Tuesday, September 24, 2013

one way to randomize patchwork

It seems like a lot of quilters I talk to have a problem randomizing patchwork. It usually isn't too difficult for me, but then again I've always been kind of random. (Ha!) I like to call my approach "controlled random". Here's how I go about it....
For this quilt I started with a stack of 700+ squares. Each one is cut at 3". I determined that my lay out will be 24 blocks wide by 30 long. This will yield a 60" x 75" lap quilt.
I started by sewing the squares into pairs (in combinations that I chose and liked), then I sewed the pairs into 4's, again arranging the colors and prints as I saw fit. I sewed those sets of 4 together until I had a string of 12 squares. 12 squares =1/2 of a row.
Now it's layout time! Trying to arrange 60 half rows is far better than trying to lay out 702 individual squares. One gust of wind or one active child can wipe out all your progress in a few seconds. In previous quilts I have sewn entire rows together, but I've found that as much as I try to be random, some blocks seem to land in the same position in different rows, like this....
Or else a certain color ends up in the same position in several rows, like this....
Take lots of photos during the process. It helps you keep an eye on color distribution and value. Also, if you don't like where your layout is headed, multiple photos make it easier to back track if necessary.
It is really easy to over think. My rule of thumb is audition a strip in one or two spots....3 spots max. Pick the best one. If it doesn't work in any of the spots you tried, set it aside and get a new strip. If it doesn't make you cringe in the initial layout phase, don't move it. That may sound harsh, but again, don't over think it. I had a red block and a violet block adjacent to each other that I just couldn't live with, so one of the strips had to move.
Rearrange sparingly! At times it's has to be done, but I've found that once you start messing with the arrangement you can get into trouble fast. It starts a chain reaction that can do more harm than good.
 Keep at it until you fill in all the holes and you are pleased with your arrangement.
There are a few areas (top left and the bottom few rows) where there is a higher concentration of dark blocks...but not enough to mess with. It doesn't feel awkward and this IS random, after all.
(The quilt looks really long, but it will shrink up once I sew the rows together.)
Once my layout was finalized, I sewed the half rows together and numbered them. I did this as quickly as possible so that my layout wouldn't get disturbed. Now I get to sew all those rows together. I see a LOT of pinning in my future!

So, is random difficult for YOU? What are some tricks that you use to help you randomize?

40 comments:

wish2stitch said...

Thanks Amanda, I have had many poeple say they just place those pieces into a bag and randomly pull squares out. Personally I find that system doesn't work for me. I haven't tried the 'half row' technique and I really like it. Will definitely try that with my next quilt. Oh, I recently ordered your book and it arrived in the mail today. I'm off to read Sunday Morning Quilts right now.

sarahquilts.com said...

What a great post! Thanks for taking the time to share this. I did something similar once and I think the only reason it didn't work well for me was because my quilt wasn't scrappy enough.

Laurel said...

i'm just starting three completely scrappy patchwork twin quilts - this was timely!!

Deborah said...

Thanks, Amanda! I make small blocks out of the squares and then sew the blocks together.....and lots of photos! It isn't perfect but makes it more manageable.

Jeneta said...

I must be a 'controlled random' person too! I was literally just sewing some charm packs together (that's the controlled part!) and I do what you do, though I love your tip about the half rows. 5" squares are a lot more manageable than 3" squares, but isn't it amazing how much draught a child makes when they are walking past squares laid out on the floor?!!

Grandma Ruthie said...

This post reminds me of when I used to coach my staff on projects. I'd always say break it down into chunks you can manage, step back, take a look and adjust if necessary. Too bad I don't follow my own advice! Thank you for a great post.

Diane said...

Ah, thanks Amanda Jean! I will definitely try your method the next time I randomize a quilt top!

Thimbleanna said...

Random is REALLY difficult for me. One quilt I did recently, I was SO careful and thought I had things fairly balanced -- after it was all put together, I found 5 (FIVE!) blocks of the same color in a row. How DID that happen??? So RUDE! I was going to fix it but then decided -- Hey -- that's the way it ended up so it will stay that way and someday, someone can over-analyze the quilt guessing on what I did there LOL. I think you hit the nail on the head -- don't over-analyze or you go down the rabbit hole!

Kathy @ Kwilty Pleasures said...

Tried the pieces in a sack....it was ok. I did my first scrappy trio block yesterday and found myself pulling fabrics that look good together. To control to not control..might be the question but the answer is always a fun quilt top. love your random control idea,

Sara A. said...

I do a lot of my decision making at the machine. First I take a look at my blocks at the kitchen table making piles of blocks and come up with what I think will be the order... then I get to the machine and decide I don't like this together and sew it in a completely different order. I also tend to sew my blocks into quadrants and from quadrants into a full top. It makes me feel more accomplished to see a big bit of patchwork come together than to see lots of strips.
Then I can spend a good amount of time turning the quadrants this way and that and laying them on the floor in different ways until I decide what I like.

Carie said...

I find black and white photography really useful to check the tonal balance, and photography in general lets you take a step back and really look at a layout.

Michelle said...

I love the layout. Looks great to me.

Susan Owenby said...

I wrote a post about this problem not too long ago:

http://theboredzombie.com/2013/09/phoenix-fire-and-ash-the-pattern.html

It occurred to me about half way through that there's nothing random about it at all! As a matter of fact - if it were true random there would be patterns in the placement like colors bunching up and matching fabrics touching. :)It is really a distribution and balancing problem the kind I love to solve in the tech world and as it turns out in the fabric world too!

This is a nice method you have, its working well for you. :)

Hayley Emmerton said...

I find that if I step back and half close my eyes, I can just see the brightest Colours, it an simplify things and allows you to balance things.

Suzanne said...

You are so good to share the ins and outs of quilting.

This was great! I'm big into process, I suppose, so hearing how you do random clicked with me.

I like the idea of half rows and of seaming fabrics you like together. It is not totally random but yet in the end, it is.

I also like the reminder not to overthink and that the camera is a good tool here. Thanks, AJ!!

mumziepooh said...

The best tool to help me is my cell phone camera - I 'see' problems so much better in the photo than on my floor all spread out. Issues really pop out to me in a picture. Plus, when I like it, the final layout is captured and there to double check while I am building it.

Lana said...

SO HELPFUL!
Thank you!!!!

Linda at Roscoe's Ma said...

I like your method. Thanks for sharing! Your quilts are so stunning so this method is proven. Thanks again!

Bennett and Graves said...

Thank YOU! I want so badly to make a rather random blocks quilt but how to go about it. The over thinking has kept be from even starting.

Vicki Posten said...

Thank you so much! I do like random quilts a LOT.

mascanlon said...

I really like this half block strategy. I tend to get stuck over thinking the whole thing and as you said, the domino effect is never good! Thanks for taking the time to share.

Cheryl Arkison said...

Great education here! I need to send this to my SIL.

Josie McRazie said...

I have also taken black and white photos too. It really helps to determine if there really is much dark or light saturation in one area!

Carla said...

Great idea to do 1/2 of the row at a time....why didn't I think of that?!

jenni said...

I can't do random. I am fairly new to quilting so I am hoping it will come with time. All my quilts so far have been made out of the same line. I have trouble pulling scraps and matching colors!

Shaz said...

It sounds like you are doing exactly what I have done all along! We must be twins under the skin!!

You do have to be quick sewing in the end, as otherwise you start to second guess yourself, and that can get ugly!!

Leigh Anne said...

Oh my goodness I started a post last week about this after receiving a question about it from a reader. And I described my process as controlled random as well LOL. We do a lot of things similar but a few differently :)

You are so right about the avalanche that can follow once you start messing with the layout :0

The Calico Cat said...

I am far more random!
I am working through a series of super scrappy quilts that are based on blocks of 49 squares (7 rows of 7)
& there are 16 (I think) 100% scrappy blocks, so I work on all 16 at once.

First I set aside 112 squares (7 is an odd number & this helps me from making too many pairs.)
Take the remaining 672 squares & pull any two & sew them together. Sometimes, I try not to have similar pieces together, other times I want them together. (I like to see the same plaid in 2 different colors together - I think that emphasizes the scrapiness.)

Then I sew the singles to pairs making threes. Then I sew all the other pairs together making fours. Then I sew all of the threes to the fours. (During this process I occasionally say, that is too much pink together & switch for a different set.)

Then I got through the same process with the strips - I set aside the singles, sew the rest into pairs, make threes, then make fours, then make sevens! & then I have a block, but I have 1 block followed in quick succession by 15 other blocks. (Occasionally I look to see if there are too many blues, but not often. I prefer real random not controlled scrappy. & if you roll a die, you will get 1, 1, 1 - so I embrace getting blue, blue, blue.

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Mary Burnette said...

Love this quilt! I am also trying to make a zig zag quilt without making the triangles with 1 1/2 " wide strips, can you or anyone tell me how long the strips need to be. I know I can sew two strips together and then lay them out in a zig zag pattern but new at this and trying to figure the length of each strip. HELP PLEASE!Your zig zag without sewing triangle tutorial will not open up it tells me it is no longer available. mburnette912@bellsouth.net

margaret said...

I have yet to make a quilt but the other day I was given a tip to lay all the blocks out on the floor in the hall then go upstairs and look over the banisters at it, not possible in my house as only a tiny hall and stairs go up between 2 rooms so no banister! will bear in mind how you do it as it has certainly worked very well with this quilt.

Jo said...

Thanks for the info I am so OCD at times when I am sewing that I have a lot of trouble with this

Annie said...

For my random patchwork quilt, I used 4 inch squares, and made 9 patches. I tried to make them as different as possible, but still with fabrics I liked together. Then I laid out my 9 patches like you did your half rows. The 9 patch layout worked well for me, because then I could rotate the block and still keep the general placement. It worked for me, and is a controlled random.

Mary on Lake Pulaski said...

This is great information and it works! Your quilts confirm it!

Live a Colorful Life said...

I always find that when you solve one problem (two fabrics together or similar colors next to each other), it always causes another problem. I finally give up and just sew it together.

PT in SC said...

I know this will not help everyone...but I am nearsighted, if I take my glasses off and stand back about 10 to 12 feet where the quilt layout starts to look blurry, I can "see" areas that arenot random. It also helps to have a friend to look it over, we always catch things we didn't see before.

✾Jamie Lee Cooley✾ said...

That is he same kind of thing that happens to me. I do the same thing usually...just smile and move on!

Anne said...

Thanks for this post about random layouts. I like your approach. You are so so right about over analyzing. If you start looking too hard you're bound to find areas that aren't "perfect" but you have to trust your initial gut reaction too. Love your work.

Random Thoughts Tracy said...

I like controlled chaos! It keeps me at a happy medium between complete chaos or sheer chance and the boring all to planned out method... Now My question for you is how did you pres those seams? I've learned that pressing every row opposite is the key to getting small pieces to match up well...but with your method wondering how you did that?

Lynn Walker said...

My approach is like yours--make it look random, but get a nice balance of color and pattern, without over-thinking (that's the hard part for me!). Thanks for the tip about half-rows, that's a great idea.
Recently, I laid out blocks for a quilt top on the bed, had them all arranged, then closed the door while I had lunch. Didn't know one of my cats was under the bed; she came out and did a dervish dance on the quilt blocks while I was gone... I despaired over the carnage a minute, then rearranged them; I think they actually looked better the second time!