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!

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!


“Driven to Abstraction” at Asilomar

by Christine Barnes

Being “driven to abstraction” at Asilomar with Sue Benner was a fabulous experience. My good buddy Kari and I took her workshop two weeks ago, and I came away with a head full of inspiration and new ways to work. Here’s just a bit of what we did:

For the first exercise, Sue terrified the class by giving each one of us a page torn from National Geographic and telling us to create a fabric abstraction in 20 minutes or less. Yes, gulp, 20 minutes or less. We all survived, but some of us looked liked scared rabbits.

For the second exercise, we worked from a photo we had brought. I actually brought a box of pages torn from magazines to make collages as studies for quilts, as the German Expressionist Hans Hofmann did for his paintings. (I have yet to do that.) I loved the simplicity of this image, courtesy of Martha Stewart. I even like my torn edge at the bottom.0 Scan of still life inspire photoOur first study was to quickly depict the image in a simplified but somewhat realistic fashion. The floaty, see-though shape over the vase is a layer of tulle. Of course this little composition needed a bit of transparency!2 abstraction 1, OKSue gave us a variety of ways to further abstract our first study. I chose fragmentation for my next study, below, slicing and shifting the sections. I LOVE what happens to the Marcia Derse background and foreground fabrics.3 abstraction 2, OKFor my third study, I zeroed in on a particular section of the image and let go of any sense of perspective or proportion. The abstracted twig was cut from a section of one of my favorite plaids. How thoughtful of it to contain the colors I needed to echo the other elements.3 abstraction 3, OKWe then moved on to a self-directed study, but mine is nowhere near ready for prime time. I can’t begin to tell you how much I got out of Sue’s workshop—she is a delight, a bundle of knowledge and talent, and I’ll be taking another class from her for sure.

A note: My Artistic Alchemy workshop, “Transparency, A Special Effect,” is full, but please ask to be put on my waiting list if you’re interested. I plan to bring some sheers and fusible web for you to play with on a quick raw-edge collage.

I leave you with two pics I took at Asilomar, one of the loveliest spots on the Central Coast. I’d walk down this path any day.  Asilomar 1No words needed!Asilomar 4Until next time . . . .


A Tale of Two Quilts (and a bit of transparency)

by Christine Barnes

New fabricsThe image above has nothing to do with this post, but I just had to drop it in because I LOVE these fabrics by Marcia Derse, Alison Glass, and Kaffe Fassett. You’ll see some of them again in a future quilt or garment.

Now, to the business at hand: Have you ever worked on a quilt that wasn’t quite “working,” yet you continued because you hoped it would get better? That’s what happened when I started my quilt Urban Ombrés. It began with the block below. I cut the center rectangle from a lighter ombré, and the surrounding strips from darker areas of other ombrés, all from Caryl Bryer Fallert. (The black-and-white is by Kim Schaefer and isn’t available, even on the Internet.) I thought the block was lovely, very ethereal and serene.

1 single block, all ombre Ah, but sometimes more is actually less. I made a total of sixteen different blocks and joined them to make the quilt top below. I knew long before I finished that it lacked punch, but I kept going. Sound familiar?2 quilt with all ombres“It needs pattern,” I thought. I looked on my shelf of recent acquisitions, where I keep new favorites. Nothing. Then I saw a pile of Marcia Derse fabrics, like the ones below, and thought, what if?

MD FQsI grabbed a scrap and laid it over the center of the top left block. What a difference this one fabric made!3 single block, with MD printSuddenly the block had visual weight, and the center unit looked cohesive. I kept going, making 16 blocks with the same colored ombrés in the same positions as in the first quilt top. (There are a few exceptions.)

5 quilt with MD centersI’ve never had the first top quilted, but I’m glad I took photos so I could show the impact value, hue, and pattern have on the look of a quilt. As I have said before, “Lesson learned!”

Changing gears a bit, below is an example of layered transparency. In the first mock-block I combined four medium-to-dark colors. These fabrics are from Michael Miller’s “Painter’s Canvas” line, and they are still available. In fact they’re coming out with new colors next month. Good!6a painter palette AThen, from my embarrassing stash of MM fabrics, I laid four lighter-value versions of the same colors over the original fabrics:

6a painter palette FNow there is the illusion of a transparent plane of lighter color. Very simple, very graphic,  and really very easy. If you’ve signed up for my workshop, you’ll get a chance to make this and other transparency studies, one of which you’ll turn into a quilt.

Today is Friday the 13th, but I feel lucky in so many ways. Just having a light-filled studio with an abundance of delicious fabric makes my day, every day. Happy Spring!


p.s. I have a few Urban Ombrés kits consisting of the Marcia Derse prints, colored ombrés, gray ombré, and quilt pattern. (Both black-and-white fabrics are sadly gone.) Email me if you’re interested.

A New Project for the New Year

1 fabrics banner STARTby Christine Barnes

Happy Boxing Day! I love the day after Christmas. No schedule, no commitments, and plenty of leftovers in the fridge. It’s a fancy-free day, which usually involves playing in my fabric and sewing. I hope it’s the same for you.

As you can see in the photos below, I’m still on a solids kick. For my new quilt, I started with “plain” solids from several manufacturers and added some yummy Peppered Cottons from Studio E Fabrics. Then I splurged—and I mean splurged—on hand-dyes by Maureen Hardy Schmidt, below. Talk about “visually delicious.”2 Maureen's fabsI had in mind very simple nine-patch blocks, with one center print. I knew this wouldn’t be my final plan, but I had to start somewhere. Below are Kona solids and one Marcia Derse print. They’re all right but not very exciting.3 MD centersSo I cut squares of a favorite Alexander Henry print and laid them on top of the green centers. I liked the effect—the print lightens and brightens the solids—but I decided to save that wonderful fabric for another project.4 white centersI did, however, get a glimmer of an idea: What if I put squares of similar values and colors side by side? Could I create new shapes within the usual nine-patch structure?

Before I could work on that, I had to find a fabric or fabrics for the block centers. I’ve loved plaid for as long as I can remember, and I’ve been collecting for years. Below are squares cut from some of my favorites. (The large-scale plaids in the top row are new Peppered Cottons.)5 plaid squares on wallI’ve been playing ever since, eliminating many of the plaids because they lose much of their impact when cut up. Below are a few early mock-ups. You can see where I’ve made some squares blend into each other and others stand out in contrast.6 mock ups, good!And below are a few of the sewn blocks. In the top left block, two squares in the bottom row almost become one red-orange rectangle. In the second row, left block, I see a large “L” of dark green and teal. If you squint, the new shapes are more prominent.7 sewn blocksMy goal is to create shimmering asymmetrical color, with bits of unexpected pattern in the center of each block. And how will I set these blocks? Not side by side, that’s for sure. But hey, the day after Christmas is still young, and I’m still feeling free.

May you be having the same kind of day. And may you have a fabulous New Year, one that’s filled with the people and things you love!



Solids + Prints: A Colorful Combination

by Christine Barnes

I’ve had a love/hate relationship with plain solids for years. They seemed dull, and patterned fabrics seemed to die in their company. The two exceptions were hand-dyes from Cherrywood (they look sueded) and shot cottons from Kaffe Fassett (with different-colored warp and weft threads, they look almost iridescent). With the exception of those fabrics, I shied away from solids.

But with the advent of “visually delicious” plain solids from a number of companies—Moda, Robert Kaufman, Clothworks, to name a few—my rocky relationship has turned into infatuation. I never thought I would feel this way, but I’m crazy about solids!

I wanted to develop a third version of my “Brushed Metal” quilt (you saw the first two colorways in earlier posts). I began by taking stock of what I had in the way of solids. Not enough, of course, so I headed to a local shop for more. To make the design process easier, I cut strips from all the possibilities and pinned them to my design wall. I love this approach because once you cut everything, knowing that you may need to cut more, assembling the blocks goes quickly. I like this image—it looks like “color DNA” to me.2a just stripsMy plan was to create blocks that featured a center print surrounded by narrower and wider rectangles of color. This funky-flower print is by Kim Schaefer.E funky flower cen lighter stripsI didn’t try to match the colors in the prints and solids—you’ll make yourself crazy doing that. But I chose solids that had something in common with the center fabric. The far right strip is red-violet, for example, while the violet in the print is a truer violet. These differences make the block richer and more original.

Here’s the same combination of solids, with a gray-and-white center. Love those neutral dots!F gray dot enter 2From there I moved on to a block with “swizzle stick” borders, my term for skinny strips. I have a simple method for inserting these strips without the “unpleasantness” of bulky seam allowances. (Notice that the skinny strips are from the same Kim Schaefer print as the first block.)

D original If you’ve seen my quilts, you know that I have an ongoing love affair with stripes. This Kaffe Fassett stripe fit perfectly into the block design. It also gives this very symmetrical block a bit of asymmetry.A AmishMoving right along—can you tell how much fun these blocks were to make?—I combined a wavy stripe with solids. Again, I didn’t attempt to match colors in the print and the solids, but the colors are related. B 1 citron plain centerThen I had to try the block with the wavy pattern running vertically and with skinny strips from the gray-and-white dot. When I cut the strips, I centered the white dots to create the illusion of a striped fabric. I like the crispness the skinny strips add to the block.B .citron with gray dot sqizzleJPGI have no idea which blocks I’ll use in the quilt—there are more combinations waiting to be discovered. But I do plan to use nine blocks and set them with sashing strips and cornerstones. To give you an idea of the design, here are four of my favorites, with that gray dot as cornerstones:

Blog mock up, 5-30-14I’m still searching for a light-value sashing fabric, not too light, not too busy. I’ll show you the finished quilt when I find the perfect fabric. Until then, consider plain solids and patterned fabrics—it’s a winning (and colorful) combination!

p.s. This basic block works beautifully for luminosity and luster, the focus of my retreat workshop.





A Mind on Fire + Lustrous News

by Christine Barnes

Greetings, all! My mind is on fire with new ideas, the result of an inspiring five-day workshop with Rosalie Dace at Empty Spools Seminars, which are held at Asilomar, a conference center in Pacific Grove, CA. I’ll share that experience in my next post, once I’ve sorted my photos and and organized my thoughts. Amazing, just amazing!

But for this time, I’d like to share my completed “Brushed Metal” quilt and some fabulous fabric news. First, the news: The Gelato gray ombré, colorway 714, is back.

714a gray copy

This is the fabric I used in “Urban Ombrés,” below, one of the project quilts at our Zephyr retreat. Kits of the gray and all other fabrics except the black-and-white will be available.

Urban Om quilted 2 copy

The gray ombré had been discontinued, so I mounted a very small but very passionate email campaign, thanks to Heidi and Sandra, and guess what? E.E. Schenck decided to reprint it. Hooray! My web developer will have it back in my Store in the next few days.

Plans for the retreat are coming together nicely. I still have openings, and there are still lake-view rooms. “Brushed Metal” is another possible project for the retreat. It’s an example of luster, the illusion of light striking and bouncing off the surface. I used six Serenity ombrés, shown below. (The far left fabric is not in the quilt.)

Serenity kit for supp list copy

I oriented the ombré strips in each block so the light ends are going in different directions, to suggest the movement of light.

brushed metal MF lecture copy

Using the six ombrés, I designed three different blocks and made three of each. I also used Kaffe stripes and Marcia Derse prints. Many of these will also be available at the retreat. Here’s the quilt, beautifully quilted by Sandra:

Brushed metal for HOME quilted 10 at 72

I have a limited supply of the Serenity ombrés, but I’m setting aside enough kits of 10-inch strips for retreat students. If you’re not coming to the retreat and but are interested in the fabrics, let me know and I’ll put you on a list for any kits that are left over.

I only wish I had that amazing sashing fabric. It’s Japanese, from Back Porch Fabrics in Pacific Grove, and alas, it is long gone. Which leads me to my tip of the day, as if you needed to be told: When you see a fabulous fabric but have no idea how you will use it, buy it anyway. After all, we need to be prepared in case of a world-wide fabric famine!

So long for now. And do write with questions or comments. We love hearing from you. Christine





Luminosity—a Very Special Effect

9a AA DecNew Year’s greetings from me, Christine, to all of you! I hope you’re enjoying (or recovering from) the holiday festivities and are looking forward to a fresh year. If you aren’t already relaxing, I invite you to do so now while I show you one of my favorite special effects, luminosity. In my first post I wrote about luster—the sense of light striking the surface from above or from the side. With luminosity, the light and warmth come from beneath the surface.

I stumbled on the concept of luminosity while playing with transparency. As I was working on a mock-block exercise, I said to myself, “Oh my gosh, that block looks, well, it looks luminous!” As I worked with the concept more, I came up with a luminosity recipe—when you surround a relatively small area of warm, medium-value, intense color with a larger area of cooler, darker, duller color, you can create the illusion of glow. I can’t begin to tell you how much quilters respond to this effect—when it works, we all say, “Wow!”

Let me begin by defining value, temperature, and intensity. Value is about how light, medium, or dark color is. Temperature is about how warm or cool color is; yellow, red, and orange are warm, while green, blue, and violet are cool. Intensity is about how bright or dull color is; neon green is intense, while sage green is low-intensity.

The three fabrics on the right below pulsate with warmth and light, making them great for creating luminosity. Surrounding them with the three fabrics on the left would enhance their luminosity.  (The middle two fabrics got into the act because I loved them.)OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWoven plaids like the one below look luminous on their own. When you fussy cut them to isolate the warm color, then surround it with cooler color, it’s as if candles burn brightly beneath the surface. 3 AA DecThe same woven plaid, in a different colorway, used just in the center of this block. (This image looks so soft because I framed the block using nonglare glass.)4 AA Dec“Airy” batiks are great for suggesting luminosity, and the colors can be a mix of warm and cool. The dappling in the center batik also suggests distance because a light-value fabric will recede when surrounded by a darker-value fabric.

5 AA DecLuminosity can be just about light, without the illusion of warmth. In this block, the lighter-value batik looks far away, as if you’re looking through a cut-out in a dark stripe square.

6 AA DecThis cut-and-paste block shows how a combination of different fabrics—woven plaid, woven stripe, batik stripe, and ombré—makes a luminous block more interesting. 8 AA DecAnd finally, sometimes it’s hard to differentiate between luminosity and luster. Look again at the pillow at the start of this post. Do the circles suggest light striking and bouncing off the surface, or light and warmth emanating from beneath the surface? (The circles are cut from a Caryl Bryer Fallert “Gradations” ombré, and the solids are Kaffe Fassett shot cottons.)

What about the blocks below, where the ombrés and Marci Derse prints switch places?0 AA Dec These are the things I love to ponder, and I hope you find them just as enticing. I’d love to hear what you want to learn about color. Let me know your thoughts, your questions, and I’ll explore them in future posts. The New Year is the perfect time to play with new colors and concepts. Let the creativity—and the fun—begin!