Friday, July 8, 2016

Proportion, Size, Symmetry, Balance -- How Does a Quilter Decide?

Vintage 9-patch quilt set on point with alternate setting blocks
One of the things I love about traditional quilts is the rhythm created by blocks repeated across the surface of a quilt.  Even when colors vary, lights and darks change places, or many or few fabrics are used, I can usually see that rhythm (sometimes held in place only by sashing between blocks, other times interrupted by faded fabric).  Those variations create interest for me.  I see the whole then devour the quilt one block at a time.

I also love the balance and symmetry that I see in old quilts.  Of course, not all old quilts have balance or symmetry in the blocks or across the surface.  Those quilts that don't are, perhaps, more interesting and I try to imagine the creative ethic, experience/knowledge, and circumstances of the quilter.  What prompted her to choose those colors, or to use one odd block with 35 others all the same, or to make the quilt the size it is?

When making quilts --modern, traditional, improv, any quilts-- I give too much thought to quilt sizes and proportions.  Maybe it's because I'm still learning how to "get it right."  Not that there's any particular wrong about a quilt size but there are some sizes and proportions that seem more pleasing to the eye and are possibly more useful.  In fact, when I'm riding in the car with my husband driving and I have a quilt book in tow that I've finished reading or looking at the photos, I sometimes go through it quilt by quilt and write down the sizes of each.  Weird, I know.  What I've found is that quilt sizes and proportions vary a lot.  A whole lot!  (One of these days I'm going to type the numbers into some kind of order so I can compare.)

For instance, a few quilts in Unconventional & Unexpected:  American Quilts Below the Radar, 1950-2000, had these measurements (in inches):
61 x 78
61 x 81
62 x 71
62 x 77
62 x 80
62 x 85
63 x 79
63 x 81
63 x 87
64 x 80
64 x 87
65 x 78

I struggle with quilt sizes.  In a blog comment someone told me the quilt size I chose would depend on the bed I was going to use for the quilt.  She's right, of course, except that I don't make quilts for beds, I make quilts to keep people warm, maybe on a bed, but just as often for a nap.  And I make quilts to play with fabric.  But I also want quilts that are a comfortable size:  not too long, not too short, not too wide, not too narrow.  (I'm sure you've seen a hired man's quilt, at least in a book:  narrow and long.)  Proportion matters to me.

But it's not just the physical sizes and proportions I think about, it's also the balance in a quilt.  In an on-point setting, a row can end with four blocks or five blocks (or any two other numbers depending on the size of the blocks and the width of the quilt).  When the ends don't have the same number of blocks it looks odd to me.  Uneven, unbalanced.  To my eyes, the same number of blocks on both ends and on both sides looks balanced.

I have three quilts that seem too long. 

First:  String-X.  
Scrappy String-X quilt
Finished it measures 69" x 93".  That's 7' 9" long!  Who needs a quilt that long?  Each diagonal string block measures 7", each set of our measures 14" x 14".  When I was deciding the layout of the quilt I knew I wanted the ends to be balanced.  The quilt could have been 7", 14", or 21" shorter, but only by leaving a row of blocks off of each end would it still have been balanced.  I could have had a quilt that measure 69 x

Second:  Plaid Churn Dash.
Churndash quilt of thrift store plaid shirts
This quilt measures 64" x 89". The blocks are 7 1/2" square.  Again, it's a quilt with the blocks set on point.  (Maybe it's only on point settings that create this problem of quilts that are balanced are too long.  I don't know.)

And last, Red Wings (my most recent quilting finish).  It hasn't been bound or washed and dried yet, so the measurements will change after all that happens.  As it is now, it measures 64 3/4" x 97 1/4".  It's an inch shorter than String-X was before being washed and 2 1/4" inches narrower.  It's just shy of 8 feet!!!  I knew it would be long but I wanted those balanced ends.   

Here it is with one row folded under on the end.  It measures 64 3/4" x 89".  The overall measurement is better but it doesn't look balanced to me.  One end has 5 half-blocks, the other has 4 half-blocks (which are cut off toward the bottom of the photo).

Lastly, here it is with two squares folded under on one end.  It's balanced with 4 half-squares on each end, but it looks squatty to me.  It measures 64 3/4" x 81", nearly 7 feet.

I've seriously thought of cutting off the end of this quilt, even though it would mean I'd have a bias edge to deal with, but I can't make myself cut it to 81".  It could end up only 73" or 74" long.

The other consideration when deciding the size of a quilt is shrinkage.  By the time I finish hand quilting I've lost at least an inch in width and two in length.  Add to that (or subtract from that, if you will) the shrinkage from washing and drying and the loss in width could be from 2 to 5 inches and between 2 and 7 inches in length.  (To date the only bats I've used are Mountain Mist Cream Rose and Soft & Crafty 80/20 cotton/poly.)

If you've read this far you're a trooper and I thank you.  I hope you'll go one step further and tell me how you decide the size of your quilts.  Do you choose it by blocks:  x # of blocks by y # of blocks?  Do you go for length and width without consideration for balance?  Do you try to balance the ends and sides to have the same number of blocks?  Do you consider shrinkage when you're deciding the size of a quilt?

Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts about proportions, sizes, symmetry, and balance when making a quilt.  I appreciate it!

I'd love lots of responses to my questions so I'm linking to
- TGIFF : Go West Flimsy at The Carpenters Daughter Who Quilts
- Off the Wall Friday at Creations... Quilts, Art.... Whatever
- Fabric Frenzy Friday at Forth Worth Fabric Studio {Blog}
- Fabric, Thread and Yarn at France Nadeau
- finish it up Friday at crazy mom quilts
- Can I get a Whoop Whoop?  at Confessions of a Fabric Addict
- Midweek Makers #27 at  Quilt Fabrication
Thanks for hosting, ladies!

--Nancy.
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32 comments:

  1. Hi, Nancy! I love your quilts!
    I'm not really making quilts for beds anymore, either. I usually aim for a twin sized quilt that we can use to cover up with on the couch or for naps. My goal is usually 72 x 84. I make lots of different sizes of blocks, and just try to get to somewhere around that size.
    Hope this helps,
    Sylvia (Treadlestitches)

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    1. Thank you for the compliment, Sylvia, and also for responding to my questions. I appreciate your thoughts on quilt sizes. I should probably choose an approximate size, too, and try to make quilts that fit it unless I'm making them for a specific bed or person.

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  2. Nancy, your quilts are so beautiful! I can see some of them used on an extra long twin bed. I think they would work and have room for a pillow tuck. I usually work off of the block size, but I also have an idea of how big the quilt needs to be for the bed. I just finished a quilt that was more square than I liked. It was for a queen size bed. I went by the general size of a queen quilt, 86 x 93. When I adjusted my pattern, I came out with a quilt that was approx. 87 x 87. It will fit a queen decently without a pillow tuck. The block size of the quilt made it difficult, but I think it will do.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Wendy. I appreciate it.

      I've noticed that some block sizes make some proportions harder to achieve. I think the bigger the block the more restricted the sizes are. Of course, some quilts benefit by a border, which can help alter the size.

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  3. I, too, love symmetry in quilts. And I like seeing them have the same number of blocks on the top and bottom rows. HOWEVER, if you realize that most quilts won't be viewed in their entirety when in use, it makes it easier to have the rows "unequal"...and that's what I do when I have to to make the quilt the size I want it to be...I alter the number of rows and blocks to get it the size I want...even if it doesn't end up "symmetrical". And as soon as I move on to the next quilt, it doesn't matter anymore! :D BTW...love your quilts and think that the second picture of "Red Wings" looks just fine! :)

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    1. Loretta, you are so right. About the only time we see a whole quilt is when we finish it, photograph it, and show it on our blogs (unless it's entered in a show, of course). I can't tell you how many times I've reminded myself of that. Maybe I'm just going to throw symmetry out the window except when it fits to make a decent sized quilt. Thank you for the reminder. Thank you, too, for your kind words about my quilts and for the suggestion that the size in the second Red Wings photo works.

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  4. I love that you've taken the time to write down your thoughts when considering these properties of the quilts you make. While reading your post, I realized that I think of each of these aspects as well, but they all vary depending on the quilt I am making. Sometimes I just want to make the pattern as is, but often I mix things up a bit. I have made a quilt extra long when making it for a taller person - I thought they would appreciate room to tuck toes in without them peeking out. :) I don't make many square quilts although some baby quilts seem to be square. I only consider shrinkage if I am making a quilt for a certain bed. Sometimes I worry about balance and sometimes I don't. I made a baby quilt the other day and used brown, blue, and red square in a square blocks, in 3 rows. One started with red, the next with blue, the next with red and I made sure the colors alternated in the same order across the rows. The baby won't ever mind if they are out of order, but it just seemed off if they weren't orderly. LOL. At other times, I have simply let colors and sizes fall where they may. It's a different process for each quilt for me.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Karin. Perhaps experienced quilters --like you-- unconsciously consider these things but those of us who are newer to quilting -- me -- have to think about them a little more. If I used others' patterns for quilts I don't suppose I'd have to give much thought to size and proportion but I make it hard for myself, I guess. My husband told me the other day, "You think too much." I told him it's because I'm an introvert. ;-)

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  5. This was a great post -- so fun to read what is going on in your head when you're planning a quilt and your reflections on the completed tops. I have made a few quilts to fit my childhood brass bed (only a double size, but with one of those new crazy thick mattresses). Mostly, though, I design my quilts so that the pattern and proportions are pleasing to me, and (with the exception of those two quilts for the brass bed), I never think about shrinkage. For someone who is really picky about piecing, I guess I'm actually pretty relaxed about the size thing.

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    1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts, Martha. After reading yours and others' comments I think I probably need to focus less on proportions and just make quilts! I always think of you as an exacting quilter so it surprises me that you don't give much thought to sizes and shrinkage.

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  6. Also -- forgot to add that your quilts are all incredibly gorgeous. I really appreciate your attention to the little details, and it definitely shows in your finished work.

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    1. Thank you, Martha. What kind comments.

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  7. You are full of thought-provoking questions today my friend! It was so much fun looking at your quilts, I almost forgot the question :*). Love your Red Wings! I am very much like you in needing balance in the design and will make a quilt longer or wider in order to get that. I don't make many bed quilts either, usually a good cuddly lap size around 60" by whatever length the pattern ends up needing.

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    1. Thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts about balance, design, and quilt sizes, Teresa. It's good to find I'm not alone in wanting balance. Thanks, too, for your kind words about Red Wings.

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  8. I don't get too caught up in finished overall size. I tend to make them large enough to snuggle under, paying more attention to proportions than anything else. If they end up long, well, then it's perfect for someone who's tall! And we humans have gotten taller!
    Thanks for sharing at Midweek Makers!
    Susan

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    1. Thanks for hosting Midweek Makers, Susan. And thanks for visiting and sharing your thoughts on quilts sizes, proportions, etc. They are good ideas to consider.

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  9. I find your post interesting, and I keep thinking one thing.......perhaps your quilts will find their way into a book in the future, and people will ask questions......and unlike the quilts in the books you mentioned, you can leave the answers as to why you made your quilts the sizes they are? For me, I do what feels right, and let it go. Your "Red Wings" quilt is stunning to me, as you KNOW I love QOV, and this would make a wonderful quilt for a veteran. Is this your pattern, or someone else's?

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    1. It's hard to imagine one of my quilts being in some future book, Kevin. If that should ever happen, people can come read my blog posts about this quilt, huh? (If blogs still exist at that time....) ;-)

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts about quilt sizes and how you decide.

      Thanks, too, for your kind words about Red Wings. When I was making it I wasn't thinking "red, white, and blue" and even now I don't clearly see those colors because of all the creams and caramels in the light parts of the blocks. But it would make a beautiful quilt of valor if the lights were whitened/lightened a bit.

      It is my own pattern. I first made the red and cream "wings" blocks then played around with what to do next. It just evolved.

      Thanks for visiting and leaving such a kind comment and for following. I appreciate it.

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  10. I guess I'm a trooper... lol It was insteresting to read. I see your point about balancing. I would keep the last quilt as it is, for the sole reason that it's already made. My second option would be to cut both ends as cutting only one would make it unbalanced for me too.
    For me, the sizes of the blocks and balance always decide the size of the quilt. I prefer that to reaching the perfect size. :-)
    Thank you for participating to my Fabric, Thread and Yarn link party. Have a good week!

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    1. I think you are one of a few to finish the post to the end and leave a comment. Thank you, France.

      In this last quilt I think I went with your preference to go for balance over size. I think it's interesting to learn how other quilters choose. For anyone who uses a pattern there's not much of a decision about all of this, but when I go my own way and create a pattern the decisions are more open-ended.

      Thank you for hosting Fabric, Thread and Yarn. I just discovered it this week.

      Thanks again for reading the whole post and leaving a comment. I appreciate it.

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  11. I am mainly a fabric remnant repurposing quilter so the remnants of fabric ultimately decide how big the quilt will be. Sometimes I do set out to make a bedsized quilt but I really love the baby/lap quilt sized creations.

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    1. I'm with you, Tami: remnants, upcycled thrift store shirts, and scrappy. That doesn't usually limit my size because I substitute fabric of a similar color when I've used all of one. Smaller quilts are great because they're usually quicker to make. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it.

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  12. Don't know how I missed this post, Nancy. It didn't show up in my reading list until now.
    I know that I am very conscious of balance when I make quilts--large or small. If I need a quilt a certain size for a bed, but that size would make the design asymmetrical, then I may go smaller to preserve symmetry and then add a border to bring it to size. It is true that once a quilt is in use no one will notice the balance issue, but I still have a hard time getting past it. : )

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    1. We are alike in this, Janet, except I still struggle with borders, especially if I need them only on the side, or only on the end. I need to just keep looking at quilts to see how others solve that problem.

      I did finally cut off part of a row on this quilt so it is not balanced. I tell myself it now has a top (for the head) and a bottom (for the feet). I just needed to get the binding on so I could hand sew it while I sit with my husband in the hospital. I'll get over it and be more attentive the next time.

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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  13. Interesting post Nancy, and something I have not really considered in depth like this! I mainly make throw size quilts, sewing until I run out of fabrics or get bored, substituting fabrics like you, usually I have a recipient in mind, but sometimes I'm just 'doing it for the process'. I try & aim for over-all balance & cohesion whatever the finished size. My daughter though, always says I don't make my quilts 'big enough'!

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    1. Thanks for sharing your experiences and thoughts on quilts sizes and proportions, Linda. When quilts are smaller than twin bed size quilts I usually think of them as quilts for babies or toddlers, no matter the color or pattern. That may be because when I use a quilt for a nap, I usually lie down instead of sitting and draping a quilt over me. (I might agree with your daughter about your quilts....)

      Yes, cohesion and balance! Somehow we have to make quilts that work for our own eyes.

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  14. Hilarious! I make quilts that are square most of the time...Lots of reasons why, the fact that they are easier to get to look balanced just by making odd numbers of rows. I also never plan on getting a larger bed because I don't want to make bigger quilts, too hard to get to look balanced. I guess I don't mind a quilt that is longer because I like to wrap the quilt up and around my feet :) I do not make smaller quilts. A few for the sofa and a few baby quilts (is 54" square a small baby quilt?). Saying all of that I love your quilts just the size they are :)
    Bridget

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    1. Hi, Bridget. I think we all make quilts that satisfy our own vision of what the quilt should look like. For me, I prefer not to make square quilts (unless it's a barn raising log cabin). And I like long, too, to tuck under my feet. I think 54" would be a good size for a baby quilt. Thanks for your compliment about my quilts. I appreciate it.

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  15. I appreciate all the thought that you have put into this issue. But I go with "how is it viewed in use?" If the bottom is hanging off the bed and the top is under a pillow it doesn't have to match. Just like 2 diamond earrings don't have to be perfect matches because no one can see both sides of your head at the same time!!

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    1. Hi, Linda. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on this topic. It's true that we rarely see a whole quilt unless it's in a show or we've photographed it to share somewhere. (I certainly wouldn't make a point to lay out a whole quilt just to see whether the number of blocks on the ends matched.) Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. I appreciate it.

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  16. Interesting blog post. I have not made too many quilts where I just started making blocks and they took me to what ever size they wanted to be. I do tend to make purchased quilt patterns larger most of the time as I do not like little throw quilts.This can be my downfall since I now have a couple 100 inch square and larger quilts needing quilting.I really do not make little baby quilts either. As usual by the time I get a baby quilt finished, the poor child is not a baby anymore. I like them to be used and to wear them out. I love the Red Wings quilt. Thanks for sharing and linking up with TGIFF.

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    1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this topic, Shelley. I think if I used purchased patterns the finished quilt sizes would already be worked but but I tend to make up my own patterns (for better or worse). I'm not much of a fan of little/throw quilts, either, and tend to like ones that are at least large enough for a twin bed.

      I think it's interesting to hear how others choose and I appreciate your participating in this discussion.

      Thanks for hosting TGIFF!

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I appreciate your comments and look forward to reading what you have to say. Thanks for stopping by.

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