Playing with colour and plotting out patchwork …

colouring blocks


Last Summer when I was going a little patchwork crazy hand piecing six inch blocks for “dear ethel”, I found myself repeating a couple of the blocks that I had previously sewn.  I’d planned (planned makes it sound like there was a method to the madness….there wasn’t.  I just picked blocks that I like in somewhat of a willy nilly fashion) for all the blocks to be different so rather than keep unpicking doubles I began to draw out and colour in blocks I’d made so I had a record of what I’d pieced so far…..


a record of dear ethel blocks


I’d bought the excellent 5,500 quilt blocks the other October (this is such an air punchingly awesome book….it’s often available second hand on numerous internet book sites and prices do seem to go up and down a lot, there is a paperback edition as well as a hard back, and if you live in the UK you should be able to rent it out from your local library.  It’s in the system in Norfolk, so if your local library doesn’t have it then they can order it in from Norfolk…it costs around £4 I think to do this but it’s worth it as it is a fantastic source of blocks)………

So I knew what I was doing and didn’t get confused by what is a very simple system, after making around some 40 or so blocks, I worked through the above mentioned tome and drew out any blocks that I thought might work well, writing down the number of the block underneath the block.  I’d noted down which blocks I had already made and drew them in numerical order so I could keep track of what I’d sewn so far.

(I used the numbers from the above book for my blocks)


coloured blocks for dear ethel


Most of the blocks I used are based on 9 square grid (3 x 3)….a few are 16 patches (4 x 4) but as the blocks are quite small being 6 inches square I thought that the 9 patch size would be the easiest for dividing and hand piecing.  I think the smallest square or half triangle is like 1 inch, which I felt was small enough for my patchwork (and my eyes).


dear ethel blocks


Something I did find by working in a book was how I was able to keep track of colours used….when the sewn blocks are laid out I am aware of some repeats of colour combination (pink and yellow just kept being made together again and again) but it’s more subtle as the shades change, the fabric patterns are different….when I was looking at the coloured blocks it was more noticeable and it made me start thinking about moving away from old favourites and to try out new palettes and blends.

While “dear ethel” is about using my favourite fabrics and making a quilt for me (it’s not for a quilt show or competition, it’s for me…there’s no deadline and if it takes how ever many years to make then that is fine….slow sewing indeed) I didn’t want it to be just a yellow and pink quilt or a orange and grey one….so some combinations of colours aren’t ones that I normally use…and I think it’s looking all the better for it.


dear ethel variations


Once I’d drawn out around 175 blocks that I felt happy with, I coloured in the blocks that I’d already made then began working through and sewing up the other blocks.  I made a note of how many colours each block had, and what they were called which sometimes made a colour choice very apt.

Mostly I just played around with a few fabrics before deciding on particular choices, fabrics that were appearing time and time again were kept to one side, it’s always hard with favourite fabrics to keep using them but I’ve got a lot of favourites and wanted them all to have their chance to shine….

Some favourites I realise are because of the fabrics used, they hold such a high place in my heart (the striped bed sheet from Nanny, the faded pink pillowcase from the car boot, the tiny scrap of red fabric of flowers in plant pots*), other blocks constantly make me smile, whatever the fabrics used (churn dash and variable stars particularly make my heart bet that much faster)


keeping track of blocks used


Some blocks once drawn were made and then coloured in but on reflection weren’t used, they get unpicked and are used in other blocks.  I noted which these were as a reminder for another time…..(you’ll see a couple of these if you click twice on the above picture…they just looked odd and jarring compared to the other blocks……even though I made other blocks all of one colour, these particular ones really weren’t doing it for me.)  But a couple of minutes unpicking, a press with an iron and the fabric is fine and dandy, all ready to try again in another block.

Flicking through this has been really helpful while I’ve been planning the quilt’s for Olive’s sisters…it’s reminded me of blocks I particularly liked, and of blocks that I liked but for various reasons didn’t get chosen for “dear ethel”…I think (and I really do need to re-count them) that I still need one more block.


recording which blocks are used for dear ethel


I wasn’t fussed about trying to reproduce the fabrics I’d used, just noting the colour was more important…when required I show stripes or spots but that is as fancy as it gets….it’s really a resource for me to keep track of what I’ve made and which blocks I liked.

I find working in a sketchbook really does make a difference to how I come to an idea (it generally involves a lot less un-picking)…not everything is planned out first (and I’ve had more than my fair share of successes by just going with what feels right) but when I take the time to have a play around with some colouring pencils then I inevitably come up with something that I wasn’t able to see in my head….and often what looks shimmery almost dancing at the edge of my vision, but the best quilt in the world, looks completely pants once I start drawing it out and trying to understand how the pieces fit.

*being super cheeky, if you have any of this or know where I can get it then please please do let me know….I think I bought it about 10 years ago and it’s possibly a Lecien print but really I’m just guessing.

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