Introduction: Maze Quilt - Design Choices

I made a quilt following an intricate two-color gridded design, using basic unit piecing methods.  It's 55x41" with individual squares that finish to 1" in size.

I'm going to share here what went into the design choices.  I will cover the construction details that are relevant to the nature of the design, but not attempt to cover basic piecing and quilting techniques.

Step 1: Source Pattern, Two-color Inspiration

There's lots of cool two color designs that would make dramatic quilts.  I was looking for a maze generator to make printouts with to amuse my young son, and when I found Unikatissima's Maze Generator applet , I was inspired to make a maze quilt.

Unikatissma has a Random Squares Pattern Generator that looks fun.  I also find Cellular Automata patterns a good source of inspiration for two color designs, and my favorite tool for exploring them is Mirek's Java Cellebration .  My next quilt is planned based on a "Life 012345678/1" rule automata.

Step 2: Color Choices - Lights

I used Robert Kaufman Kona solids and for the nearly-whites I chose the lightest colors available to me, ending up with white, plus ten nearly-whites.  They're all in a pretty tight range of values.

Step 3: Color Choices - Darks

I've overexposed the photo so that you can distinguish the darks; they all read as distinct from each other in person, and they cover a wider range of values than the lights do.  I started by pulling from stash, and even in the cases where I bought fabric for this project, I often did not choose the darkest shade available to me.  I have black, plus fifteen dark colors.  I had several very similar blues in stash, and using one fewer would not have been noticeable (140 Nightfall, is present in the quilt but not in the annotated picture).

Step 4: Analysing the Pattern

As I construct the quilt, my sub-units are going to be four-patches, so I need to manipulate my pattern to come up with a printable copy with a grid overlaid.  My tool of choice for this is gimp, but I imagine that any image editor can do the job.

Tip: To scale a pixelated image without artifacts, select "Interpolation: none"

Being lazy and obsessive is a bad combination. I wrote a python script to count up how many tiles of each kind I would need. Because I was too lazy to learn how to use a module that can read most image formats, I converted the image to ascii pbm format in order to read and manipulate it conveniently.

My chosen maze is 41x55 pixels; I need 65 each of the 3/1 units, and 410 2/2 units, plus some extra dark pairs for the edge.

Step 5: Back of the Envelope Cutting Decisions

My finished squares will be 1" in the quilt. That means I will need 1 1/2" strips to account for the seam allowance.

I'm not a good enough ninja to successfully square up a full width of fabric, so I cut each piece of fabric in half parallel to the selvedge, and cut my 1 1/2" strips across the half-width of fabric. Once the chunks of fabric are squared, I can stack a few together for cutting.

I expect 14 squares per strip. I need roughly: 41*55/14 = 161 strips, half of them dark and half of them light. I figure actual white and actual black should feature pretty heavily, so I come up with:

6 strips of each light color
20 white strips

5 strips of each dark color
9 black strips

After that, I just pair up strips, sew, press and cut them.  Easier to cut two at once, lights uppermost, already nested together.

Step 6: Windmilled Four-Patch

Let's jump ahead to what the four patches will look like:

I put together two pairs of squares, each of which will have the seam allowance pressed to one side. Then I line them up against each other, so the seam allowances go in opposite directions, and sew them together. After that, I pop apart the ends of the first two seams, so that I can spread the seams at the intersection flat.

Notice how the pressing has rotational symmetry. This is important. It's also important that they all spin in the same direction.  Getting them to all spin in the same direction is managed by always having the upper seam allowance pointed up, as they go through the sewing machine.

Step 7: Statistical Mixing

It makes me really anxious that I not be able to look at the finished quilt, and tell you that every time "crimson" and "ocean" appear together, they're flanked by "white" and "taupe" (for example).  The method I settled on was to essentially round-robin my pairings of strips, and then when cutting, to sew only a few pairs already paired up as cut, and then to separate the rest into piles of light/light dark/dark, to be re-paired at random.

Only after making the entire pile of necessary four patches, do I start laying them out to put together, allowing for further opportunity to shuffle the batch.

Step 8: Final Layout

I laid out the pieces, section by section on the table, checking carefully for adjacent colors.  When the layout was correct, I then chain pieced along the red arrows, keeping the pieces linked together.  Due to the threads holding each chain together, I could then sew together pairs of units, without needing to refer to the diagram.

Properly pressing the pieced strips is terribly annoying, but there's only one way each corner can be opened.

I needed six sections to get the whole quilt together.  Blocking off the parts of my paper diagram that weren't currently relevant with post-it notes helped.

Step 9: Press That Sucker

Here's the whole quilt top together, showing how the back side is pressed.

Step 10: Quilting

I quilted on the lights, using white thread and a free-motion foot.  My reasons being that I wanted the piecing to carry the design, so I did not want to make a design feature of mismatched thread.  If I was to stay on one color, then I would need to follow the walls (as it were) and doing that in straight lines with a walking foot would lead to swinging the whole quilt around more than is really comfortable.  So free motion it was...

The binding color is charcoal; there's nothing technically tricky going on here at all, and in fact this was the quickest quilting I've done, largely due to there being no decision necessary upon sitting down to quilt.

Step 11: Let the Children Play on It

Hey, it's just a quilt.  Here's Denton, aged four, driving through it with a matchbox car.  He asks to play with the quilt every few days.
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