First up in the Week of Composition is Dan Rouse’s “Ripple” quilt. We can all learn much from Dan when it comes to composing a quilt.
Tell us about this quilt.
“The Ripple quilt began last spring when Robert Kaufman Fabrics distributed charm packs to the quilt guild and challenged us to make quilts using only solids. About the same time Accuquilt sent me a fabric cutter to try out. As it turns out, combining solids from all (dusty) shades of the rainbow, and block-based quilt design are both outside my comfort zone, so I decided to wrap it up into one challenge.
I tried several layout options, and wasn’t pleased with any symmetrical tile patterns. The colors don’t have a lot of umph, and it just came off a bit sleepy. I ended up separating the units into one group colored centers and neutral edges, and a second group with neutral centersand colored edges. I then subdivided each of those groups into 8 piles by hue. Finally, I paired hues to make 8 block groups.”
Playing with the units I settled on the idea of water droplets hitting a pond, creating ring wavelets that soon disappear. I arranged the units around a central circle, filling with additional Kona snow as necessary. The quantity of drunkard’s path units was limited by the size of the fabric pack. This constraint became an opportunity to create a deconstructed sense of fragility in an otherwise stark composition.
The quilting uses several different colors, with all of the concentric circles around any drop in the same color. The colors are light blue, light ochre, moss green, deep red, and white. The drops overlap in different amounts. Some drops have more rings than others. Some of the quilted drops are set completely in the white background, with no drunkard’s path blocks, hinting at drop rings that have all but faded away.”
What do you consider when composing your quilts?
“I’ll start with something I don’t consider very much at all. I never start with a specific print or fabric collection. Rather, I start with a design idea, shape, or geometry, and find fabrics that work with that idea. With very few exceptions I have an clear idea what I want the quilt to look like before I consider a single fabric. The Ripple quilt was unusual for me in that I started with a pack of fabric and a drunkard’s path block as initial constraints, and didn’t compose the quilt until all the blocks were sewn.
To achieve the design it is essential to have contrast. The stronger and simpler the contrast, the easier it is to read the design. With more levels or gradation of contrast, the design becomes more delicate and achieves a sense of depth. A high level of contrast clearly defines positive and negative space, ideally giving a sense of foreground and background.
There are lots of tools to achieve contrast. Value, or the relative lightness or darkness of a color, is an important compositional tool for quilters. Color hue is also very important.
Scale is all about size relationships and creating appropriate balance between the size of fabric prints, individual pieces, and positive and negative space.
Finally, rhythm is a key element in an interesting quilt. By arranging the elements with a sense of rhythm you direct the viewers eye across and around the quilt and create a sense of energy and movement in a static object. I use all the above concepts to varying degrees to achieve rhythm. I think the Ripple quilt is a good example of rhythm. The irregular construction and placement of the drop formations creates multiple paths and loops for the eye to follow, with the overlapping concentric quilting suggesting connections between adjacent elements, so the viewer doesn’t feel she ‘knows’ the quilt at first glance.”
Tell us a bit about yourself and your quilty history.
By profession I am a landscape designer, working mostly in residential gardens in the San Francisco Bay Area. I have years of training and practice in a design field.
For the most part I am a self-taught sewer and quilter. My mom taught me how to use a sewing machine when I was a kid, but I lost interest and didn’t sew anything for years until the 2006 Gee’s Bend exhibit at the De Young piqued my interest. Inspired by the confident use of color and playful improvisational technique, I immediately purchased two books on quilt making. Alas, the books sat for a few more years before I finally started sewing in 2009. But now I’m hooked. I’ve been sewing quilts non-stop ever since, and recently started teaching classes at my LQS.
Dan is a member of the East Bay Modern Quilt Guild and you can find him and his amazing work on his blog, Piece and Press.