Diane Harris designed the Very Merry pattern for the latest issue of McCall’s Quick Quilts, October/November 2017. Diane is a past editor of Quiltmaker, recently launching her own company, Stash Bandit. Go to stashbandit.net to see more of what’s happening with Diane.
In the meantime, we asked her to tell us the design backstory of Very Merry.
Before I was a quilt designer, I often wondered how others came up with original ideas. I think I assumed that quilt designs came out of nowhere, thoroughly developed and polished to perfection.
Then about 10 years ago, I read an article in Quilters Newsletter, and I had an epiphany.
The article described how one artist had struggled, made, unmade, worked, reworked, sewn, unsewn, conceived, trashed, remade again and eventually finished her one-of-a-kind quilt. It was such a relief for me to realize that ideas for quilts arrive as if they are infants, or seeds.
It takes time and effort to bring them up, to see them through to fruition. Sometimes they become a successful finish and sometimes they don’t.
The idea for Very Merry came to me in bits and pieces, and that’s what I’m sharing today. When you’re in the idea business, you learn to ask, “What would happen if…?”
I was looking at some regular old Plain Jane star quilt blocks, and I noticed that the points were almost always the same size in relation to the center. They’re big.
I wondered, “What would happen if the points were smaller?” I drew out the basic idea in The Electric Quilt Company’s EQ7 quilt design software and I liked the result.
I saw that with this change, the star points could easily be made with stitch-and-flip. And I played with dividing the center patch into sections.
I started thinking about using the stars in a quilt layout.
First I tried something simple: blocks in rows. It’s okay but it’s not memorable. There isn’t enough going on.
So let’s try something different by using two block sizes in the same quilt. Now maybe we’re getting somewhere. I still didn’t think it had enough punch, so I kept on playing.
Eventually I landed on making one very large block for the center, and adding in the other sizes as well. I kept all of the center patches the same size, and I consistently maintained the proportion of the star points to the center.
I really like this final version. It was fun to sew and it has interest. Your eye moves around the quilt. The scrappy fabric combinations keep things lively. There is plenty of space for nice quilting. You could call this “tradition with a twist.”
I also played around with color before submitting this idea for publication. Here are some of the other things I tried.
This analogous color scheme of greens and blues is interesting.
The quilt might be nice as a red-and-white design. I tried several things, just messing around.
The center star seemed too heavy so I lightened it up with white patches in the middle. It’s easy to keep going and going and going—Energizer bunny style! Pretty soon there are too many options, which is a good problem to have.
The time spent playing is something I have learned to embrace. You can’t get to the final design if you don’t create all the ones in the middle. You’ll have many ideas that do not work. I regularly send designs to Quiltmaker, McCall’s Quilting and Quick Quilts that are not selected for publication.
Many years ago I started making simple little blocks when I was too tired to make decisions. I dubbed them Baby Windmills. You’ll find instructions for making them and a free pattern for a basic quilt on Stash Bandit.
Eventually I wondered how many winning quilt designs I could create with this one humble, easy quilt block. Turns out, quite a few! Several have been published, with more on deck.
Now I am building a trunk show of quilts all based on Baby Windmills. There are ideas for new quilts on many days, and it is so exciting! I’m booking this program for quilt guilds and events now. I’d love to bring it to you, wherever you are! Email me today! Diane@StashBandit.net
The takeaways for quilters:
- Designing is mostly work. It doesn’t happen easily or automatically.
- Designing is mostly play. It takes time and a willingness to look for possibilities until something interesting happens.
- The more you relax your brain and let the ideas flow, the more the ideas will pile up, sometimes moving like a river so that you can’t keep up. And of course there are times when the ideas do not flow.
- I do find that the more I let ideas in, the more they want in. The more I play, the more I am able to see possibilities in everything. I think the universe is swarming with ideas just looking for someone to bring them to life!