Color and Pattern—They Just Go Together

by Christine Barnes

Well, fellow quilters, sewists, wearable artists, and others, here I sit, your Alchemist Emeritus, trying to decide what to say in my final post. You’ve heard about my plans for online classes, and you know you can keep up with me through my “Color Connection” newsletter. So I thought I’d talk about pattern in fabric. A student in a recent workshop said as she was leaving, “I learned as much about pattern as color today.” Great point. It’s hard to separate the two—they just go together.

Patterns are described by their style (naturalistic, stylized, abstract, geometric, ditzy, etc.), their scale (large, medium, small, and everything in between), and their density (open or closely spaced motifs). Classic design tells us to “vary the style and scale” of patterns in a design, such as a quilt, but when I mentioned this in a class early in my teaching career, one of the students tentatively raised her hand and said, “I have no idea what you mean by that.” I got the point and stuck with examples because visuals are almost always better than words, right? Right!

So let me show you pattern combinations in a few of my blocks and those of my students. In October I taught my “Urban Sunsets” quilt workshop for the Diablo Valley Quilters (what a great group!). Here are two blocks, one from my quilt, the other made after the quilt was finished. In the first example, the hand-painted fabric on the left is very open, the stripe is geometric and dense, and the Marica Derse print is stylized. (As an example, the paisley motif, which originated in India, is a stylized version of a pine cone.)In the block below, the scale of the hand-dye and the batik is very different, while the “pattern” of the red-orange Grunge is more like a texture.Back to the class . . . . In the delightful example below, you see a near-solid blue, a casual batik plaid, and a stylized floral. There’s a color connection among the fabrics, but the style, scale, and density are very different. Black-and-white strips help to separate the fabrics.What fun to see the repetition of dots in different sizes and colors. (This student was experimenting with the width of the skinny strips. I like to cut mine 3/4″ wide so they finish to a scant 1/4″.)I couldn’t resist: Nancy, who once belonged to the Grass Valley guild, is technicolor 24/7. She definitely brightened my day.Pressing the seams flat is essential to getting a crisp block.Don’t the center units look great up on the design wall? Yellow-green Grunge dots were popular that day.A lovely block, with related colors and very different patterns. The variation in the scale of the prints is very sophisticated. A Grunge in the center ties the fabrics together.

Next stop, the Sacramento chapter of the Modern Quilt Guild, a very enthusiastic group of risk-takers. 🙂 The goal in this Granny block exercise was to work with a classic color combination. This block is a triad of red-orange, yellow-green, and blue-violet, three colors spaced equally around the color wheel. The patterns are busy, but the colors and values vary enough to keep the design sharp.This block is roughly the same color combination, but two of the fabrics are much less intense than the yellow-green. And wow, aren’t these patterns dynamic together? I especially like the way this student oriented the “striped” fabrics to draw the eye inward. Extra credit for this mock-block! (Not everyone filled in with background triangles on their mock blocks. We were having too much fun, with too little time.)The Farmer’s Wife block, also known as Genny and Ruth, is a wonderful template for working with value, color, and pattern. Search Pinterest and you’ll see many versions—it’s such a versatile design. Here, black-and-white squares really bring the corners forward. Again, not everyone completed the background.Oh gosh, look what happens when the “star points” are white and part of the negative space is patterned—hard to believe it’s the same block as the previous one. I love the fresh colors and patterns in this block. Notice that the triangles are two different colors (yellow-green and blue). Great use of the airy, open print in the nine-patch unit, and the black-and-white print is the perfect scale for the corner squares. Nice!Finally, look what happens when the triangles in a “Japanese X and +” block are highly patterned and darker in value. This student gets even more extra credit for unique pattern placement—this block is going in circles, in a good way.In case I’ve left you confused, this is what a typical X and + block looks like, with the  triangles as background.I hope those blocks inspire you to look at and work with color and pattern in new ways. A big thank you to my brave and cheerful and willing students!

Let’s move on to my Studio Sale and the fabrics I love, but may never get around to using. Here’s how it works: Email me through the “Bio/Contact Me” page on my website,, not through our AA blog, and let me know what you want. I’ll add the sales tax and postage and get back to you with the total. If it’s agreeable, I’ll send you a Request for Money through Pay Pal. (You don’t need a PayPal account for this transaction.) Once you pay, I’ll send your package. You can also pay by check (I’ll give you my mailing address once we’ve agreed on the sale). OK, here goes . . .

1. This woven and hand-screened piece is from Kasuri Dyeworks, a famous high-end Japanese fabric store in the SF area. The shop closed more than a decade ago because, get this, artisans in Japan weren’t making many of these fabrics anymore; there just wasn’t the demand. (Google Kasuri Dyeworks to read the story.) So this is truly a gem. 40″ x 14¾”, $30 + tax and postage2. I bought this piece of hemp (yes, hemp) from a vendor selling Asian fabrics at Pacific International Quilt Festival. It’s very crudely woven, and has “unique” flaws, but I still LOVE the design. I tested a small corner of it in cold water and it barely bled. The true color is slightly lighter; for some reason my camera insisted on making it a bit darker. 45″ x 14″, $20 + tax and postage. The scissors in the bottom right are for scale.3. This yukata cloth came from Kitty Pippen, an author and internationally known quilter of Japanese fabrics, and a lovely lady. It would make a gorgeous wall hanging, framed by other sophisticated fabrics. 36″ x 14¾”, $20 + tax and postage4. Alexander Henry “kyugetsu dolls,” no longer available. The colors are exquisite and the black is deep and rich. 1 yard + 2 inches, $17 + tax and postageThe next two photos were taken on either side of the fold:5. A Robert Kaufman print, as it would appear on a bolt. 1 yd. $12 + tax and postage6. A batik of many wonderful colors. 1 2/3 yds. $20 + tax and postage7. I’ve always been drawn to ethereal batiks in organic geometric patterns. 1 yard, $12 + tax and postage8. More hard-to-say-goodbye-to fabrics, indigo batiks from a primitive-fabric vendor at the Marin Needle Arts show. 6 fat quarters, $16 + tax and postage9. The center square in the piece below is Kaffe Fassett, the ombré is by Caryl Bryer Fallert (no longer available), and the stripe is also by Kaffe. This block photographs as very rich and saturated, but it’s a bit more muted in real life. 17″ x 17″, $18 + tax and postage10. Finally, I made a series of these blocks in different fabrics, then matted, framed, and hung them together to make a “hard-edged Ninepatch.” I had a “recipe” to create a sense of depth and layering: a light batik center, surrounded by two darker fabrics, and finished with an even lighter batik. 12½” x 12½”, $14 + tax and postage If you’re still with me, thank you so much for looking. Keep in mind that I’ll have periodic studio sales in my newsletter, “Christine’s Color Connection.”

So as I end my role as an “active Alchemist,” let me say that it’s been a delight spending time with you. I’ll be following the blog along with all of you, enjoying every bit of creativity and inspiration that Heidi, Mary, Sandra, and Jane share. Yay, AA!






Summer Play

by Christine Barnes

Gardeners pore over seed catalogs, and fashionistas wait eagerly for the Fall fashion issue of Vogue. Me? I pull out my big book of 501 block patterns because, as you may have noticed, I adore traditional blocks made in today’s fabrics. I also look for opportunities to simplify a block to make it more modern. That’s my idea of a relaxing afternoon—looking at block designs and playing with fabric.

When my good buddy Heidi (I believe you know her) gave me a half-yard of this fabulous Anna Maria Horner print called “Fibs and Fables,” I thought it would be fun to do a three-block series, with each block having a different-size center square. 

I chose “The Crayon Box” for my first mock-block.

My supporting fabrics—a red-violet Marcia Derse, a yellow-green Grunge, and a slate-blue/gray by Parson Gray. I tossed in a low-volume background fabric, “Rush Hour” by studio e fabrics. (it’s a bit difficult to see, but it’s under the yellow-green square.) I challenged myself to use the same supporting fabrics in each block.


With a center that’s only 3 x 3 inches (the block finishes to 9 x 9), you don’t see much of the AMH fabric. The supporting fabrics seemed to overwhelm the print and confine it.

I started to deconstruct the mock-block (one of the benefits of gluing over sewing!) and really liked the simplicity—an example of “less is more,” I thought. How about using fewer pieces of the magenta and yellow-green, with a low-volume background fabric to open up the design? The simplified version is airier, with the possibility of rotating blocks to create an original quilt plan. 

Returning to my original idea of varying the proportions of the fabrics, I brought out one of my favorite blocks, “Cypress.” This block is also 9 x 9, but the center is 4½ inches, or half the width of the block and 50 percent larger than the center of The Crayon Box. I love seeing more of the AMH print. You also see more of the magenta print, but less of the yellow-green and slate-blue/gray. The Rush Hour background keeps everything light and airy.

Next up, the block “Counterpane.” This version is 10 x 10 inches, with a 6-inch center that reveals even more of the print. Blocks like Counterpane are perfect for showcasing gorgeous, splashy prints, while the small triangles make effective accents.


So now you know what I do on hot summer afternoons—I “play with my blocks.” And, no surprise, some of them actually turn into quilts, like the two new projects for my Zephyr workshop.

Hoping you are staying cool. And for those of you coming to my Zephyr workshop, I hope you’re having fun poring over your stash and deciding which fabrics you want to play with!

p.s. To my students, I’ll be in touch!

When One Thing Leads to Another

by Christine Barnes

I’m guessing most of us have a bin or space on a shelf for fabrics and pieces left over from past projects. Too good to toss, we keep them, thinking they’ll speak to us another time. Several years ago I made this simple vest of pieced squares and appliquéd circles cut from ombrés. (I had no idea that I would one day become an ombré-aholic.) I intended to embellish the circles, but you know how that goes.00 vest back onlyWhen you appliqué circles, you usually cut away the fabric from the back to reduce the bulk. I call these circles “bonus circles,” and ones from this vest were way too cool to throw away. So they sat in a special place, waiting to be used.000 cbnus circles on grayAnother project that’s been sitting on my shelf are units/blocks based on my “Luminaria” pattern (scroll down in my Store). I took 16 units made from Painter’s Canvas fabrics by Michael Miller and auditioned them as four trial blocks. I thought of my circles: why not try them in the centers?1 four blocks on wall, earlyThat day I passed by my studio, looked in at my blocks and ombré bolts, and said to myself, “color therapy!”0a looking into my studioI started laying out the units to make rows, but I was beginning to feel that the texture and pattern of the Painter’s Canvas fabrics were a bit much. Also, I could see that a few of my inner fabrics weren’t light enough (look at the second row, second block from the left, the raspberry unit). What to do?3 a row and a halfI began to make more units from my collection of Grunge fabrics by Moda. (Many of the colors are in my Store.) Their pattern is subtler than Painter’s Canvas, as you can see below, with Painter’s Canvas on the left and Grunge on the right. Grunge and Painter's swatchesI made lots of Grunge units and auditioned them in rows.6a mostly GrungeBetter, I thought, yet there was still the problem of some of the inner fabrics not being light enough.

Another possible solution was to “air out” the blocks with plain alternate squares. I like the black-and-white fabric (lower left) best because it repeats the black in some of the bonus circles; however, it’s very lightweight, more like lawn than a quilting cotton.6 color blocks and B&W auditionThen I decided to try blocks with four light fabrics that were similarly light, to make the centers blend into one shape and recede.25 block made from 4 diff blocksWhen I mocked up four blocks and laid the circles on top, I saw immediately how well the circles stand out against the lighter backgrounds. Graphic, but in a quiet way. And that’s where I am for now.30 Grunge only, desert blocksI’m not sure if I’ll set my blocks side-by-side or separate them with alternate squares. And I don’t know how large the quilt will be. It’s true: one thing does lead to another, and someday I’ll make a quilt from all the units that are still left over.

In my next “Christine’s Color Connection” newsletter, I’ll be doing a step-by-step tutorial on making the units, blocks, and bonus circles (I have a technique for making them from scratch). If you don’t already get my newsletter, you can sign up on the home page of my website, or text COLOR4Q to 22828 on your smartphone.

That’s it for now. I hope your summer is going swimmingly and that you have plenty of creative projects lined up. As soon as I post this, I’ll be back working on my samples for Zephyr. The countdown to the retreat continues. Cheers!






















QuiltCon 2016!

by Christine Barnes

Two weeks ago today I was in heaven, taking it all in at the Modern Quilt Show in Pasadena, CA. It’s been fascinating to watch the modern quilt movement evolve over the last decade, and having a quilt in the show gave me the perfect excuse to go. So Kari Hannickel and I packed up her Prius and headed south. It rained hard going down, but we awoke the next day to blue-blue skies and light breezes. Delightful!

Before I get to the quilts, I have an admission: I took a photo of each quilt, then another photo of the maker’s statement so I could include the name of the quilter with the quilt. Well, I must have been really tired when I downloaded the quilt photos because when I went back to download the info photos, they were were deleted. (I did have some names in my notes.) It’s VERY bad manners not to credit the quilter, and I hope you’ll forgive me.

So, on with the show . . . There were a number of categories: minimalist, use of negative space, modern traditionalism, hand work, appliqué, etc. The first group, minimalist, included quilts like the one below. What caught my eye is the suggestion of a third dimension in the two values of blue-green. And the use of light and dark orange, approximate complements of blue-green.

IMG_0474Lots of white space, solid colors, and neutrals typify the modern quilt movement, and this quilt has all of those characteristics:IMG_0491The quilt below does the reverse—mostly gray, with light-value accents. It’s also one of  my favorite color-wheel combinations: a split complement of red, yellow-green, and blue-green. (The pink/red-violet is a bonus.) IMG_0498This is “Eichler Houses” by Mickey Beebe. (I rode my bike past lots of Eichler Houses when I lived in Palo Alto and worked at Sunset.) I love the gradual increase in negative space as your eye moves upward. IMG_0515Analogous combinations are colors side-by-side on the color wheel, here blue and blue-green. The beige and taupe-gray fabrics gives it a more organic quality.IMG_0531If you follow me on Pinterest, you know I love plaid, so of course I had to take a pic of a plaid quilt. Notice the elements of transparency where colors intersect.IMG_0536I was clearly drawn to quilts that have wedding-ring and pickle-dish designs. “Segment quilts” I call them. Here the warm yellows and greens are balanced by cool blue-green. The blue-gray print makes it more interesting.IMG_0547I tend to like quilts that have different “species” of fabric, but this one is just dandy made of fabrics from one designer, Alison Glass. This “Melon Wedding Ring” is by Karen Jordan.IMG_0560My first thought when I saw this quilt was “fifties”! I like the simplicity of the design and the ratio of the blue-green to white background.IMG_0571“Double Wedding Ring” by Tara Faughnan. A mix of warm-and-cool, light-and-dark color comes together into one cohesive but very lively pattern. I want to make this quilt today! See her website for more of her delightful work. Double Wedding Ring by Tara Faughnan“Geometric Text” by Nicole Daksiewicz, clicks with me because of the variety of values and colors. The “grout lines” give it a crispness, and I love the split color in some of the hexies. You can check out Nicole’s amazing work at Text by Nicole DaksiewiczWhat a celebration of black, gray, and bright color! The dark-value neutrals make the brilliant colors seem more intense. I especially like the handful of prints mixed in with the solids.IMG_0593

When Kari and I were talking about the quilts we liked, we described this one as “beads and big stitches.” It was beautifully made, a minimal, elegant design.IMG_0601

I was happy to see a number of quilts with transparency, and this one is a good example of layered transparency. I wish my students from last year’s retreat had entered their transparency quilts. They had some fabulous things going on.IMG_0609

Of course there were hundreds of quilts, and I suggest you google QuiltCon 2016 to find other blogs by quilters who went. So much to see . . . !

Below are a few images from the vendor aisles. Would you have guessed that this is the Hoffman booth? They have a line of small-scale geometric batiks and ikat weaves.  Hoffman boothThe Grunge Bar from Moda was a popular hangout. The glass jars in the background were filled with 2-inch squares of all the Grunge colors. Yum!Grunge BarKari warms up her credit card at the Sulky booth. We saw (and bought) some of their variegated 12-weight cotton threads. Another yum.Kari at SulkyDo you recognize the gal and her quilt below? It was so much fun to be in the show, and Kari and I were both inspired and excited by the quilts we saw. Having so many modern fabrics in one exhibition hall made the trip even more worthwhile, not to mention fun. Me, looking smug!Where do I see the movement going? Some of the edginess of a few years ago has softened, and more modern quilts have traditional elements. I think these have lasting appeal because they’re symbols of what we’ve known all our lives in quilting. And for the young quilters, everything is new and shiny. Likewise, traditional quilting has been greatly influenced by modern quilting. Modern fabrics designed by quilting luminaries are more open and more graphic. Each year, it just gets better!

But that’s enough about QuiltCon. I’ll end with another of my super-skinny swizzle-stick blocks that we’ll be doing in my workshop. They are super addictive.14 green block @ 8Oh, before I leave you . . . . Next year, QuiltCon is in Savannah. Anyone want to go?!

Foolproof Flanges!

by Christine Barnes

What a glorious few months we’ve had, with lovely fall color, bright-blue skies, and three decent storms. I was in Lakeport, CA, with the Ladies of the Lake Quilt Guild last weekend and had a wonderful time. From there I went to Mendocino on the north coast to visit my aunt and uncle. (He’s the one who taught me so much about color.) I drove home via the Napa Valley and made a stop at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, just outside St. Helena. It was once Christian Brothers Winery, and it has kept every bit of its grand style. There’s lots to see—three restaurants, daily tours, an amazing gift shop. I recommend a field trip!Christian BrothersDuring my trunk show for the guild, I mentioned that my Lustrous Squares II quilt was in the September issue of American Quilter magazine. (I’ve seen that issue on eBay.)  After the program, several ladies said they’d like to know how I do flanges. So, I thought, what a perfect topic for a short blog post. Here’s the quilt:    Lustrous Squares II copy People have assumed that the skinny red strips are narrow borders, but I prefer flanges. My biggest tip? Practice first!

• Spray your fabric liberally with Best Press before you cut the strips; then press. This step is crucial to keeping the flanges straight and stable.

• Cut the strips 1″ wide and 1½” longer than the finished dimension of the block or other piece you’re working on.

• Fold each strip lengthwise, wrong sides together, and press. Be precise—it counts!

• Attach your walking foot if you have one and set your stitch length for a bit longer than the default stitch.

• Attach the flanges to the right and left edges first. Right sides together, with the flange underneath the block, stitch through all layers, keeping the raw edges aligned. No need to pin. If your flange is a contrast color, you’ll find it very easy to keep the edges aligned. Trim the ends flush with the edges of the block. Print• Repeat on the upper and lower edges.

AQ 9a, flangesBelow is the center block in my quilt. I like the hint of intense color the flanges add, and the way they separate the blocks from the center block with flange, LS IIAnd that’s it! Stitching with the flange underneath was much more successful than stitching with it on top. One last tip: avoid quilting over the flanges because you want them to keep their “free” character.

Two more pics of favorite places, the Anderson Valley near Philo on Highway 128, with miles and miles of colorful vineyards:Vineyards near PhiloAnd my favorite wearable art store, The Great Put On, in Mendocino. I want this shawl!The Great Put OnThat’s it for now. I hope you’ll try accenting your blocks with flanges, and when you do, send me a photo. Have a great Thanksgiving, friends and followers!

p.s. As of today, I have twenty-three “Grunge” semi-solids in my website Store. You might like to take a look. And my UPS guy (one of my many boyfriends) just delivered a big shipment of Gelato ombrés. Fabric makes a great holiday gift . . .

Retreat 2015—It’s a Wrap!

by Christine Barnes

Oh my gosh, I don’t know where to start, we had such a wonderful week! I’ll begin with our “student body” photo, taken by Rejeanne’s husband. (They came from Canada.) This was taken on the last morning, and our retreat mascot, Pinto the cat, even made it into the shot.

Zephir group @72Sandra and Heidi will be posting in the next two weeks, and they’ll have lots of pics and observations to share with you. Their students and classes were amazing, just amazing.

Mary Boalt, our Artist in Residence, set up shop in my classroom, and we were fascinated and inspired by her work. You’ll hear more about her painted canvases and her trunk show in next week’s post. Here’s one canvas in the early stages.

B Mary cuteSee how she lays out her palette.

C Mary's paintsWe checked on Mary’s progress on each and every canvas. (Note the brownies front and center, thanks, Cindy.)

W ladies with Mary, laughing, yesMy workshop, “Transparency,” far exceeded my expectations, and I came home tired but elated. This mock-block is an example of a parent/child transparency, as if the center fabric is the logical “child” of the light and dark “parents.” (By Sally? Trudie? My apologies.)

D Stonehenge singleAn ethereal parent/child block.

M Rejeanne's icy blockBlocks by four students. Fascinating how varied they were.

J four trans 3 blocksLayered transparency blocks, as if a light area in the center of each block is hovering over a larger darker area:  G centered trans, 4 blocksHere the inner shapes vary more in value, and pattern adds another element.

H random trans groupedCindy brought even more pattern into the equation, with lots of Marcia Derse prints and Grunge semi-solids.

W Ciny with her unitsThe illusion that a two large triangles, one light and the other dark, overlap to make a smaller triangle of see-through color. By Marjorie. Love the black and white and gray.

ZZZZ teal and papaya starLinda hard at work on her violet star. Did you know this block is called “Party Hat”?

H Linda B and her lav starSome layered transparent circle blocks by Ellen, in shot cottons:

L Ellen's circle blocksAnd Ellen’s quilt takes shape . . .

P Ellen with her quiltMary Ellen’s fabrics, looking very Zen:

K Mary ellen's fabricsAnd her units, which will be joined into oh-so-modern blocks.

Z Mary Ellen's unitsMarjorie’s circles, in serene style.

N Marjorie's circle blocksKaren’s mysterious circles:

A Karen's circles brighterPattern really helps to “fool the eye” in transparency.

O Trudie and Rejeanne circles?? goodTrudie’s circles. Do you get the idea that I loved watching these circles take shape???

V Trudie's circlesOur room the day of “walkabout” (open house), the walls “papered” in color.

Q walkaboutOne final exercise, created by Rejeanne.

N final exercise, rejeanne copyPinto was kept busy with the toy Carey brought for him. Every time he rolled it, a treat came out. It will be great to see him next year—he’s quite the celebrity.  I Pinto searches for treats  The sunset on the last night. Take our word for it, that sun was ORANGE. T sunset, good A big thank you to all our students for making our second retreat such a success. You were the best! And for those of you who couldn’t come, thanks for going “on retreat” by way of pictures and commentary. Be sure to tune in for more inspiration and fun from Sandra and Heidi in the next few weeks. And start making plans for next year—we are!