Through the Magic of Stripes

by Christine Barnes

The poet Robert Burns wrote in his poem To a Mouse, “The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” It’s true for quilters, too, and I am living proof. This is the story of my crooked path to a new plan for a quilt.

By now you know that I adore plaids. I also love triangles, and the best way to create triangle squares is with Thangles, strips of paper that have solid and dashed lines for sewing and trimming. They are magical and so easy to use.

I paired a number of my plaids with Grunge semi-solids and set out to make 8′ finished blocks. I liked the first block a lot—the contrast between the plaid and semi-solid fabric makes the design read. These are just the four “raw” units, not yet joined.0-plaid-block-no

Then, I confess, I neglected to follow my own advice and started pairing fabrics and sewing triangle units like crazy, without auditioning. Big mistake. Most of the resulting units were too blended, too contrasty, or just plain chaotic. Trust me, you don’t want to see them! On the phone with my friend Kari, she said, “You mean you didn’t practice what you preach?” Ouch. Count on a friend to speak the truth.

Chastened a bit, I changed gears and decided to work with my other favorite fabrics, stripes, of which I have many. Below is a shot cotton solid and a yummy woven stripe. I rough-cut the fabric strips 5″ wide and 11½” long. Notice that the stripe is running lengthwise—this is very important.

Enter Thangles for 4″ finished units (the package is on the right, below). I love them for the precision and ease—no more cutting triangles and trying to pin and sew them on the bias. Here’s how to use them:

1. Layer the fabrics with a Thangles strip and pin through all layers. You would normally layer the fabrics right sides together, but because both of my fabrics are woven, it doesn’t matter. You only need a few pins, one at each end, and two perpendicular to each solid diagonal line. Just enough to keep things from moving.2-thangles

2. Shorten your stitch and sew precisely on the dashed lines. How short is short enough? I put mine down four steps from the default, but you’ll need to experiment to find what’s right for you. Once you sew the first set of strips and start to remove the paper, you’ll know if the stitch needs to be shorter. 3-sew-on-dotted-line

3. Trim the excess fabric along the side edges, the top and bottom, and the center line. 4-thangles-shapes-sewn-trimmed

4. Fold the paper triangles back along the stitching lines, crease them with your thumbnail, and tear the pieces away. Here I’ve folded back just two of the paper triangles. 5-remove-some-paper

5. Tear off all the paper pieces, including the short strips between the stitching lines.


6. Cut the triangles apart between the stitching lines.

7. Press the seam allowances open. I press using a seam roll because it keeps the seam from stretching on the bias and generally makes the process go better and faster. Mine is made by Dritz and was inexpensive. (It’s plaid on the other side.)8-pressing-on-seam-roll

8. Voila! You have four 4½” triangles units, which will finish to 4″. I don’t trim the dog ears at this point; I find them helpful when joining the units.9-four-unts-pressed-open

9. Now the magic happens. Because you cut the original striped fabric lengthwise and used Thangles, the stripes are automatically perpendicular to each other. I love seeing how the block looks at this stage. The four units in the image below are not yet sewn together. See how the diagonally opposite triangles relate? They are actually identical.10-raw-units-arranged

10. Now back up and sew the top and bottom units together to make two rows. Tip: It’s not necessary to pin through the diagonal seams perfectly. If you sew and trim carefully, things will naturally line up at the outer edges and you’ll have good “points.”

Also, when I join the rows, I pin the outer edges carefully and let what happens at the center intersection just happen. I do not like to “ease” one section in and “stretch” another section out. Life is too short. With stripes, your eye won’t notice any slight misalignment.11-join-the-rows

11. Join the rows to make a block with “spinning” triangles. I call these a cheap thrill because Thangles do the work for you. And you end up looking sooooo smart.12-finished-block

I now have nine different blocks, and I’ll show you the setting in a future post or newsletter. If you don’t already get “Christine’s Color Connection,” you can sign up on my website Home page or on your smartphone by texting COLOR4Q to 22828.

There’s a bit of snow on the ground this morning. Stay cozy and warm in this “bleak midwinter.” It’s a great season for sewing!

My Gallery Adventure in Color

by Christine Barnes

Last weekend I drove 200 miles north to Weaverville, home to an active art community and my long-time friends Evelyn (an amazing watercolorist) and John Ward. This is my second show at Main Street Gallery, and besides being a lot of fun, it was fascinating to hear the comments from people who expect quilts to be traditional. I thought you’d enjoy hearing what others think—and wonder—about quilts.

“Wow!” was the comment I heard most as people walked through the door. When we were hanging the quilts, I asked if we could put the more colorful quilts on one wall and the less intense ones on the opposite wall. I call it “a color connection,” when fabrics or quilts have related colors but don’t match. To my eye, they seem harmonious without looking overly planned.

Here are several views of the colorful wall. Forgive the less-than-fabulous photos—I was so busy helping Evelyn hang the quilts that I didn’t take much time with photos. And I didn’t get a single shot of the reception because I was busy talking. Sheesh! 3 color wall 3Evelyn and I met when we both worked for an ad agency in Sacramento. I was an intern and a total rookie, but it was a great job because we became friends.  After long careers in publishing, we’re both so happy and grateful to be doing what we love. Good for us!

5 Evelyn and me About the two transparency quilts above, I was surprised at how many people were drawn to this effect, and how curious they were to know how to create it. It’s really all about choosing the right values and keeping the intensity of the colors consistent. The term “shot cotton” (a fabric woven with different-colored warp and weft threads) drew a number of questions, too.

7 Lustrous I + color wheelBlack and white—always a winner! We hung the quilt above and my color wheel side by side because they both have bright colors, and each has black.

10 plaid + solid, closeI wanted you to see Sandra’s quilting in “Solids + Plaids,” above. Thank you, Sandra!

“Puss in the Corner on the Courthouse Steps” is a combination of two traditional designs, but it has lots of contemporary fabrics—ikats and prints from Kaffe Fassett and opalescent stripes from Michael James. I was happy to hear comments about the sense of depth, a feeling of layering, in this quilt. Hey, I thought, they get it!

11 puss, crookedOn to the more neutral wall. “How do you choose your fabrics” was probably the most-asked question, followed by, “Where do you find these fabrics?” Those questions really reinforce my belief that different kinds of fabric—woven stripes, ombrés, Japanese prints—make a quilt more interesting.

8 neutral wall 3We hung the framed nine-block piece below next to “Urban Ombrés” because of their black-and-white connection. Ombré fabrics were new to just about everyone.

9 offbeat

2 brushed stragiht onPeople noticed the sashing, though the term was unfamiliar, in quilts like “Brushed Metal,” above, and “Lustrous II,” below. “How did you decide on that black-and-white print?” I told them I tried at least six different fabrics for the sashing, and to my surprise, this was the one. Bold and busy as it is, this print still reads as background, and the blocks seem to float. (The narrow red flanges help, too.)

6 Lust II only“How do you know how you’re going to quilt something like this?” was the question about “Earthscape,” below. I had to admit that I didn’t do the quilting (Carol Walsh did a phenomenal job with it), but it was fun to point out the different shapes and textures she created with thread. More than a few people asked about Elin Noble’s handpainted fabrics in the upper areas. “You can paint fabric???”

4 earthscape“Well, these aren’t like any quilts I’ve seen” was my favorite comment. It was fun to watch people begin to see color and quilts in a different way. Some told me about quilts in their past and how much they meant to them. That’s what keeps us quilting, the memories they evoke and the people who made them.

Finally, I’m teaching my “Color Made Modern” workshop at Sugar Pine Quilt Shop October 24-25. Contact me for details, or call the shop at (530) 272-5308. I’ve taught this class a number of times, locally and far away, and it’s become my favorite workshop. Come to find out why!

I hope you’re enjoying glorious fall weather, as we are here, and finding time to create and sew.