Quilting with Contrast and Instagram

I was planning to make a chevron baby quilt for my new grandson, but then I found a new piece of fabric and decided to do something else for him.


But I still want to experiment with chevron quilts, because I plan to write a no-triangles pattern for them. So I pulled out 2″ strips of solid (tone-on-tone) olive greens, tans, and rust prints and sewed them into the 80 blocks I thought I needed. Trimmed them, pressed them, started arranging them on the design wall.   Ummm….. No. That was wrong. Last time I made it, I did it differently. It worked great that way. This way, not so much.  I had sewn all of the blocks WRONG.  And yet, I like it. I’m partial to scrap quilts, especially for autumn themes. It’s still a chevron pattern, with a narrow tan stripe and a broad green/rust stripe. I just need to arrange the blocks effectively, to make the pattern look right.

Pastel Paths Baby Quilt

With scrap quilts, contrast is very important. Sometimes you want a low contrast, where all the fabrics mush together and make a colorwash effect.  This baby quilt is all scraps, divided into two color groups but of a similar lightness. No individual pieces stand out. It is a “gentle” quilt.


The majority of scrap quilts have backgrounds that contrast with the scrap fabrics. For the Double Wedding Ring table runner, I wanted the gray/black rings to be low-contrast scraps that read as “solid” in sharp contrast to the white background. None of the ring fabrics are too bright or too dark, and none of them have much white in them, or the finished pattern would not have be as distinct.

Pining for the Fjords

On the other hand, I wanted the blues in this Triple Irish Chain quilt to fade out into the white fabric of the background. I had to get the right placement of dark, medium and light blue fabrics to get that effect.


Without a contrasting, unifying background fabric,  it’s especially important to achieve the right arrangement of scrap fabrics.  Whether you are sorting by color or value, the contrast is achieved by organizing the fabrics into groups.

Porch Quilt GloryQuilts

The Americana table runner and the purple quilt are divided into light and dark groups without many “medium” scraps, to keep the pattern distinct.


The Tamarack Trees quilt fabrics are divided by color and a slight, low-contrast gradation from light to dark blues from the top of the quilt to the bottom.


Chevrons are considered modern patterns and are usually made in a few simple fabrics.  To achieve the bold chevron pattern with scraps, the contrast between your fabrics groups – whether you are working with lights and darks or different hues – must be sharp and defined.

Because this is a serendipitous quilt – I’m making the best of things after I blew it, my fabric choices are not what I would have chosen if I had been planning it this way. It required some re-organization. I had selected the greens and rusts to contrast with each other, but now I want them to appear as a “mass” of darker fabric, so they should be relatively low in contrast to each other. They will form a broad stripe, and the tans will form a narrow stripe.

Now here’s the bit about Instagram:

For this project, I am more interested in light-dark contrast than color, so I need to remove or change the color factor from the quilt. Before the advent of digital photography, I squinted through little red and green plastic filters similar to those used in photography. Sometimes I glued together a fabric crutch and made a photocopy of it, to see it in black-and-white. Looking through a peephole (purchased from the hardware store) helped me see the overall effect of the pattern, too. Later, I took pictures with my digital camera and uploaded them to the computer, where I could use Photoshop options to change the brightness and hues. Simply changing a photograph to grayscale exposes weaknesses in the fabric arrangements. And then, when I was posting a picture to Instagram the other day, I realized that it is the perfect tool for judging contrasts! Without any uploading or editing, Instagram permits me to quickly snap pictures and instantly apply a series of filters to them. You can even do it right in the fabric store, to audition fabrics before you buy them.

autumnchevrongrayThis particular quilt was a good practice piece. I put the blocks up on the wall without any real arrangement of color. This black and white version, using the “Moon” filter, revealed that I needed to move around some of the pieces to increase the contrasts between the darks and lights, especially in the upper right quarter of the quilt and the lower left corner. It wasn’t terrible, but it didn’t have a bold enough contrast.

autumnchevronfadedI rearranged some of the blocks to put the darker tans near the edges of the quilt. When I applied the “Crema” filter, I could see that the zigzag pattern was more clear, but I had a group of very dark pieces in the middle that needed to be more evenly distributed over the quilt, and that lower left corner was still fuzzy.


I played with it some more and kept taking snapshots until I had an arrangement I like. I can see that it is darker around the edges, but that isn’t as bad as having those dark tan pieces in the middle of the quilt where they muddled up the pattern. I like it. To further emphasize the chevron pattern, I will quilt this in two different colors – darker thread on the broad green/rust stripes and a cream thread on the tan ones. In the end, I think it will be one of my favorite quilts, and I learned a lot about the structure of the pattern.  I might actually make that baby quilt in chevrons after all!

Black and White Tumbling Blocks

It also has gray in it, but it’s hard to find a way to avoid using the phrase “shades of gray.”  It does have quite a few gray fabrics.

I started this quilt many years ago.

I’ve been trying to clean up my half-finished projects.  If you follow me on any of my social media, you may have noticed the theme:  “I started this quilt many years ago.” Sometimes, I have leftover blocks from another project and am too thrifty to discard them, so I have a big tote full of miscellaneous blocks and bits. And sometimes, I start a project and then – oh look! A squirrel!

While I love looking at this quilt, because it practically vibrates in its three-dimensionality, it’s a little too modern for my 1905 house. It’s for sale on etsy and is only living above my fireplace until it sells or my youngest son kidnaps it and takes it home to live in his more modern apartment. I’d rather sell it; I’ve already made half a dozen quilts for him.


Tumbling Blocks quilts have diamond-shaped pieces sorted into three groups: light, medium, and dark, or by color. If you look at the picture, you can see that those groups are arranged in horizontal and diagonal rows. The lightest diamonds are connected, end to end, in a horizontal line. The medium ones are arranged in a line from the upper left corner to the lower right corner, and the dark ones go from the upper right to the lower left. This creates cubes, each with a light, a medium and a dark side, as if a light is shining from one direction (about 10:30, if you imagine a clock), illuminating and casting shadows to give the entire quilt a three-dimensional effect.

Until 25 years ago, these 30/60 degree diamonds had to traced from templates and cut individually with scissors. You needed to be good with geometry to draft the pattern! With modern rotary cutting tools, they can be cut quickly and accurately, but you will still need to mark the seam lines or at least the end points for each seam if you are machine piecing. For this scrap quilt, I cut the pieces by hand.

The sewing is more complex than squares and rectangles, because you can’t stitch from edge to edge. You have to stop each seam at its end point and inset the next piece at that point. It can be done by hand or machine. I started to sew this one by hand, because I intended it to be a portable project – something I could work on in the car or while sitting through basketball practices. I never finished it that way, though, and when I picked it up again, I decided to sew the rest by machine. It’s much faster, but it’s actually harder to get those precise points with the machine.

The Baby Blocks variation emphasizes the individual blocks, often setting them into a background instead of running the pattern to the edges of the quilt. Pastel colors, sorted by hue rather than brightness, give the quilt a childish appearance.


Six-pointed stars can be created by rearranging the diamonds. They appear to be set among hexagons, but these are actually diamonds. You can use real hexagon pieces if you are extra good with geometry.

tumbling blocks table runner

I enjoyed making the above quilts. The second two were prototypes and samples for quilt classes, but the black and white one was a personal exercise in visual texture created by contrast. Like any other work of art, it’s most effective when viewed on a vertical surface instead of displayed on a bed or draped like a lap quilt.

Have you ever made a black and white (and gray) quilt? What pattern did you use? How do you use the finished quilt? Did you enjoy making it?

New Autumn Runners

I just finished a long table runner to go coordinate with the shorter one I made last week. They are both scrappy, made from my bottomless stash of 2″ strips. Both sides are very pretty! I used the flange binding on both. I like it a lot! They will be available on etsy in a day or two. autumndiamonds