How to Design by Thinking in Layers

Note from Amber: Stitch Technical Editor Mary Walter is also a very talented quilter. Here, she shares with us her tips on how she approaches the design of an art quilt. 

Whistler's Street at
Saverne by Mary Walter

A student design wall.

  Ideas taking shape.

 Recently I was invited by the Whistler House Museum to teach a class interpreting a Whistler etching in fabric. Deciding on the techniques to make a quilt, and then teaching others to do so posed several interesting challenges. I chose to think of the artwork as layered, piecing the houses, placing them on a background, and then treating the finer architectural details as fused embellishments.

My quilt was made with textured fabric prints capturing the monochromatic hues of the original etching, I urged students to also think in colored value changes to achieve contrast and perspective, not just in the class sample's grey, black and white.

Using a design wall to audition fabrics is a valuable tool to visually check your design progress and test your ideas. A piece of cotton batting is good portable design wall to use for a class. In the classroom setting, a flood of opinions surrounding a fabric choice is often an added bonus, and classmates always offer up exciting alternate fabric selections.  

Don't be afraid to experiment with different fabrics and ideas. The smallest scrap of fabric can sometimes add the biggest statement to your design. While looking for the perfect fabric to create a shadow I cut several different dark fabrics, but none were satisfying my vision and ended up in the scrap basket. Finally trying a piece of lace proved to be the perfect solution.  

My scrap basket is my treasure trove of fabrics to dig into when I need another color or interesting fabric. Often I start with pieces from my basket to begin a new quilt, adding from my stash as I go along. This kind of improvisational design is a great stress-free way to learn and experiment with different stitching techniques, materials, and ideas.

This unencumbered approach is also a favorite design technique used by Bethan Ash in her upcoming book Vibrant Quilt Collage: A Spontaneous Approach to Fused Art Quilts. Her unique and colorful approach to creating quilts is both informative and inspirational. You can find Vibrant Quilt Collage in the Sew Daily Shop.

How do you find your design inspiration? Tell us about it!

Happy stitching,

Mary Walter
Stitch Technical Editor



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About Amber

Amber Eden is the editor of Stitch and She LOVES sewing and editing Stitch and She also loves dance, yoga, iced decaf triple espressos, and her two golden retrievers. She divides her time between Boston and New York.