Wednesday, February 7, 2007

WIP: Wheel of mystery quilt

I don't know if it's like this for everyone, but quilting is a long, doubt-filled process for me. (Warning: this is going to be a long, rambly post.) I have never, ever been good at matching colors. Or patterns. Or anything, really. To make things worse, I'm a big fan of avacado green and mustard yellow, and things that are just the right degree of ugly to make them cool. These are probably not good qualities in a quilter.

I am so, SO bad at matching fabrics that it takes me hours to select fabrics for a quilt. I know the employees at the quilting stores I shop at cringe when I hold one bolt of fabric up to another to see if they match. Sometimes, out of the corner of my eye, I see them snickering at me. I'm paranoid that the woman at the checkout feels sorry for the receiver of whatever I am making.

Inevitably, at some point in the quilting process (usually many points) I think "Geez, this is kinda ugly." Sometimes this happens when I get the fabrics into daylight and realize they probably don't match. Other times it's when I start cutting itty bitty pieces out of fabric with gigantic flowers and I realize the flowers are now reduced to abstract art. Usually about halfway through piecing a quilt I have a moment of panic, maybe shed a few tears, afraid that the quilt is probably not going to live up to the overly-optimistic artistic vision I had at the beginning of the project. I just take a few minutes to grieve, dry my eyes, and then I power through those doubts. I always tell myself that the quilt will look good when it's all pieced together. Even if it's not so hot when it's pieced, I have spent so much time with it and am so emotionally invested in it that I can no longer view it objectively. I can't tell if its ugly or not.

I've been searching for ways to eliminate the matching and doubting parts of quilting and just breeze through to the end where I have a (non-ugly) finished product I'm proud of. I purchased the Wheel of Mystery quilt kit from Benartex fabrics thinking that it would solve a lot of my issues. The kit includes all of the die-cut pieces needed, so there would be no fabric selection -or- cutting. Awesome. Or is it...

First I tried to lay out all of the pieces before sewing any of them together. I felt a little uneasy when I realized that not all of the batik fabrics match, and that the most challenging part of the whole project was going to be the laying-out of the pieces. Damn. After many hours of laying out the pieces I scrapped that idea and read the directions. Apparently you can get a "more random look" by piecing any old light colored piece A to any dark colored pieces B and C. Huh. Random sounds good, but light colored... dark colored... how on earth do you sort out light colored and dark colored batiks? Grey scale? Color intensity? Here was my try:


In case you're wondering, and I'm sure you are, the top row is the "light" and the bottom row is the "dark". I'm sure that you now feel sorry for the receiver of this quilt. Don't wory, I'm not gifting this, it's going to be a wall hanging for my living room. After strugging with the concepts of "light" and "dark" I got a bit nervous about this project, so the pieces got stuffed in a bag in the back of the closet for almost a year. Now they are nice and wrinkly... great. I can barely contain my enthusiasm for this project. The only thing that keeps me going is the hope that the end product will look great in my living room.

My next step was to randomly sew the light colored A pieces to dark colored B pieces and vice versa. I'm about half done with this. I started laying out the quilt:


As you can see, the piecing was not so random. Lots of pieces are inverses of each other, like the adjacent blue-yellow and yellow-green pieces. This was an accident. You're looking at try 9 of the layout. I'm now at the "this is kinda ugly" phase. I'm a little bit ashamed right now about my total misunderstanding of color theory. I really am not happy with the pieces, and I have no idea how to proceed. I'm thinking sew more random pieces together, trying harder to make them "random". Followed my many, many more hours of block layout and doubt, otherwise known as the "that piece would look good over here, and this one should move there..." phase. It's like a horrible, never-ending game of 15 puzzle. That phase will be followed by the "it'll look totally different (and hopefully better) once all the pieces are sewn together, so just finish it already" phase. I'm glad I've got a plan :/


  1. I actually like the way it looks, and the not-as-random groupings of the teal, yellow and red seem to accentuate the curves. I know exactly what you mean about floundering with color theory. I don't get what goes together and what doesn't. Well, I kind of get what doesn't go together, because it usually doesn't look all that great, but I have no idea how to fix it. I guess it's all trial and error, but I wish the errors weren't so frustrating. Good luck, and I can't wait to see how it turns out!

  2. I don't know a lot about colour theory, but I do have a way of working out which are light and which are dark pieces.

    You do it in a dark room, which is too dark to see colours. Because you can't see the colours it is much easier to tell whether a particular bit is lighter or darker then another.

  3. I think you did a great job.

  4. I am hopeless at the colour choosing and mixing now I just go with what "I" like and try not to agonise too much over whether it would look good to someone else or not. I have a suspicion your individual combinations look great because they are individual. I like what you are putting together.

  5. I have bought four of the kits for this quilt. Two I have had for quite a while and two I just got. The first two are much richer, darker fabrics. The two new ones are more pastel. When you open the kit the darks are stacked together and the lights are stacked together........I did not notice that at first......but that is the way they are organized.

    I then alternated the lights/darks from both kits and got to work laying out the blocks. I totally just take what is the next one in the appropriate pile, unless it is a duplicate.......and it will come out just fine.

    Don't give up.....batiks are so beautiful.

    I have not tried it, but the suggestion above about sitting in a dark room might help you out........or ask a friend to sort them out. Do not over think this project or you will not have fun.

    Take it one piece at a time. I lay mine out on freezer paper, waxy side up and then press the pieces onto the paper. That way all the blocks are laid out, do not get mixed up and there is always a block ready to sew.


  6. [...] an otherwise spoiled visual effect. carriebee has generously provided this layout photo on Flickr. Read her blot post on the planning process.A few years ago John Flynn designed a Wheel of Mystery kit for Benartex from the Triple Dyed Bali [...]