows’ the quilt at first glance.”

Ripple quilt by Dan Rouse (Back)


Tell us a bit about yourself and your quilty history.

By profession I am a landscape designer, working mostly in residential gardens in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have years of training and practice in a design field.

For the most part I am a self-taught sewer and quilter. My mom taught me how to use a sewing machine when I was a kid, but I lost interest and didn’t sew anything for years until the 2006 Gee’s Bend exhibit at the De Young piqued my interest. Inspired by the confident use of color and playful improvisational technique, I immediately purchased two books on quilt making. Alas, the books sat for a few more years before I finally started sewing in 2009. But now I’m hooked. I’ve been sewing quilts non-stop ever since, and recently started teaching classes at my LQS.

Dan is a member of the East Bay Modern Quilt Guild and you can find him and his amazing work on his blog, Piece and Press.

Featured Quilt 2

The name of our second featured quilt, “Limitless”, reminds us of the myriad of possibilities we have for composing our quilts. Melissa shares her thoughts on composition and on this wonderful quilt.

Limitless by Melissa Herboth


Tell us about your quilt.

“I was inspired by the colors of the colorado sky and fields to create something that would remind me daily of our trips out west to go hiking. The color band is a repeating theme of horizon and sky that continues on and on, limitless. The sides are a neutral mix of white, off-white and grey, so as not to draw the attention away from the vertical band.”

What do you consider when composing a quilt?

“Color & pattern play a big role when i’m thinking of a composition. Many times when I buy new fabrics I don’t have an idea of what I’ll actually do with them yet. For me, it’s the color and patterns that inspire me the most, how they’ll work together when stitched together. Fabrics have their own voice, and sometimes the voice changes when they’re paired with each other differently – it’s finding that right combo that says the perfect thing.”

Tell us about yourself and your quilty history.

“I started quilting as a hobby after a textile art class in college, but my interest goes further back. I made my first quilt when I was about 13 years old with some blocks I batiked at a friend’s house. My grandmother showed me how to put it together and instead of hand stitching we tied it. After college I wanted to pass along gifts to friends for special occasions that would create a keepsake for years and generations just like I had with my family. I have belonged to the Triangle Modern Quilt Guild for 2 years now, and look forward to rejoining this year!”

You can find Melissa and her quilts on her blog blu or her website.

Featured Quilt 3

Today, Jessica Toye shares her Plum Kebab quilt which is another example of how a set of simple charm squares can transform into an interesting, unique composition.

Plum Kebab by Jessica Toye


Tell us about your quilt.

“This quilt was created for the Kansas City Modern Quilt Guild’s Robert Kaufman No Prints Allowed Challenge and the composition of this quilt evolved throughout its creation. I had an overall vision in mind while designing. As it came closer to completion, I was reminded of kebob skewers.”

What do you consider when composing a quilt?
“One of my major focuses in this quilt was to create movement. I wanted the colors of the charm squares to flow into one another and accomplished this by leaving them in the order they came packaged in. I tried to create a rhythm by breaking the colors within the charm squares and carrying the color into the next block. The grey “skewers” were meant to interrupt the flow and define ribbons of movement. Special attention was given to the balance of static and dynamic aspects of the design.”

Plum Kebab in progress

Tell us about yourself and your quilty history.

“My mother taught me the basics of sewing at a very young age. I became interested in quilting around the time I was in 4th grade. My quilting adventures went dormant until I started college when I began sewing fairly traditional quilts for friends I knew who were starting to have babies. Somewhere along the line I started to transition from following traditional patterns into creating my own designs and a more contemporary aesthetic. My interest in modern quilting progressed when I discovered blogging and the online quilting community. I am a member of the Kansas City Modern Quilt Guild and am constantly amazed by the fresh ideas the other members of the guild bring to quilting.”

Jessica shares herself, her family and her designs on her blog, Sewbots Lab.  Be sure to check her out!

Featured Quilt 4

Can you help but smile when you see this quilt?  We like that Norma looks at her composition in two ways, from one perspective she sees the “Leader of the Pack” and looking at it another way, “The One Who Got Away”.

Leading the Pack by Norma Cecil


Tell us about your quilt.
“Composition can come in many forms.  For this little quilt, it was a happy accident and learning a new technique which led me to this particular composition.  I wanted to play with my Recess stash and teach myself how to paper piece.  As I paper pieced, I envisioned a little boy’s quilt with rows of little fish using all the yellows, oranges, blues and reds in the collection.  I somehow ended up with one flowery little fish, which certainly stood out from the rest.  Well, of course I had to somehow incorporate her into the quilt and the composition was born.  She would have to ‘Lead the Pack.'”
What do you consider when composing a quilt?
My first consideration when composing a quilt would have to be the fabric.  The color, pattern and texture in fabrics nowadays are amazing.  I would then consider size, how big do I want my canvas to be?  Also, will I be using a pattern, a particular block, or am I doing something improvisational?  But mostly I have fun playing.”
Leading the Pack close up
Tell us about yourself and your quilty history.
I’m a member of the Bakersfield Modern Quilt Guild.  I have to travel a couple of hours one way to attend meetings and sew-ins, but is is so worth it.  I’m also a member of the newly formed Fresno Modern Quilt Guild, which is where I live.  We had our first meeting this past Saturday and I can’t wait to see it grow.”
You can see more of Norma and her quilts on her blog, Norma Sews.