Design Wall: Quilting Precuts

Name: Brenna Riley Gates
Title: Web Producer, Modern + Art Quilting
I live in: One of the many suburbs along the front range of Colorado with a gorgeous view of the Twin Peaks.

I started quilting: One summer during my college years. While at a warehouse sale for a favorite clothing company, I spotted sets of swatches showcasing prints on fabrics in a rainbow of colors. Each set was a dollar—that’s right ONE dollar—for ten 8-ish inch square pieces of fabric. Naturally, I picked up a few thinking I could turn them into a quilt no problem. I completely blew past the facts that 1) I didn’t own my own sewing machine, 2) had never made a quilt, and 3) was purchasing knit squares. Minor details.

What I’ve made: I’ve loved making things for as long as I can remember, from simple yarn dolls to knitted hats; I painted, stitched, and crafted throughout my childhood. In my teen years, I found jewelry making which led me to a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Metalsmithing and Fiber Art. Although it took years, I did finish that knit quilt top and am proud to report that I wrangled that knit fabric without the help of stabilizer (I had no idea that was a thing). In the years since, my quilts have grown from baby quilts to larger throws. I’ve found that I love quilting with precuts! I love that I can get an entire fabric line for a reasonable price and that I can skip most of the cutting.

What I’m making: I’m currently in the midst of making a scrappy rendition of the Ripple Effect Pattern from Quilting Quickly. Since quilting precuts is my jam, I had to make some changes to the pattern. Here’s a look at this work in progress:


The Fabric

My Cotton + Steel 5 inch squares in color and black and white.

As you can tell from my first quilt, fabric tends to be a driving factor for me to actually putting needle and thread to cloth. I’ve been completely enamored with precut fabrics for several years, I’d even argue those first swatches were the gateway to quilting with precuts.

I just get entirely too excited by those layer cakes, charm squares, and jelly rolls! I find a fabric collection that I love and then I buy too many precuts. I’ve bought everything from basic polka dots and geometric patterns to prints inspired by Jane Austen and Nancy Drew.

A couple of years ago I spotted precuts of Cotton + Steel fabric from a variety of collections. It was as if the clouds had parted and a hallelujah chorus began to sing. (Anyone else get that feeling when you fall head over heels for fabric?) I’d been a long-time admirer of Cotton + Steel fabric lines, but could never choose one I loved more than the others. Here was the answer to my quilting conundrum—a set of fabrics from several of my favorite lines. Even better, they were precut in 2 ½ inch strips and 5 inch squares!

The Perfect Pattern

Ripple Effect Quilt from Quilting Quickly.

Naturally, I tucked these treasures away into my stash and began looking for The Perfect Pattern. It took a little time, but I finally found what I was looking for with the Ripple Effect quilt pattern. The quarter Log Cabin blocks would not only utilize my squares and strips, it would showcase them beautifully!

Spoiler alert: this pattern isn’t made for using precuts. I didn’t know this when I got the pattern, but I didn’t let it stop me, this was The Perfect Pattern after all! It was easier to scale up the pattern to accommodate my fabric rather than cut a quarter inch here and a half inch there. Plus, if I’d made those cuts, I’d be losing precious bits of my coveted fabric and also missing out on time-saving aspect of quilting with precuts.

Making The Perfect Pattern Work

My version of the ripple quilt in progress.

I love that the Ripple Effect pattern plays with value change across the quilt blocks to create pattern and interest across the quilt top. I didn’t have the single medium-value color specified to be the centers of my quarter Log Cabin blocks so I photographed the charm squares in black and white to help me narrow my choices down to prints in the middle of the value spectrum. I was left with five winners which was perfect because the quilt was five blocks wide.

Once I had my centers, I had to decide how to arrange them. A column of lime green centers next to a column of pink is very different than a random placement. In the end, I decided the vivid center colors would travel across the quilt top in a diagonal. Now I could start building my blocks!

Time to Sew

My quilt top finished and waving the spring breeze.

I wanted to take an improvisational approach, making one row at a time. This worked beautifully until I realized I would run out of the lightest and darkest values before I’d finished my fifth and final row of the quilt. Yikes!

Once I had that heart-wrenching moment, I realized there were more mid-tones in my precut set that would look lighter or darker depending on what was next to them. That got me through another row, but I had still didn’t have enough of the light prints to finish my final rows.

As with many of my personal projects, I had to put this one on the back burner while I made a project for work. All the while, I prowled around quilt shops online and in person to find yardage of one of my light fabrics from the precut packs. Here is where I tell you it pays to not wait four years to sew with those treasured precuts (now I know too). It took some searching, but I scored a couple of yards to finish my quilt top.

Now all that’s left is to piece the backing fabric and get this quilt onto my longarm machine. I can’t wait to explore a variety of longarm motifs in the squares and strips!

Comment (1)

  • Maggie D

    Brenna, I really don’t have time to be messing around with my laptop this morning; I have one more rose to get planted this morning, while the sun is on the other side of the house, but……..I was intrigued by the name of this particular email. I am sooooooo glad that I took the time to read YOUR piece!!!!! Love, love, love your humor and reading all about you!!! Thnks for starting my morning on a happy note!
    You are an inspiration !!!!!!!!
    Thanks,
    maggie D.

    May 3, 2018 at 2:01 pm

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