To be a bit cliché, this shoemaker is a professional Web Developer and her child is this blog, but it was past time to launch what I have of a new design. All the content is still here, everything else is a work in progress (kind of like most of my sewing projects)!
A bit sooner than anticipated (prompted by a comment from a reader), here’s the next edition of my Half-baked Blueprint series. Remember, these are not patterns; think of them as rough outlines of the inspiration, math, fabric, and techniques I use in some of my quilts—there’s a lot you’ll have to fill in yourself. My hope is that it will inspire other quilters to play with quilt top designing rather than always reaching for published patterns.
Three years ago, I pieced the Lollipop Baby Quilt quilt improvisationally, initially aiming at creating a straight-forward Jelly Roll Race quilt (albeit with a strange non-standard roll of half-strips). Halfway through, I paused to do a few quick math calculations and chose to piece it in four sections.
Supplies for the Quilt Top
20 2.5″ x width of fabric strips
All of your strips are between 40-44″ long, with the selvages removed.
You’re piecing straight across the strips, not diagonally as in some Jelly Roll Race quilts.
If you want to piece the strips diagonally, you’ll need three (3) extra strips, 23 total.
You’re sewing the strips together with an exact 1/4″ seam allowance.
Jelly Roll Race quilt measurements are inexact by nature—the whole point is to just sew everything together and square it up at the end, if needed. Piecing blocks is largely the opposite—you need relatively precise measurements so that everything joins up correctly. To mesh the two, you need to be willing to deal with both.
The (Mostly) Inexact Parts
This is just basic Jelly Roll Race quilt making, but you stop mid-way through.
Sew all 20 strips together, end to end. You should have a strip that is at least 800″ long. If it is shorter, you need to add one more strip. If it is longer, that’s great. Most of the time, it should end up around 820″ long at this point.
Cut exactly in half, then sew the two strips together along the long side. Now, you should have something that is 4.5″ x 400″ or longer. Square up the ragged end if needed, but try to not cut off too much.
Cut in half, sew along the long side, result should be 8.5″ x 200″ or longer (4 strips tall). Square ends if needed.
Once more. Cut in half, sew, result should be 16.5″ x 100″ or longer (8 strips tall). Square ends if needed.
The (Mostly) Precise Parts
The finished quilt is just 6 squares cut from your strip set.
Cut six 16.5″ blocks off (you should have a few inches leftover—discard it, use it on the back, or in a different project), then sew the blocks together in three rows, where rows one and three have stripes vertically, row two has them horizontally.
You now have a completed quilt top.
A whole standard jelly roll can make a 48″x64″ quilt. You’ll use 40 strips. You’ll start with a pieced strip 1600″ or more long. Your finished strip set will still be 8 strips tall (16.5″), but 200″ or longer, and you’ll cut 12 squares. Just remember, not all rolls have the same number of strips, and you’ll need more strips than a standard jelly roll if you piece diagonally (46 strips total).
Rather than cut six blocks, you can cut two off of your strip set for the middle row, then sew the remaining length into a 16-strip-wide strip set and cut that in half for rows 1 and 3—this is a little less exact, but will let you use up the full length rather than discarding the remaining few inches leftover after cutting blocks. Doing it that way likely accounts for the longer length of my quilt.
Good luck with your own quilt-making!
Caveat: I donated the quilt to the Linus Project a few months after finishing it in 2011, so I’m working partially from memory/partially by working out the math and logic again in 2014. The latter has some contradictions to the original post, such as the finished size. I claimed that the original quilt is ~36″ × 51″, but my current math concludes that it should be 32″ × 48″. My best explanation is that I must have (really) sloppily measured the unwashed, finished quilt and rounded up. I feel confident that the new measurements are correct (plus or minus an inch or two to account for piecing/cutting/shrinking deviations).
It’s been a long time since I followed a quilt pattern. The last twenty quilts I’ve made have been largely or completely my own designs, or my own take on something I’ve seen. The hardest technical part is doing the math and figuring out if I have the right amount of fabric for what I’ve chosen to do, but simply believing that I don’t need a pattern was a huge initial hurdle. Remembering that hurdle, I’m starting this Half-baked Blueprint series. They’re not patterns; think of them as rough outlines of the inspiration, math, fabric, and techniques I use in some of my quilts—there’s a lot you’ll have to fill in yourself. The rail fence “Noble Blooms” quilt from earlier this year is a good place to start. My hope is that it will inspire other quilters to play with quilt top designing rather than always reaching for published patterns.
40.5″ square quilt, made from 25 8″ finishing blocks
Starting with 24 2.5″ x width of fabric strips…
Sew six strip sets of four strips each…
Cut four 8.5” blocks from each strip set, totaling 24 blocks.
Then, cut a 4.5” x 8.5” section off two of the strip sets and sew those together to create one more 8.5” block.
Alternative: if your strips have 42.5″ of usable width (after you remove selvages), you can get all 25 blocks from only 20 strips—5 blocks per strip set, and no pieced extra block. Some strips will have this width, others won’t; each manufacturer, fabric line, and even bolt varies on the total width of fabric.
Basic: Five rows of five blocks each, alternating the direction of each block.
Intermediate: use values of the strips within blocks to create secondary patterns (sketch it before piecing or use a design wall).
Advanced: solve the n-queens problem with your placement like I did to please my nerdy mind (no block is on the same horizontal, vertical, or diagonal as another of the same block set).
Go Further (optional):
Use embellishment or applique to personalize it
Add borders to make it larger
Add asymmetrical borders to play with negative space
My Decision-making Process
What caused me to make the choices in my own quilt? In this case, form followed supplies and time. I had a Rolie Polie of 23 2.5″ strips, a 54″ square piece of Minky, a stash to draw from for binding, but nothing much that coordinated with the Rolie Polie otherwise. And, I had about a week and a half to make the quilt.
Rail fence blocks can be arranged in any number of ways. Since I had four distinct color and value groups (brown, pink, green, beige) with an equal number of strips in the roll (more or less), I was inspired to make all of my strip-sets with one strip of each from darkest to light. Because I could only cut four blocks from each strip set, I had to add one additional strip from my stash to the Rolie Polie, and piece a block together from two half blocks to make 25. As I mentioned above, the layout of blocks was mostly to appease my problem-solving mind (although I deviated with the planned layout for the half-and-half block and another spot where I flipped a block when sewing rows and didn’t want to rip).
I wanted to personalize it, since the recipient’s sibling’s quilt had her initials in the quilting, so I chose to applique her first initial and a crown (playing off the meaning of her name) in one corner, using one of the few FQs in my stash that matched the other fabrics. You can download a printable version for your own project (if you want a curly, be-crowned ‘G’).
Quilting possibilities are only limited by your imagination. I used a large-scale, all-over flowery free motion motif based on the flowers in the fabric for two reasons: it could be done quickly, and was a good project for me to play with free-motion on. I chose to use a cream-to-brown variegated thread because it was the best match in my stash, but also because it blended the quilting into the varied colors of the fabrics.
Because I worked with 2.5″ strips, the math on this was simple. But, that didn’t mean everything went to plan. I didn’t measure the width of the strips, so I couldn’t cut my planned five blocks from each strip set and had to improvise by finding a 24th strip (actually, two 21″ strips from a fat quarter) and piecing a block together from the leftovers of other strips sets. Sure, it meant reevaluating the block layout I’d planned initially (as well as choice of binding, as I’d planned to use the leftover strips and that fat quarter as the binding), but in the end, I am pleased with the final quilt (and, I like the solid binding far more than I think I would have liked the original plan). In the blueprint above, I went with the assumption that you might also run into this issue.