Designing Notquilts



Last week, we looked at some of the NotQuilts I’ve made for my family and friends. This week, we’ll look at more of them, so you can see how I evolved my techniques for designing NotQuilts.

night sky notquilt

Our bedspread of the Night Sky

This was the first one that I made that had a planned design. Our bedroom is designed for sleeping. It is painted in deep shades of blue with sparkly silver and gold stars. The rug is more deep shades of blue and green, and the drapes are heavy, lined, and backed by room-darkening shades. When I painted this room, long, long ago, Bill worked eves and had to sleep into the morning. The decorating scheme made the room dark, quiet, and relaxing. It reminds me of a night sky, full of stars.

I wanted that theme in the bedspread. I started with a king-size bedspread from the Goodwill bargain bin. The comforter had the drawback of having the center panel separated from the two side panels by heavy lines of piping. I am sure this was both a design element and a way to reinforce the seams required by a massively wide bedspread.

I unpicked the bedspread and ripped out the piping and the outer edge seams. I saved the heavy piping for a future project. The outer edge seams were ironed flat as were the parallel seams that had enclosed the piping. I sewed the side panels back to the center strip, overlapping them by about ½ inch. The raw edges were zigzagged on the front and back to force them flat. I was fairly sure that this bulky layer wouldn’t cause trouble when sewing down the patches and it didn’t. It isn’t noticeable unless you go looking for it.

Because this NotQuilt was so large, I needed to consider the corners. Square corners hang lower than a shaped corner. Dear Daughter’s pink NotQuilt came with rounded bottom edges and I liked that. The bottom corners on this bedspread hung too low, ensuring that I would step on them. I cut them off, making a sharp angle. This allowed the finished NotQuilt to hang very nicely on the bed.

designing notquilts

At the same Goodwill I found a new set of crib bumpers, a nice blue with stars and little squiggles. Like the king-sized bedspread, it was a dollar, so this was the only fabric I bought specifically for this NotQuilt. I love Goodwill.

I disassembled fabric from the crib bumpers, ripping every seam, washing the fabric, and ironing it flat. This fabric forms the frame separating the central medallion from the border of rectangles.

The back of this quilt was fabric I had bought 15 years ago when I had the mad idea that I was going to sew a complete matching nursery for Oldest Son when I was home on maternity leave. Naturally, they never got made and the fabric stayed in the stash until now. It took a long time to find a use for it. There’s not much call for a baby blanket motif of cute little sea creatures.

Fortunately, the background color is a nice deep blue and many of the sea creatures are starfish! If you don’t look carefully – and who looks at the backs of quilts? – the design disappears into the overall theme of stars.

night sky designing notquilts

After sewing on the backing fabric, I laid down the crib bumper fabric of blue with stars. I made a large rectangle frame that touched the top and bottom of the bedspread, and at the bottom edge, extended to the two sides. The navy blue fabric at the top corners and the bottom angled corners came from a set of sheets I had bought to make pillowcases. It fit the theme very well, I had a lot of it, and I eventually used it to make the binding as well.

I did NOT extend the blue squiggle stars to the sides at the top as I knew it wouldn’t look right when the bed was made. I designed the sides to allow the NotQuilt to cover the pillows and still look correct.

There are four squares of outer space fabric that extend from the center medallion into the blue squiggle stars. These squares were carefully placed so when they line up with the corners of the mattress and the pillows, the NotQuilt hangs evenly and neatly. They were sewed on last, as I had to pin them in place while the NotQuilt was on the bed.

night sky notquilt

The square is inside the yellow circle at center.

I sewed the medallion, overlapping all the starry fabric from my stash. After the medallion was done, I sewed down the tall, skinny rectangles to make the border. The idea was to give the illusion of skyscrapers against a night sky. Both in the medallion and in the border, I reused the same limited palette of starry fabrics over and over, spacing them out as looked best. The medallion is more regular than it first appears. Match up the fabric pieces and you can see that they are arranged with each other in pairs and sets of four. The border rectangles all have their corresponding partner on the far side, mirroring each other.

The binding was last, a very wide strip of repurposed bed sheet wrapped around the back and the front. I couldn’t manage to miter those damn corners nicely so I squared them off with much swearing and hand-sewing. This was particularly true of the angled corners at the bottom edge. The binding is cut on the grain, not the bias, but I haven’t had any problems with wear and tear. These were good, heavy percale sheets.

I have been very happy with this. Designing NotQuilts is not an exact science. I never quite know what the final result will be until the last patch is sewn down. This worked out beautifully. It cost almost nothing, it fits the theme of my bedroom, and it looks like I planned it all along.

Floral Comforter in shades of green


Designing NotQuilts like this one was a challenge. I had a king-size waterbed comforter that needed to be transformed. That made this NotQuilt far wider than it is tall. The comforter was suffering from all the problems of its dime-store kin: the awful plastic thread was breaking loose, the fabric was tearing in many tiny spots, and the batting was shredding and clumping.

The batting was the main problem, as the patching process would cover the other ones. I opened the edge seams and tried to pull the curled, clumped batting flat so I could sew it down into submission. This didn’t work as well as I hoped. When you look at the pictures, you can see that the NotQuilt isn’t as square on the edges as you would expect. The comforter fought me at every turn.

Looking back, I should have taken the outermost row of stitching as my edges, sewn around them and cut off the excess. Of course, if I had done that, the NotQuilt would be even more oddly sized than it is. Part of the reason the batting misbehaved so much was the plastic thread tearing out. If it had remained in place, holding the batting down, the finished NotQuilt would be smoother all over. The edges were a lost cause long ago as the batting there started clumping the second time it went into the washer.

I wanted green florals for the front as I had plenty of this fabric. The backing and binding also came from the stash as I wasn’t going to spend any money.

I didn’t have enough of anything for the backing. I ended up with the sea shell fabric as the center, the ugly brown sunflowers on three sides, and the rectangle sunflowers as the fourth side of the back, plus the binding. I cut very carefully, with no waste and still ran out of fabric. If you look closely, there is a rectangle of blue dotted cloth that fills in what would otherwise be a bare spot.


On the front of the NotQuilt, I sewed down the dark green floral square to act as a frame for the center medallion and the border. For some reason, the pieces of green were sewn separately rather than as single, long framing strips. I don’t remember why.

I tried to be much more systematic in laying out the green floral pieces. The cabbage cloth shows up very well because of its bright green color. You can see that they are spaced pretty evenly around the edge.

The fabric pieces are paired in sets like the cabbages, whether in the border rectangles or in the medallion center.

The real issue with this comforter was the lumpy the batting. The NotQuilt doesn’t lay as flat as it could and the unevenness made the sewing more of a challenge. When I finally bound off the edges, using the rectangle sunflowers, some of the bound edges are fat with batting and others don’t have any stuffing in them at all. Fortunately, the edges don’t provide warmth, just even, symmetrical sides. Binding can cover many sins and lumpy edges are one of them.

The colors have remained beautiful and bright because this NotQuilt rarely sees the light of day or a washing machine. These are the colors you want to see in a quilt; vivid, clear, and glorious.

Grandma’s NotQuilt, trees, floral, primarily green and blue


This is the first NotQuilt I made as a gift and the first one that went outside of my household.

I made it for my mother. She had wanted a quilt from me for a long time. I wanted to stick with greens and blues in a floral motif as my mother is an avid gardener.

When I made this NotQuilt years and years ago, I was still not controlling the layout other than with the color scheme and themed fabric. I can see now that this is a weakness.

I purchased two pieces of cloth for this NotQuilt. The backing is a grassy meadow covered with tiny wildflowers. I also bought, as a unifying fabric, the trees against blue water. The binding was purchased standard quilt binding in green. I bought far more of the backing and green tree cloth than I needed and both of these fabrics have since shown up, in smaller and smaller pieces, in other NotQuilts.

Using up paid-for scrap fabric saves money. It isn’t nearly as much fun as going to the fabric store and buying something new and delicious but it also prevents one’s dear husband from saying upon seeing yet another bag from Joann’s, “You have twenty five bins of material already. Why do you need more?” This is why you should never let your spouse see the bag. Non-sewing people just don’t understand the allure of possibility in fresh, uncut yard goods.

Anyway, looking at the pictures of the NotQuilt now, I believe I was getting the idea of imposing order via fabric choices. Thus I used the green tree fabric (always right side up) all over the fashion surface of the NotQuilt, trying for an underlying design.

I started with a lightweight summer blanket in white and backed it with the grassy, flowery meadow cloth. I then sewed on the green trees all over the surface of the NotQuilt, including each of the four corners. After that, I filled in with whatever I thought my mother would like from my vast assortment of green floral scraps.

The whiteness of the blanket filler meant that I could use lighter weight, more sheer fabric and still have the colors be true. A blanket filler that has a color will force you to use heavier fabrics to prevent this bleed through and color change.

There is very little plan in this NotQuilt and it shows. If I were to remake this NotQuilt today, I would start with a solid green that coordinated with the binding. I’d lay out a grid. Then I would fill in the blank spaces with the florals.

This looks so random and busy. There are no solids at all. Only the fading brought on by time is controlling the surface.

But my mother likes it, and I was still learning.

NEXT WEEK: The third and final part of the NotQuilt story!

notquilt from hell

See you then!