Making Stripes with Solid Fabrics in Modern Quilts

Beachy” • 38" x 48" | Photos by Chris Arend unless otherwise noted

Quilt artist Maria Shell makes fabulously intricate quilts that look like she employs a clever selection of prints. But Maria works almost exclusively with solid fabric. Creating her own prints out of pieced solid fabric brings her quilts into the modern quilt sphere with a vengeance. Read on to learn her techniques for creating stripes.

Beachy” • 38" x 48" | Photos by Chris Arend unless otherwise noted

Beachy” • 38″ x 48″ | Photos by Chris Arend unless otherwise noted

Making prints out of solids: stripes

It may be intimidating to work improvisationally, but many people wouldn’t hesitate to make a meal without a cookbook. Working improvisationally is the same concept. The ingredients—in this case solid-colored fabrics—are cut up and pieced together to create prints. This article outlines how to create ‘stripe recipes,’ but the types of prints made possible by piecing go well beyond vertical lines.

Follow along in this master class on stripe recipes and improvisational piecing. Making strip sets is a quilting technique where strips of fabric are pieced—selvedge-to-selvedge—into a set combination. This practice is economical in its use of fabric and time. Making stripes is similar, but instead of following someone else’s instructions, you will create your own stripe recipes.

Lay out selected fabrics and review colors

Lay out selected fabrics and review colors

Select a palette

I like to create graphic color combinations. To do this, I select an assortment of solid fabrics from my stash and lay them out, exposing only about 1½” of each fabric. Then I review this information with my naked eye, the gray scale on my camera, and value finder glasses. I look to make sure that each color holds its own and does not get lost next to whatever color is beside it in the stripe pattern.

“God’s Eye” • 60" x 46"

“God’s Eye” • 60″ x 46″

Build a stripe recipe

Once I select the fabric, I sketch the stripe recipe. I am very analog—I do not design with computer software. Occasionally I use colored pencils in my sketches, but the sketches are more about line and shape than color. I usually design stripes that contain a variety of widths. I write down which color should be cut at which width. The narrowest width that can be easily pieced is ¾”.

Scale the strips so they work well together. If the stripe is going to be used in a large piece, scale the strip widths accordingly. The process for creating a stripe recipe requires proportion and practice. After you have made a dud, think about it. Why didn’t it work? Is it that the lines of the stripes are too similar? Is it that you failed to successfully work with values? Is it that the actual colors are boring? Once you decide what went wrong, try to do it again making better selections. Then, practice, practice, practice.

“Striped Chaos” • 46" x 52"

“Striped Chaos” • 46″ x 52″

Cut the strips

If you want a sharp-lined, super linear looking stripe, use a quilting ruler along with your rotary cutter to cut the strips. When I use a ruler, I press the fabric and fold it in half with the selvedges aligned in the center of the fabric, then fold the fabric a second time. I then line up the edge of the fabric with the lines on the mat and cut through the four layers with the rotary cutter.

For more organic looking stripes, ditch the ruler and cut improvisationally. This gives the lines more energy. When I cut without a ruler, I press the fabric in half and place the fabric on the cutting mat at an angle so that there is as much cutting area as possible. I use the lines on the mat as reference points. I place the rotary cutter near the edge of the fabric and firmly and smoothly cut the fabric strip. Sometimes, I cut improvisationally using the lines on the mat as a guide, creating slightly organic lines. Other times I cut ignoring the lines, and come up with something wild.

TIP: It is important to move your entire body in the direction that you are moving the rotary cutter. This gives you more control over the quality of the line you cut.

Cut stripes organically (left) or with a ruler (right)

Cut stripes organically (left) or with a ruler (right)

Piece the stripes

After I cut all the strips, I lay them out in order and take a picture. This helps me stay organized. When I am making a new stripe, I stitch from left to right and right to left—pairing fabrics that are next to each other while also working from the sides of the stripe towards the center. If one strip is particularly skinny, I stitch it to a wider strip first. I always try to press the seams toward the darker fabric. When I stitch ruler-cut strips, I sew two strips together, press, then add another strip, until my stripe is complete. After every seam, I press the entire stripe, creating a nice, flat surface to work with. When stitching strips that were cut without a ruler, I match the edges of the fabric as I go.

Stitching this way creates the organic lines of an improv stripe. I try to sew all the strips together with ¼” seam allowances, even the organic strips when possible. When I sew wild strips together, I always have wider strips on the outside edge of the stripe. This allows some room for me to square up the stripe in the end, a process I do whether the stripe is improvisationally pieced or not.

“Good Vibrations #2” • 48" x 54"

“Good Vibrations #2” • 48″ x 54″

Use the stripe

There are lots of ways to use stripes. Cut them up and arrange them on the design wall and see what happens, like I did for “Striped Chaos” and “Good Vibrations #2.” Use a traditional quilt block as your inspiration and use your stripes as fabric as in “God’s Eye.” Stripes make excellent borders and sashing for a contemporary look. Or, leave them as they are to create a dynamic bar quilt like “Beachy.”

Maria Shell Photo by Bonnie McCaffery

Photo by Bonnie McCaffery

Maria Shell has received several awards including a Sustainable Arts Foundation 2011 Winter Award and three Rasmuson Foundation Awards. Her work has been featured in several solo and group shows, including Quilt National 2015, Art Quilt Elements, and Quilts=Art=Quilts. She is the author of Improv Patchwork: Dynamic Quilts Made With Line & Shape. Visit her website to learn more.

Have Maria’s interesting techniques for creating prints from solids got you itching to quilt? Check out these modern quilts made with solids—a collection curated just with you in mind!

Sew long,

Leave a Reply