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!