November 16, 2019

Night Into Day; A Negative Space Quilt Using Notan

Last night was the opening of Unoccupied: The Importance of Negative Space, a show of modern quilts made by the Boulder Modern Quilt Guild. It was a lovely evening full of quilty friends and wonderful quilts. The show runs November 15 through January 6, 2020 at the Collective - Community Arts Center in Lafayette, CO. If you're in the Denver area be sure to stop by. I have two quilts in the show. Circling the Square and Night Into Day. Night Into Day even made the cover of the show postcards.

When the show was first announced I knew I wanted to explore something new using negative space.
I started with a lot of different ideas and struggled at first to narrow down the choices. Then, when a couple of guild members gave two separate presentations, the first on negative space in quilting, including the concept of Notan, and the second on improv, I was inspired to try incorporating both into my show quilt.

So what exactly is Notan? Notan is a Japanese concept of using dark and light shapes to create harmonious compositions often thought of as figure/ground reversal. In other words, positive and negative space. Think of the Yin and Yang symbol. Or paper designs that cut away a section and reverse it as a mirror image.

I decided to create black and white shapes using improv techniques to make my quilt blocks. To create the shapes, I paired one black and one white square of fabric and cut the stack into shapes by making straight cuts. The cuts were not planned other than being straight. I chose not to use angles, but they would work just as well. Then I interchanged the cut pieces and sewed them back together. The result was two blocks that were essentially the opposite of each other. Quilters may know this technique as stack and whack which generally involves 3 - 4 pieces of fabric per stack. 

Each pair I made was different and I had no idea how they would come together until they were all done and I could play with arrangements. Both the cutting and the layout was done improvisationally.  

Here's the process I used to make 12 pairs of blocks that finish at 6" x 6" for a total of 24 blocks. 

1.  Cut 12 squares each of black and white fabric approximately 8.5" x 8.5".  Blocks will be trimmed to 6.5" x 6.5" but the larger size is needed to account for seam allowances when the squares are cut into smaller pieces and then re-sewn together. I suggest you cut at least 2" bigger than your intended final size.

2.  Layer one black square with one white square and make one or two cuts horizontally and vertically through both fabrics. Sub-cut some of the larger shapes into smaller pieces similar to what's shown below.

3.  Shuffle the black and white pieces to create new blocks that combine both black and white pieces. This can be done by directly interchanging every other piece to create blocks that are direct opposites. The cuts above made the blocks below.

The pieces can also be arranged so the blocks are mirror images of each other as shown below. These blocks are from a different stack of cut pieces. It's a little hard to recognize the mirror image until you look closely.

Another option is to create blocks where one is predominately light and the other is predominately dark by only exchanging a few pieces.

4.  Sew the pieces together starting with the smaller pieces and building outward until all pieces are sewn together. It's easiest to sew one block at a time so as not to get confused about what piece goes where. Repeat the same sewing sequence to make the second block. 

5.  Trim both blocks to 6.5" x 6.5".  OPTION: for added interest block pairs can be trimmed differently. This will reduce the matching appearance between the two blocks. For my purpose I wanted to maintain the matching yet opposite appearance so mine were all trimmed the same.

6.  Continue the process, making different cuts for each pair of blocks. Once all your block pairs are done the fun begins.

There are so many different ways my blocks could have been arranged. The lights and darks could have been clustered concentrically from the center out. Or they could have been positioned on the diagonal. In these arrangements you would probably be hard pressed to find the matching pairs.

I chose to go with a rectangular layout by placing the matching pairs side by side in order to emphasize the figure ground aspect of the matching blocks and play with the positive/negative shapes between the block pairs. A few of the simpler matching pairs where then placed along the outer edge and the solid squares were used to fill out the design. My final quilt finishes at 24" x 48".

The images below show 2 pages of a 3 page document I created in case you'd like to try the Notan concept for yourself. It shows block basics, layout options, plus several block variations. You can download it here. If you use this document to explore your own Notan quilts I'd love to see them. Tag me on Instagram @springleafstudios.

My second quilt in the show, Circling the Square is shown below. I think it plays quite well with Laura's red cross and moon phase quilts. The common colors and the contrasting shapes of the three quilts make a striking combination all together.

You can read about the design process for Circling the Square here. In addition to this show, it has been shown at QuiltCon 2019 in Nashville and the Rocky Mountain Quilt Museum in Golden. It was also featured in the QuiltCon magazine.

I enjoyed the process of making Night Into Day so much I am planning to experiment with another quilt using a bunch of different colored solids. I have already cut one large and one small square from each solid in my stash. I have about 130 squares in each size. I'll use the large ones for another Notan quilt and the smaller ones for something else.

negative space quilt, notan quilt blocks, modern quilt

There are so many choices I can make with this all solid idea. I could always pair a warm with a cool colored square. I could pair warm on warm or cool on cool colors. I could use stacks of 3 or 4 fabrics instead of just 2. This would give me the choice to have more than 2 colors in a block. I have no idea what the end result will look like, but that's the challenge and the fun. I won't start this until 2020 and will post here and on my Instagram account so follow along if you'd like to see what happens.

Thanks go out to The Collective Community Art Center in Lafayette for hosting the show and to Laura and Katie (and everyone else) of the BoulderMQG for all your hard work putting the show together.
You did a great job!


November 6, 2019


Welcome to my Arboretum, a most colorful forest of fabric trees.

This quilt wasn't even on my radar. One day I just happened to notice a few Kaffe Fassett fabrics in brownish colors on the shelf and suddenly quilter's ADD took over. Since it's fall, those browns and rusts were begging to be used and leaves seemed the perfect fall subject.

Inspired by those fallish prints, I looked through my Pinterest board on leaf quilts for inspiration. Several pins sparked ideas. Unfortunately, the pin I was most inspired by led to no further links or information, so I took off on my own.

I did a quick layout in the computer to determine the quilt size and number of blocks I would need and settled on 9 rows with 11 blocks per row for a total of 99 blocks. The blocks are 5.5" x 8" for a finished size of about 60" x 72" . . .  a nice large throw.

Next I pulled a ton of prints in a range of fall colors. Starting with the browns and rusts, I added reds, oranges, golds, yellows, greens and even purples. As I said in my previous post, more is more as far as I'm concerned. More variety makes for more interest and more visual activity.

I cut one rectangle approximately 6.5" x  9" from 99 different fabrics. I was determined not to repeat any fabrics and easily found more than 99 in my stash. Next I pulled strip scraps in the same color range for the veins (branches) and cut them 1" wide.

At this point in the process, I planned to add small triangles to the corners of each block to give it a leafy shape. I thought I'd use solids and tried a couple of different light blues as you can see here.

The more blocks I made, the less I liked the corners. Then my husband wandered in and said he liked my trees. So my leaves became trees with branches.

The piecing process for the branches was completely improv. First, I cut a print rectangle in half top to bottom. Then I made angled cuts in both halves. The placement and angle of each cut was random. Most blocks have three angled cuts. Some have only two. Others have four or even five. There's even a couple with just one. The 1" strips were sewn between the angled cuts and pressed toward the strips. When both sides were done, the center strip was added between both halves. The finished block was then trimmed to 6" x 8.5"

I auditioned each strip fabric for each print as I went choosing not to cut too many of any one fabric. Some branch fabrics blend with the tree fabric and others have a strong contrast. Having some of each allows for the overall effect to come in and out of focus as you look at the quilt.

I had no preconceived idea of how to arrange the blocks but as more of them went up on the design wall I liked the look of the horizontal runs of color that were starting to happen. Once about 3/4 of the blocks were up I could begin to see what colors I needed more of. At this point I let go of the idea of 99 different trees and inserted 5 blocks of the same fabric called Shark's Teeth by Brandon Mably. To me this print looked like trees on hills. Repeating this fabric offered a very subtle pause within the forest.

I considered staggering the rows (below left) but it just looked too busy. There's a lot going on with all the prints. Keeping the tree trunks lined up (below right) provides a subtle sense of structure and unity.

It was quilted by Cara of Sew Colorado Quilting with a leafy design appropriately called fall foliage. It's subtle but the leaves have branches just like the trees.

I had hoped to get some great 'in the wild' photos with glowing red/orange fall foliage. Unfortunately we had a very early hard freeze and the colors just haven't been pretty. I settled for some yellow trees near home. My favorite pic is the opening photo near the city arboretum. The sign is what actually gave me the idea for naming the quilt Arboretum. It seems quite fitting.

Arboretum . . . a botanical garden devoted to trees.

So many people have asked about making this quilt. If you make one similar to mine, I'd really love to see it. Tag me on Instagram @springleafstudios and use #arboretumquilt to your posts.

While making Arboretum, I discovered that Scott of Blue Nickel Studios has a new pattern called TreeTime that is really cool. Check it out here. Or take a look on Instagram at #treetimequilt. It's a different, yet similar idea and I love what he did with the his trees.

UPDATE: While doing a little online shopping, I just happened upon a new to me tree pattern that is very similar to what I made. The construction method is different but the result is close to the same. The pattern is called Tangled Trees by Lizard Creek Quilting Here's a link to that pattern.

Linking up with Wendy and her Peacock Party.
Also Kelly and Needle and Thread Thursday.
And Cheryl's Monthly Favorite Finish .