Thursday, October 27, 2005

Going Inside the Block

It amuses me that, when so many artists talk about working 'outside of the block' to stretch themselves and open their minds to new ideas, my Practical Design workshop is asking me to use a traditional block as the starting point for creativity. Hence the "inside the block." I'd guess that for many art quilters, using traditional block structure is a new, if not scary, approach. You all can work through the inside/outside the block analogies yourselves.

Anyway. Here's the starting point block, known generally as the "Star of Bethlehem" or "Dutch Puzzle."

And here's the block's grid structure:

Notice all of those triangles?! We're not allowed to change the direction of any triangle lines but can combine them to form squares and parallelograms.

I digress to say I LOVE Electric Quilt 5. Do you have this software? If not, ask someone to give it to you for Christmas or your birthday, or treat yourself to it. (It's pricey. Around $100. But very fun and actually useful in all sorts of ways.) EQ allows you to use traditional blocks, or draw your own. You're not limited to blocks, either. You can draw any shapes you want, in any kind of setting or on any background you choose. You can set up blocks or chunks to form a background for an art quilt, or work with any shapes you want. (Strangely, one of the things I especially like it for is deciding on proportions...without endless and repeated sketching, I can fiddle with a diagram to test out different proportions of shapes before I move to fabric.) And it has "stashes" of fabric swatches so you can color designs with fabric colors and textures and even import REAL on-the-market fabrics. Very fun and cool. I've actually designed quilts on EQ and then decided, for the moment, that designing them and seeing them laid out there was enough for me at that stage so I could move on to something else. I've also used EQ to memorialize something I want to make in the future. Some time ago, I saw a tv show setting where a quilt hung on the wall in the background. I loved the quilt, and drew a hasty sketch as I was watching tv, then I designed it on EQ while it was fresh in my memory. Now I don't even remember what the TV show was, but I have the quilt all designed to remind me of what I want to do.

But anyway. As it happens, EQ is perfect for this sort of exercise. I was able to find the block in EQ's block library, then reduce it to the grid above. And rather than spend a lot of time trying out colors and layouts by hand-coloring (which has its own appeal for those of us who miss coloring with crayons but is a bit time-consuming and slow), I'm able to fill areas with color as I choose. Here's one variation:

You can see from the blank grid how many possibilities there are for design with this structure. I've decided to give myself two goals in this task: One is to use more muted colors for my final block, to force myself away from the brights I always head towards instinctively; and two, to play with the notion of transparency.

I've been fascinated by transparency in quilts since I stumbled onto Ruth McDowell's book "Pattern on Pattern." Simply put, that's where you use color to create the illusion of overlapping shapes. Here's an absolutely awe-inspiring example by Priscilla Bianchi:

So, I've started fiddling with EQ to see what transparency effects I can create in this block. Here's a first example:

You'll notice that I'm playing with bright colors, but for now I'm just finding the overlapping shapes in the block to get the transparent effect. I'll figure out the fabric later.

Here's another try:

So, that's how I'm approaching this exercise. It's very fun. I've got Itunes playing in the background and I'll just click-and-color.


  1. I love these quilts. What a great block to start with! I hope you know how lucky you are to have such a terrific group to learn with.

    Regarding EQ, I used to have EQ1 and EQ2, but found I was only making computer quilts. I think I only ever made one real fabric quilt with it. And then I got into clothing and it was useless. Your comment about being able to draw various shapes, etc intrigued me. Could I use the new EQ to design jackets? Thanks for all the inspiration :-)

  2. Ok, do you have to actually piece this block?? Or simply design it? Or maybe construct it, but fuse it??

  3. Diane, the last version is very exciting...the best of what I call innovative. Taking a traditional and putting your twist to it. Look forward to more.

  4. Well I love the fact that you can post the pictures like jpegs, from the program to the blog.
    I love Priscilla and she really knows how to use the fabric doesn't she? She has a new line from Kaufman. Way kool.

  5. Love the last one and I feel impaired because I can't design with the software. But I am not spending that much on something I would use for one exercise. I don't think they make it for mac's anyway!!

    Do I sound crabby - I am - the sinus headache won't go away.

  6. Anonymous9:25 AM

    Well, I am not generally a fan of muted colors either BUT that last sample....yum.....