October 16, 2017

How New is Modern: Circling the Square

How New is Modern is an upcoming exhibition sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum in Golden, CO. The exhibit will showcase 38 modern quilts made by members of the Denver Metro Modern Quilt Guild. The quilts represent modern interpretations of traditional quilts from the museum's collection and I'm thrilled Circling the Square will be one of the quilts included in the show.

Springleaf Studios, Anne Deister

Today I thought I'd share how this quilt evolved by sharing parts of an earlier post about my design process.

The project began by playing with the traditional drunkard's path block. My early explorations were primarily based on the positive shapes created when quarter circle units are combined into larger shapes. As I played, I began to focus on the use of negative space. Three quarter circles creates a square negative space. One quarter circle can look like a bite taken out of a larger square. Just look at all the interesting negative spaces in the example below.

I started my explorations by creating a palette of basic shapes in Adobe Illustrator. A single quarter circle. A half circle. A 3/4 circle. Then I duplicated each shape and rotated them to give me a variety of orientations. Once I had my shape palette, I started to play around with placement of the shapes while paying close attention to the negative spaces that were created.

Creating negative squares from positive circles really intrigued me so, with this concept in mind, the name Circling the Square was born. I don't know that I've ever named a quilt while designing it but in this case the name spoke to me. It helped to clarify the concept and began to influence my design decisions.

Early on I tried quarter circles coming in and swirling around until they created a square of negative space in the center. Very interesting but not quite what the name implied to me. Maybe I'll pursue this idea down the road.

Then I began to focus on the circles forming a mass with the square at it's center. This was closer to what the name implied but it wasn't quite there yet.

The consolidation of shapes was going in the right direction but the rectangular format wasn't right. I made the decision to change the overall format to a square which seemed much more appropriate given the quilt name.

As the mass of quarter circles came together it only seemed right that the larger shape created be circular in nature. I tried a lot of different arrangements until I got a somewhat uniform mass of circles. Careful attention was paid, not only to the placement of the circular units, but also to the negative shapes that were created. I wanted to balance the use of full circles, 3/4 circles, and half circles along with the negative shapes. I worked primarily with odd numbers, in many cases repeating the use of three elements as you can see below.

Once I got the basic shapes in place, I started to explore color. The constructive nature of the design reminded me of the early modern art movements of Constructivism and Bauhaus.  Black, white and red were frequently used in the graphic designs of these movements so it just seemed to be the right color scheme to use here. I did look at a few other colors but nothing was as dynamic and strong.

As you can see in the illustration below, I tried using red for the center square. It seemed like the natural place to use color. The effect, however, was that the red square became a positive shape rather than a negative space. There's nothing wrong with this except it wasn't what I was trying to depict. My intent was the creation of a negative square formed by the circles. Removing the red, as in the second example, returned the square to it's negative space but the design needed color. By placing the red in the only full circle in the entire layout a focal point was established. It gave the eye a place to start the journey of the circles swirling around the square.

Once I settled on color placement, I explored the finer details of the arrangement. The addition of little black arcs around the outside activated the circle. Take a look above at the far right illustration and then the illustrations below and you can see how the composition feels more active. I started with three (below left) and decided on six (below right).

Another refinement was in the small negative squares that come off the large central square. I felt the small squares (below left) diminished the effect of the large square. It didn't quite read as a single large square in the way I intended. Next, I tried changing the small squares to quarter circles (below right) but this didn't quite work either. Now the center square looked like it had three little wings. This arrangement also introduced a new shape to the black 3/4 circles that didn't really like.

Do you feel like you're playing one of those games where you need to find the differences? Can you find all the things I'm referencing? If not look harder.  : )

Below is the final layout. Simply rotating the quarter circle units brought the 3/4 quarter shapes back in alignment with the rest of the design while clearly defining the negative center square. So there you have it. The final design . . .

While I work out a lot of my designs in Illustrator, many of the finer details happen on my design wall. The placement of the final black arcs and refinement of the center square all happened on the wall. I also auditioned fabrics on the wall. I used tone-on-tone prints for almost all of the circle shapes and for all the negative areas except the center square which is a solid. I'm quite happy with how this design evolved and developed.

I quilted it with a giant spiral starting from the center of the red circle. Red thread was used in the red circle and then I switched to a very light gray for the rest. Can't say that I'd want to do spiral quilting on anything larger than this. The final size is 52" x 52" which is about the max I can imagine turning around and around and around under my short machine arm space.

I hope you enjoyed this glimpse into my design process. My graphic design background leads me to a more controlled approach to my work but not everything is predetermined. It's a back and forth between computer and design wall. Sometimes even a rough sketch on paper.

Show Information:
I'd like to invite you to the opening reception Friday, October 27th from 6-8pm.
The exhibit, How New is Modern, will run October 23, 2017 through February 3, 2018.

If you live anywhere near Denver or will be visiting the area, you really should check it out. It's going to be a fabulous exhibit of modern quilts. Learn more about the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum by visiting their site. Come see the quilts and learn about modern quilting.

I'll see you there.  : )



  1. Congratulations on the entry to the exhibition - it's definitely a worthy effort! I love your thought process in developing the pattern, and the finished product is wonderful!

  2. WOW! What an amazing designer you are Anne! I would never, ever have considered the process that went into making this beautiful and amazing quilt! No wonder I don't design quilts, I wouldn't have the stamina or the thought process to do this! This quilt is an absolute winner and will long be celebrated!

  3. It's wonderful! I loved it when you first shared this design on your blog, and how delicious to see the final result with fabrics you chose, the ivory frame around the center square, the pale grey binding, and then the spiral quilting. Its just wonderful! Congratulations on being included in the show!!

  4. It's wonderful! I loved it when you first shared this design on your blog, and how delicious to see the final result with fabrics you chose, the darkest blacks and whites frame around the center square, the pale grey binding, and then the spiral quilting. Its just wonderful! Congratulations on being included in the show!!

  5. Absolutely fascinating! Will you be making a pattern in the future? I'm just loving this. I was able to follow along quite nicely. You did a great job walking through your whole thought process!

  6. I LOVE THIS! And I really appreciate your sharing your process - so enlightening! I don't really design on the computer, so this is very interesting.

  7. Gosh, Anne! This quilt takes my breath away! It's exactly the kind of modern I adore, admire, and covet. Oh how I wish I knew how to create as you do! While I thoroughly appreciate your step-by-step review of the process you went through to achieve this glorious outcome, I don't think I have it in me to work through creating a design in this manner. I mean, I don't have the know-how to KNOW if I'm working through a design the "right" way. You make it sound so straightforward. And you know Illustrator too, so that's no doubt a huge help, I am sure. What I know is that I love, love, love this, and am trying so very hard to not be jealous or envious of your talent. For you absolutely have talent in spades! And how you implemented the design using those colors... You truly have a gift. Did you use any particular cutting ruler to achieve those circles and partial circles? Or did you create your own template? By the way, your photography at Target is "spot on." :-)

  8. P.S. Spiral quilting was the perfect choice for this quilt. And yes, you CAN quilt a larger quilt in a small space. I did. Mine was 80" X 90". You can, you can. You can!

  9. This is such an amazing design! I love the composition, the curves, and the spiral quilting. Stunning!

  10. This is so cool. I loved reading about your design process.

  11. I have enjoyed following the progress on this quilt, and now we have our very own wrap-up post, giving us a slice of your creative (process) mind. I love this quilt, and love how it evolved. Thank you very much for a satisfying read!

  12. Anne, what a striking design! Fascinating to read your design process! Thank you for sharing this amazing quilt!


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