Quilt Improvising by Design



This post is part of a series about sewing NotQuilts. If you’re unfamiliar with this method, The NotQuilt series begins here. The link below takes you to the Cat Notquilt project.

When you’re making a NotQuilt using only the fabric you have in the house, you may reach a point where it’s time to bust out your quilt improvising skills.

I am at that stage; I do not have enough green cat fabrics, either the kittens or the cat heads. There’s too much blank space left to fill, and I have already used up about half of each piece of green cat fabric. That leaves a little over a yard total left of the two pieces. When you add in the waste and the turn-unders, it just won’t be enough.

quilt improvising

I’m not buying more cat fabric. It’s is easy enough to find but because of the design constraints I am operating under. The fabric should have a green background with rather small cat motifs so it will coordinate with the existing fabric. That’s much harder to find than ordinary cat fabric.

Also, I do not have any money to spend, and that’s the point of this exercise: to make do with what I have.

So back to the stash. I dug through and pulled out the green percale sheet sections mentioned in a previous post. I measured the edges of the cat NotQuilt. I need 384 inches plus a bit of additional yardage for seam margins when I sew the strips together and turn the corners. The strips need to be at least 5 inches wide, plus another 1 1/2 inches for turning under the hems. Five inches will give me a 2 1/2-inch wide binding frame (front and back). That’s skimpy but acceptable. A wider binding frames the NotQuilt more nicely.

Even with piecing, my percale sheet-ends will not give me enough of either light green or dark green to make the binding all one color.

Shades of Binding

I finally ripped the sheet ends into long strips, each 7 inches wide. No matter how I measured, I couldn’t get enough LENGTH to make the binding the same color all around, so I chose to make WIDER binding strips instead. The 7- inch strips will give me enough room to have 3 inches on the front, making a nicer frame and about 2 1/2 inches on the back. That’s more than adequate to cover the backing fabric and plenty of room for hems. After I iron all the hems and sew it in place, the binding may end up a touch wider on the front than 3 inches.

I like the dark green best as it will act as a more effective, high-contrast frame, but there isn’t enough dark green percale. No matter what I do, the binding will not be a uniform color. I can choose to have one strip of light green about 60 inches long on one side. Or, I can break up the dark green strips and sew in blocks of light green allowing them to place themselves as they want. I can also deliberately manipulate the colors to make it look like the binding was planned.

This is a very typical problem that’s solved by using what you have rather than going to the fabric store and buying 10 yards of answers.

What would look best – and be most difficult to measure, cut, and sew – is to make the majority of each binding strip dark green and have the light green only at the corners. This will involve careful measuring so the joins are evenly spaced. Since there are more joins, I will use up more fabric.

I also, while digging out the percale sheet ends, I looked over the other green scrap. I have a lot of solid green fabric in various tones, from light to dark, and in hues from yellow green to blue green. But I do NOT want to introduce more patterns and chaos to an already overly busy surface. Farewell to the prints.

Here's what the finished binding will look like.

Here’s what the finished binding will look like. Note that I changed my mind and put the light green in the middle. I’ll explain later.

Sewing and Improvising

Next it’s time sew on the solid green patches, staying within a yellow-to-green color range and a light-to-medium tonal range. I will avoid any blue-greens and I won’t use any dark greens. I won’t use too many varieties of greens and try to use up one color before adding another into the mix.

Since I am sewing the interstitial patches all over the surface, I have plenty of choices to keep from having two identical pieces touch. If you look at the picture above, you can see how much dull rose is left to be concealed.

I won’t know how this will turn out until I have sewn down another few dozen pieces of green fabric, with or without cats.

Every place I sew down a piece of fabric, whatever its shade or pattern, is a judgment call. I stop regularly to throw the NotQuilt down onto the floor, spread it out in all its glory, and stare at it. Sometimes I can see right away where the next set of pieces should go.

If this happens, then I do those spots before moving onto the parts I don’t know what to do with. The new patches often decide what will happen next. It’s all very organic.

Think of it this way: if it looks right, it is right. If it really looks terrible, you can always rip off the offending spot and use a different choice of fabric. But make the decision and forge on!