Complementary Composition: A Michael Miller Challenge Quilt

Complementary Composition grew out of the 2017 Michael Miller/Modern Quilt Guild Challenge.  This is the third year I have participated in the challenge, and this is the first time that my challenge quilt has been selected for participation at QuiltCon.

Complementary Composition full

The fabric for the challenge is Our Yard, and it is super cute!  This actually proved to be a greater challenge to me, because I rarely make quilts that I can describe as cute or even pretty.  I love looking at quilts that are cute, pretty, darling, charming, etc., but I don’t tend to create work that I would use these terms to describe.  Now the question became- How do I incorporate these charming prints into my personal aesthetic?

Michael Miller Challenge Fabric 2017

When I am uncertain how to proceed with a design, I tend to turn to the elements and principles of design.  While the elements and principles of design never exist purely on their own, I find that sometimes narrowing my focus in the initial stages of a design helps to refine my overall vision for the project.  In this case, I initially focused on the element of color and the principle of scale.

There are so many bright colors in the challenge prints that it allows for interpretation in selecting a dominant color palette.  Blue and Orange has always been my favorite complementary color scheme (two colors opposite each other on the color wheel), and I thought that the vibrant combination would honor the energy evoked in the fabric prints.  To add visual dimension, I selected a lighter and darker version of solid color.  I was fortunate enough to make my initial fabric purchase for the quilt while in Paducah, KY at Hancock’s of Paducah.  They carry most of the Michael Miller solids, so I was able to make my color choices with the fabrics right in front of me.  When purchasing solids for a project, I try to photograph the ends of the bolts just in case I need to order more, which did happen during this project.

Michael Miller Solids

The official challenge only required that two of the prints in the line be incorporated into the finished quilt, but as a personal challenge, I wanted to use each one included in the bundle that was sent out.  In order to make this work with my aesthetic and the color scheme of the quilt, scale was going to be an extremely important aspect of the design.  The most graphic print in the bundle is the black, grey, and white print which is the most closely aligned to my aesthetic.  This would be the dominant print.  The black and white leaf print on the mustard and aqua backgrounds is closely associated with the striped print, and I liked that the spacing of the print give the eye a place to rest in the background and allows it to work with the solid fabrics surrounding it.  I knew that this print was a prime candidate for fussy cutting to highlight the leaf image.

Complementary Composition fussy cut detail

The busiest prints were going to be the most challenging to work in, so they were going to be used in the smallest pieces.  The 1/8″ slivers of these fabrics create energetic lines and break up large expanses of the solid fabrics.

Complementary Composition Piecing Detail

This quilt is constructed using a structured improv technique.  The pieces are measured and trimmed as they are sewn, but there is no predetermined design for the piece.  I started the process by constructing blocks loosely based on Log Cabin/Courthouse Steps style blocks.  Many of the blocks are built around a fussy cut square or a simply pieced block.  As the blocks were completed, I added them to the design wall.

Complementary Composition Design Wall

Once I decided the blocks were balancing within the design, I filled in the open areas with strips of fabric.

Complementary Composition Echo Quilting

For the quilting of the piece, I wanted to emphasize the linear qualities of the piecing by using a mix of vertical, horizontal, and diagonal straight line quilting as well as echo quilting.  The echo quilting highlights a visually contained shape while the vertical lines give a sense of strength that is balanced by the calming force of the horizontal lines.  Mixing in strong diagonal lines gives a greater energy and a sense of the unexpected to the overall design.

Complementary Composition Use of Challenge Fabric

The binding is a mix of solids with just a small section of striped fabric to draw the eye back toward the center of the quilt.

Quilt Stats:

Title:  Complementary Composition

Size: 63″ x 69″

Techniques:  Machine Piecing, Structured Improvisational Piecing, Fussy Cutting

Quilting:  Linear Quilting using an A-1 Longarm equipped with digital channel locks that can be set to any angle

Fabric:  Michael Miller Our Yard Prints and Cotton Couture Solids

Batting:  Hobbs 80/20

Thread:  Pieced using Gutermann Mara 100, Quilted with 50wt Aurifil

Binding:  Bias binding in a mix of solids and striped print cut at 2″ wide, machine stitched to the front, hand finished on the back

Improv Trees

This weekend I had the opportunity to teach my first improvisational piecing class at Dabble and Stitch in Columbus, Ohio.  And it happened to be one of my all-time favorite improv inspirations- winter trees!  Talk about being perfect for this time of year!  In the sample piece I used a lot of bright colors.

Improv Trees Sample

I love using unexpected fabrics for the trees, especially irregular stripes or splotches.  We spent the first part of class selecting fabrics, and the students made fabulous selections!  Here are a couple student projects.  I tend to get pretty wrapped up in the class itself and forget to take photos, but I can assure you that there was a lot of awesomeness going on!

For the tree fabric strips she selected a print of trees!  Don’t you love how the print looks all cut up?

Improv student process shot

Here is a finished top.  The tree fabric used in this one was a popular choice and looked terrific with a bunch of different backgrounds.

Improv student project


I really hope I have the chance to teach this class again!  If you would like to see another example and read more about the process, please check out another improv trees mini quilt I did awhile ago.

Crystalized Citrus: A Blogger’s Quilt Festival Entry

Crystalized Citrus is my second entry into The Blogger’s Quilt Festival hosted by Amy’s Creative Side.  I hope you will all set aside some time this week to look at all of the amazing inspiration provided by the festival entries- there is some amazing work on display!

Crystalized Citrus

Crystalized Citrus

I originally created this quilt for this year’s Hoffman Challenge which required the use of this digitally printed butterfly fabric.  I enjoy transforming distinctively patterned fabric into something completely unexpected, so I was excited to transform the butterfly wings to the flesh of citrus fruit.

Hoffman Challenge Fabric

Crystalized Citrus detail

The center of each fruit is improvisationally pieced before being set into the surrounding “skin.”  The entire fruit is then hand appliquéd to the background.  I used matchstick quilting in a range of coordinating colors to ground the pieces on the white background.

Crystalized Citrus

For more about this quilt you can check out the original Crystalized Citrus post.

Crystalized Citrus: A Hoffman Challenge Quilt

Crystalized Citrus is my first Hoffman Challenge quilt, and I am thrilled with the result!  I was cutting it really close time wise, so it was quite a relief when they extended the deadline by a week- it saved me a late night getting the binding on!
Crystalized Citrus full view

For many years I had seen the Hoffman Challenge quilts exhibited at the Rotary Quilt Show that coincided with the AQS show in Paducah.  It was my first introduction to the concept of a challenge quilt, and I was intrigued.  This year was the first time I was able to find the fabric in a local shop before it completely sold out, and it is the best fabric challenge print yet!  The butterfly print on the right is the required challenge fabric and the print on the left was an optional coordinate that I really liked, but didn’t end up using in the finished design.  Both of these fabrics are printed digitally so there is an almost infinite range of colors since the process isn’t limited by traditional printing processes.

Hoffman Challenge Fabric

When I’m designing with a specific print in mind, I like to alter it to see it in a new way.  I had thought about creating a “Butterfly Garden” by turning the wings into flower petals, but as I was starting the idea of vibrant citrus came to mind.  The butterfly wings turned into the flesh of the fruit and the neutral space of the print became the membranes.  I pulled a variety of prints from my stash to create the skin of the fruits.  My main goal was to keep the challenge fabric the star of the show.

Crystalized Citrus detail



I intentionally chose to balance the representational aspects of this design with the abstract.  The pieces of fruit do not overlap and the improv piecing in the flesh of the citrus doesn’t create an ultra realistic image.  These aspects of the design allowed for quilting that defies realism and creates a more abstract overall design.

The primary quilting design is matchstick quilting going both horizontally and vertically.  Most of the horizontal quilting is done in white with guest appearances from purple and the local color of each fruit to create a grounding shadow.  The color of each piece of citrus infuses the background above it with colorful vertical matchstick quilting.  Free motion quilting further defines each piece of fruit in the composition.

Crystalized Citrus


Quilt Stats

Title: Crystalized Citrus

Size: 24″x21″

Techniques:  Machine Improv Piecing, hand appliqué

Quilting:  Matchstick and free motion quilting done on my A-1 Elite longarm

Fabric:  Hoffman Crystalia digitally printed fabric in opal, assorted cotton prints and solids.

Batting:  Hobbs 80/20 cotton blend

Thread:  Pieced and appliquéd with Gutermann Mara 100 in coordinating colors, Quilted with six colors of 50wt Aurifil cotton thread

Binding:  Facing done with the same white fabric used for the background and backing of the quilt

Goal #1 is Finished!

Goal #1 is Finished!

Modern Improv Round Robin Quilt

Improv is one of my favorite techniques, and it was even more fun when we added a group of quilters and some time limits!

Modern Improv front view

Last Fall, one of my local quilt shops offered a Round Robin Improv class that was loosely based on the book, The Improv Handbook for Modern Quilters: A Guide to Creating, Quilting, and Living Courageously, by Sherri Lynn Wood. (I currently have no affiliate links)  For the class, we each brought a bin of scraps along with a larger piece of our signature fabric and two other pieces of fabric.

Yardage to mix with scraps for the upcoming improv class

Yardage to mix with scraps for the upcoming improv class

For my signature fabric, I selected the colorful Alison Glass print shown above.  I loved the print, and I thought it would be fun to have a piece that held lots of opportunities for fussy cutting and had plenty of colors that would coordinate with a variety of fabric types.

The round robin format meant that we each worked on every quilt top in our group of six. Our scrap bins, along with our other fabrics (except our signature material) get passed around the group in half hour increments.  In the first time slot we each worked on our own quilt, using our signature fabric and any of the other materials we brought with us.  To make this even more interesting, for the entire day, we weren’t allowed to use any rulers or rotary cutters- scissors or tearing were our only fabric cutting options!

The section of the improv quilt that came out of the class

The section of the improv quilt that came out of the class

When the first time slot ended, we passed our quilt top and all of our fabrics (except our signature material) to the next person in the group.  The main goal was to incorporate our signature fabric into each quilt and make sure our contribution to the quilt top was attached before the end of the half hour time limit.  This is where my background working in theatre may have given me an advantage:

  1. I am used to working on other people’s designs/projects so I was not afraid that I would “ruin” their work (As a side note- everyone’s quilt tops looked really good, so this fear that a lot of people in the group expressed proved to be unfounded!)
  2. Time limits are a fact of life in theatre- Over the years I have learned to do the best possible work in the time allowed.

As we went through each top, I fell into a rhythm where I looked through the fabric in the first minute or two and determined how to incorporate my signature print.  My signature print went really well with some fabric collections, but not as well with others.  Fortunately, we could use any amount of the signature fabric, and my material had lots of different colors that did help it to tie in with various color schemes.  I found it really helpful to have a print conducive to fussy cutting because it gave me a jumping off point, and then I could design on the fly for the rest.

Churn Dash Improv block with my signature fabric fussy cut in the center

Churn Dash Improv block with my signature fabric fussy cut in the center

My goal was to sew steadily until the final five minutes, then attach what I had done to the main body of the quilt top and press the entire piece before passing it on.  My personal goal was to always hand off a piece that was relatively square.  We weren’t allowed to cut off anything that another group member added, so I tried to be nice and not give anyone a difficult shape to deal with :)

I tried to not let the lack of rulers limit the designs I used.  I made half square triangles (HST) by pressing (instead of drawing) a diagonal line across a square and stitching on either side, and made flying geese in a similar manner to how I would normally approach the task.  I tried to not let the fact that it wouldn’t be perfect deter me from trying different designs, and I ended up making variations on lots of traditional blocks including log cabins, pinwheels, flying geese, churn dash and wonky stars.

Modern Improv Wonky Star block

Modern Improv detail A

Modern Improv Flying Geese

I wish I had taken photos of everyone’s project, but in the heat of the moment, I was much more focused on just getting my contributions finished!

By the end of the day we each had a top that was a bigger than a mini, but smaller than a lap quilt, so I went home and added to mine to create a generous lap quilt.  I stuck to the no rulers or rotary cutter rules and tried to work at a similar pace to what I had done during the class.

The backing is constructed using several different fabrics, but these were all larger pieces than those used on the quilt top.

Modern Improv back view

In keeping with the spirit of the class, I did the quilting with no rulers and tried to move quickly while embracing a wide range of designs.

Modern Improv pinwheel and quilted geese

The binding is created exclusively from my collection of binding scraps that I connected randomly and continue the improv feeling all the way to the edge of the quilt.

Modern Improv binding detail

I cannot recommend this type of class enough- it was so much fun!  If you are in the Columbus, Ohio area this class is being offered again in March at Quilt Beginnings.  It was a great opportunity to move out of my comfort zone and work collaboratively with a wonderful group of quilters.

Modern Improve Quilt draped


Quilt Stats

Title:  Modern Improv Round Robin

Size: 53″x71″

Techniques:  Improvisational Piecing (no rulers or rotary cutters!)

Quilting:  Hand guided free motion (no rulers!)

Fabric:  Alison Glass print, two prints from the Zen Chic line, lots of scraps

Batting:  Warm and White

Thread:  Pieced with Gutermann Mara 100, Quilted with white cotton 50wt Wonderfil

Binding:  Scrappy

This was my One Monthly Goal for February:

Goal #2 is Complete!

Goal #2 is Complete!