From the book, Color From the Heart
by Gai Perry
Once upon a time in America, way before how-to books and design classes were available, women somehow managed to make quilts of remarkable beauty and color. Because it was necessary to use tiny leftover scraps and secondhand fabrics, they unknowingly employed two important rules for successfully combining unrelated fabric prints:
Rule #1: Most fabrics will blend in a pleasing manner if the size of the individual pattern pieces are small (2″ or less).
Rule #2: It is easier to combine 50 different fabrics in a quilt than it is to choose 5 fabrics that look perfect together.
I have a romantic vision of one of my ancestors sitting by a fire on a cold winter evening. She has a basket of calico squares in her lap and as she tells a bedtime story to her children, she picks up the squares (one at a time) and sews them together. She doesn’t agonize over the arrangement of colors; she just methodically stitches the squares into rows, and the rows gradually turn into a dazzling Postage Stamp quilt.
Select 40 different fabrics. (At most, you will need only enough to cut 3 or 4 squares 2″ x 2″ from each fabric, so look through your scrap collection before going shopping.) Concentrate on prints, but you can also add a few solids. Choose fabrics that are personally appealing and avoid trying to coordinate a color scheme. What you want to end up with is a nice, chaotic jumble of colors and patterns. The assortment should include the following:
- Small, medium, and large prints
- Light, medium, and dark values
- A variety of fabric patterns (stripes, plaids, florals, textures, etc.)
- Include at least 1 yellow and 1 gold print. Also include a bright red and a dark red, and 2 turquoise fabrics.
You will need a half yard of an outer border fabric and an eighth yard of an inner border fabric, but wait until the main body of the quilt is complete before making your selections.
Cut 3 squares 2″ x 2″ from each of the 40 fabrics for a total of 120 squares. Put all the squares in a lunch-size paper bag and shake it to mix the fabrics.
BEGIN THE DESIGN
Stand in front of your design board and without looking, reach into your bag, take out 1 square, and place it on the upper left-hand corner of the design board. Working from left to right, repeat this process until you have 10 squares across the top row. Place the squares, just touching, so no white flannel shows through.
Following the same procedure, add 11 more rows (10 squares across) for a total of 12 rows.
You must practice rigid self-control and put the squares up just as they come out of the bag. No peeking!
If you try rearranging the squares at this point, you will defeat the purpose of the exercise. The only reason to exchange a square is when the same fabric appears next to itself.
When all 120 squares are positioned on your design board, stand a few feet away—or use a reducing glass—to critique your Postage Stamp quilt.
Ask the following questions about your design:
- Is there a pleasing balance of colors? Sometimes several closely related hues will be grouped together and you will have to decide whether they make the quilt look awkward-interesting or awkward-unbalanced. Look for happy accidents like colors or prints that, until now, you would never dream of putting together–and surprisingly, they look good!
- Have you noticed how the red, yellow, and turquoise squares make your quilt sparkle and look lively? Do you think you need to add a few more of them?
- Can you detect a theme to your quilt? Does it look like folk art? Is it traditional, contemporary, or ethnic? Sometimes the style of your quilt will be a candid reflection of your taste in fabrics.
- Do you think you can make the quilt look better?
If you answered yes to the last question, now is the time to make some changes. Do a little rearranging or add some new squares of fabric and delete others. I caution you not to make any more changes than necessary. If you do, the spontaneous charm of the quilt will be lost. Let your intuition tell you when the quilt “feels right.”
When you are pleased with the arrangement of squares, it’s time to sew your Postage Stamp quilt.
1. Start by sewing the bottom row of squares together using a 1/4″ seam allowance. Press all the seam allowances in this first row toward the left.
2. Sew the squares together in the row directly above the bottom row and this time, press all the seam allowances to the right.
3. Working toward the top of the quilt, continue sewing rows of squares together and alternate the pressing direction of the seam allowances from row to row.
4. When all the squares are sewn into rows, join the rows. (Note: Pinning at each seam allowance juncture will produce nicely aligned squares and perhaps save some ripping out and resewing.) Press all these seam allowances either up or down. Pressing them in a single direction will make the quilt top lay flatter.
Look at your quilt and decide which 2 colors you want to emphasize. A general rule of thumb would be to choose a light color fabric (print or solid) for the inner border and a darker or brighter print for the outer border.
1. Cut the inner border strips 1 1/4″ wide.
2. Cut the outer border strips 3 1/2″ wide.
3. Attach the borders.
Once the quilt top is assembled, it’s ready for quilting. Refer to your reference of choice for quilting and finishing instructions. Finished size, roughly 23″ x 26″.