From Fiasco to Fantastic

Sometimes when I design a quilt, the end result is a far cry from the original picture I have in my mind. Unexpected things happen or I make a quilt mistake and the project just doesn’t look like I planned. I think of those projects as creative opportunities and I challenge myself to go the extra step or two required to make the project into something I can be proud of. Very often, the completed project is much better than the original idea.

When things go awry with one of my projects, I have several choices.

  • Throw it away and start over (but I don’t do this unless the beginning is truly dreadful).
  • Turn the problem into a design element. For example, if you have several small pieces of fabric but you need one large piece of fabric, put in piping or contrasting fabric and join the smaller pieces together to create a piece large enough to use in your project.
  • Put something new in the design to draw the viewer’s eye so the mistake isn’t as noticeable.
  • Cover up the mistake. Use crystals, embroidery, applique, ribbon, lace, buttons and anything else you can imagine to hide the problem area.

As I began working on Bears in the Roses for the June/July 2013 issue of Quilters Newsletter  (Traditional to Modern Quilt Challenge), things did not go well. The first problem was that I had a collection of lovely fabrics but when I used them together without adding fabrics in other values, there was simply not enough contrast. The design just ran together.

The second problem was there were so many small pieces that matching the gingham from one patch to the next was very time consuming—I gave up. My first effort was a “sow’s ear.” I needed to turn it into a “silk purse.”

Lori Baker’s first attempt at making Bears in the Roses didn’t have enough contrast.

Lori Baker’s first attempt at making Bears in the Roses didn’t have enough contrast.

I used three of the strategies listed above to rescue my first attempt. I had only enough pale pink fabric for three complete border strips. I inserted a patch of contrasting rose fabric into the fourth strip used for the pale pink border at the top of the quilt. I consider this and the three strips of contrasting fabric on the bottom pale pink border my “design elements.”

Gigi Khalsa, associate editor, drew the wonderful rose reminiscent of Georgia O’Keefe’s art. She colored the illustration so I’d know what shade of pink to use for each applique patch. The appliqued rose is intended to distract the viewer as well as cover up much of the background.

Associate editor Gigi Khalsa drew and colored an illustration of a pink rose to be used as an applique pattern.

Associate editor Gigi Khalsa drew and colored an illustration of a pink rose to be used as an applique pattern.

I made a copy of the rose drawing so I didn’t have to cut up the original and I’d be able to refer back to it. I numbered the patches in the order I wanted to applique them and lettered the patches on the copy L, M, D and DD for light, medium, dark and very dark. I cut the pattern apart and used it to make all the applique patches. (I did not reverse the patches so my rose is a mirror image of the original art.)

Lori copied Gigi’s illustration and numbered the sections to make an applique pattern.

Lori copied Gigi’s illustration and numbered the sections to make an applique pattern.

I fused the parts of the rose in place and added the borders.

Transforming a fiasco into something fabulous thanks to beautiful applique

Transforming a fiasco into something fabulous thanks to beautiful applique

Then I assembled the quilt sandwich and appliqued the rose petals and leaves in place through all three layers so the quilting was done at the same time. I quilted the background in the ditch to emphasize the patchwork. Once the binding was put on, the rescue was complete.

If at First…, 33½” x 33½”, 2013, by Lori Baker, designed by Lori Baker & Gigi Khalsa

If at First…, 33½” x 33½”, 2013, by Lori Baker, designed by Lori Baker & Gigi Khalsa

My final thought is this: when I make a mistake, I don’t point it out as a mistake unless I’m teaching how to deal with mistakes. Most people won’t even see mistakes if you don’t specifically show them.


From the Vault: This feature was originally published in the October/November 2013 issue of Quilters Newsletter.

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