Design your own Sampler Quilt

Sampler Quilts are a great way to showcase your favorite technique or build some new quilting skills.  Many designers offer Block of the Month programs that become sampler quilts.  Maybe you have started a few projects and now have a drawer full of “orphan blocks.”  Don’t wait any longer – it is time to design your own sampler quilt!

Here are two important questions to consider –

Do you have blocks made (or planned) that are one size or a variety of sizes?

Do you have a finished size in mind (lap, twin, queen)?

The answers to these questions will set the course for your sampler quilt journey.  Let’s sit down with my friends* Bernie and Jan to see how they planned their sampler quilts.

Block Sizes in Sampler Quilts

Block size is a key factor in any quilt.  Larger blocks are faster to make, and it takes fewer blocks to finish a quilt.

Bernie says, “I am making a charity quilt. All the blocks will be the same size. I am going to have fun choosing different patterns for each block.”

Jan takes the opposite view. “It will be interesting to make blocks of various sizes.  The design challenge to make them all fit is exciting!”

With a consistent size block, Bernie can use a traditional layout such as straight rows or an on point setting.  See examples of these standard layouts in this post. Jan knows it is more difficult to combine blocks of different sizes.  Working with variable block sizes can be made easier by including negative space or choosing blocks that “play nicely” together, such as multiples of 3 or 4.  For instance, a quilt with 6-inch and 12-inch blocks will combine easily, as will 4-inch and 8-inch sizes.  If you are comfortable with y-seams or partial blocks,  you could certainly build a quilt that includes 6, 8, 9, 10 and 12 inch blocks.

Putting the different sized blocks into rows is one way to solve the challenge.  These flower blocks were 3, 6 and 12 inches, so I made rows of large, medium and small flowers. row quilt with variable size blocks

You can also design your sampler by randomly placing the largest blocks, and filling in with smaller sizes.  Here is an example from the Keepsake Quilting catalog.  Notice the filler blocks use flying geese, pinwheels, or even a plain swatch of fabric.

sampler quilt with variable size blocks

What size quilt do you want?

Size does matter!  Will your sampler quilt be used in a crib, couch, or king size bed?  Are you giving it to a child to snuggle or for a 6-foot tall man in a recliner?  Think about the final destination.  Sampler quilts with their intricate details beg to be admired, so perhaps there is wall space in your home to put this project on display.

Bernie says, “Quilts of  Valor is my preferred charity and they request quilts that are 60 x 70 inches.”

Jan says, “I’ll just play with my blocks and be happy with whatever size it turns out to be!”

Bernie is working towards a specific sized quilt, with consistent blocks.  It will be easy to find 12 patterns to make a traditional sampler quilt.  Jan is taking an improvisational approach to a sampler quilt with various block sizes. Kris shares a similar journey on her blog, Coloring Outside the Lines.

Design a Sampler Quilt

Once you have made the important decisions about block size and quilt size, you are ready to sew!  But where do we start?  Maybe you have a few favorite blocks in mind, like I did for this table runner “My Favorite Stars”:

star sampler blocks

Another terrific resource is the Quilters Cache.  Marcia has organized a library of quilt blocks that include cutting and sewing instructions.  The block patterns can be sorted alphabetically or by size.  When I planned my 92 Stars sampler, I focused on the 9 inch blocks and found over 40 patterns to include in my quilt.

I’d love to see your sampler quilts!  Please email me a photo for our gallery or use hashtag #samplerquilt on Instagram.

Click here to download a plan for a sampler quilt with variable size blocks.

Sampler Quilts – An Overview

The sampler quilt, a collection of different blocks set in straight rows, is what many people imagine as a traditional quilt.  Sampler quilts are popular projects for beginners because they build skills with a variety of techniques. Many designers offer Sampler Quilts as Block-of-the-Month (BOM) programs, allowing busy quilters to take small steps in creating a larger project.

Sampler Quilts – Examples

For many years, I joined the Block Lotto challenge.  Each month, Sophie picks a new block design and quilters from all over the world make that pattern.  At the end of the month, several winners are drawn and participants send them their blocks.  When I played along, I would make several blocks to send plus an extra for myself.  Then, at the end of the year, I would have 12 blocks ready to make a sampler quilt.

Sampler Quilt from Block Lotto patterns

In 2014, all the Block Lotto patterns were rectangles.  I made patriotic versions, added borders and donated the finished quilt to Quilts of Valor.

Annemarie of Gen X Quilters designs fantastic sampler quilts with modern layouts!  Her 2017 BOM, Chocolatier, is divine.

GenXQuilts Chocolatier pattern

Sampler Quilt Layout

Making sampler quilts can become addictive, especially with the abundance of BOMs available online.  To avoid the boredom of piecing the same layout over and over again, try an alternative setting.  Instead of a straight layout, put your blocks on point.

example straight layout for sampler quilt

 

Add cornerstones or make a pieced sashing to create stars like Marti Michell did in this example.

Quilt by Marti Michell

Why make a Sampler Quilt?

Sampler Quilts are a perfect starting point for beginners.  You can learn a variety of techniques as you make your first quilt.  When I teach a table runner project to new quilters, we start with rail fence blocks, then progress to square in a square, nine patch, friendship star and flying geese.  Along the way, we practice accurate cutting, sewing consistent seams, matching points and working with half square triangles. (Quilt is straight…photographer was at an angle, LOL!)

sampler blocks beginner project

For more experienced quilters, samplers are a great way to try new techniques.  Want to try paper piecing or applique?  Commit to just a few blocks rather than a full quilt to see if it is something you enjoy.

Join me next week for tips on designing your own sampler quilt!

Three Ways to Choose Quilt Colors

In Quilting 101*, we learn that designs are built on contrast. When it’s time to choose quilt colors, many quilters start out with a dark design on a light background. Gradually we learn to use a wider range in our color palette and medium fabrics creep in. Visit the Quilting Room with Mel for an informative discussion about finding medium values for your quilt colors. But, planning a quilt can be difficult, so let’s take a look at some modern quilts and learn how to choose quilt colors.

*While there may be class out there with this title, I use the title in jest!

Choose Quilt Colors for Contrast

The idea of contrast is built in to the color wheel, and it is one reason I love rainbow quilts that show off all the colors!how to choose quilt colors

Mother Nature has done the theoretical work for us – Red and Green are complementary, and we can add a splash of interest with another color such as pink, orange or yellow.

The shades of each color must work harder when a quilter chooses a black background. Colors have to be much brighter to contrast and allow the design to POP.

Dear Jane quilt with black background

What happens when you don’t have a single color background? The light, medium and dark values within a color family have to really work well together to make the design shine.

Note: this post contains affiliate links. Please read the full disclosure policy here.

Color Choices from a Quilting Rockstar

I was blown away when I saw Tula Pink‘s Radiance quilt, featuring her new Slow & Steady fabric line.  Let me try to analyze this beauty and the lesson it can teach us for how to choose quilt colors.

tula pink quilt colors

At first glance, you see the solid diamonds as a rainbow. Look closer, though, and you see a variety of prints mixed in too. The diamonds are shades of red, green, pink, white, yellow and orange, set on a mix of backgrounds in blues, purples, turquoise, grey and black.

Tula Pink's great sense of color for quilts

The result is mesmerizing as your eye follows the flow of colors as they rise and fall across the quilt.

Lesson – Whole color families, not just 2 colors, provide contrast in your quilt.

Color Blocking as a Quilt Palette

Another brilliant quilt featuring saturated colors is Star Light, Star Dark by Jessica at the Quilty Habit.

color block example from QuiltyHabit.com

Rather than set colorful stars on a consistent background, Jessica shows us how to choose quilt colors with the color block style. Each section is monochromatic, featuring a dark star on a lighter background or vice versa. The color saturation and variety of block sizes make Star Light, Star Dark a gorgeous example of modern quilting.

Lesson – keep it all in one (color) family and try a color block quilt

Keep it simple with just one color

Another method to help choose quilt colors is to pick one color family and make a monochromatic quilt. The placement of light, medium and dark fabrics are critical to the design in a monochromatic quilt.  Purple Angles by Mary McElvain features a paper pieced block.

how to choose colors for a monochromatic quilt

By changing the position of fabrics within the block, you can highlight a cross or a ring.

how to choose colors for a monochromatic quilt how to choose colors for a monochromatic quilt

 

 

 

 

Lesson: Monochromatic quilts have amazing variety!

Let’s continue to experiment with color selection in our quilts. Choose an unusual color or gradient for a background, or try color block and monochromatic palettes. Change the position of light, medium and dark fabrics in your block to discover alternate designs. Most of all, enjoy the creative process!

 

3 Reasons why I love EQ7

Disclaimer: this post contains affiliate links

How does the tactile experience of quilting fit into the high tech world of computer design?  Electric Quilt developed a software package that has become my favorite tool for designing quilts.  What began as a long process of sketching with graph paper, drafting multiple copies for coloring and then pages of calculations has become an enjoyable online process.  Notice that I did not say it was faster, mainly because I get lost in the process and end up creating seven versions of a quilt in the time it used to take me to design just one!

Let me share the top 3 reasons why I love EQ7: coloring, yardage calculations and free motion quilt sketches!
reasons I love EQ7 color auditions

 

#1 : EQ7 helps you audition colors for your quilt

EQ7 has a great selection of colors, in both fabrics and solids.  You can spend many hours coloring your favorite quilt pattern with just the click of the mouse.  You can also upload pictures of your own fabric stash!

solid palette EQ7palettes in EQ7 solid or fabric

I start in the block library to find a quilt block, then I select the coloring tool and play until something strikes my fancy.  Remember to save everything to the sketchbook as you make changes, so that you can come back to the version you liked best!

Need more help learning to use the EQ7 program?  Check out Beaquilter’s tutorial library or the Electric Quilt website!

#2: EQ7 calculates fabric yardage for your project

I am a former math teacher, so working out all the calculations to figure out how much fabric my next project requires never scares me too much.  But, any time you can speed up the process means that much more time for quilting!  This is another reason I love EQ7.  Once I design a quilt with a certain block size, and set the border size, the computer does the rest of the work.

EQ7 cactus blossom quilt designEQ7 calculates fabric yardage for my project

 

 

 

 

Using the print preview option, I can see that this quilt will need 2-1/4 yd of green fabric, 5/8 yd pink fabric and 5/8 yd of a light background fabric.  Of course, once I set foot in the quilt store, those yardage estimates may increase by 50-100%…stash acquisition is an investment opportunity, right?!?

Related: there are several books about designing quilts with EQ7.

#3: EQ7 helps plan free motion quilting

The final reason I love EQ7 is that I can preview free motion quilting designs before I put the quilt under the needle. I simply print a few copies of the block and sketch my designs on paper first.

reasons I love EQ7 sketch free motion quilting

EQ7 has an extensive library of blocks and it has an EasyDraw function that allows you to create your own block designs as well.  When a single block is printed in grayscale, it becomes the foundation for planning free motion quilting designs.  Sometimes, your original quilting plan may become too complex and having another page ready to sketch helps you find a creative solution.

Related: I had to adjust the quilting designs for a Swoon block.

Why I love EQ7

 

EQ7 quilt design software helps me choose colors, calculate yardage requirements, and plan free motion quilting designs.  EQ7 is practically a necessity for anyone who loves to design their own quilts.  If you get stuck with color selection or frustrated with the math, let this software help you out.  Computers can make our lives easier and the best part is that we have more time to quilt!

What are your favorite tools for the quilt design process?