Exploring Minimalism

Exploring Minimalism–my latest adventure in quilt design

Minimalism is not usually my design choice—even when I try.  I usually add more and more color, for example, when I’m designing a quilt.

I’ve admired minimalism for years and decided I needed to challenge myself in this area.

I signed up for a minimalism workshop with Season Evans at QuiltCon2017 in Savannah.  I am sooooo glad that I did—-it was a stretch in all the best ways.

Then came the first challenge–selecting the fabric that I would take.  I read the supply list and I thought it said… bring only 2 colors of fabric.  So, of course, I assumed that meant—–two colors AND a background fabric.  But NOOOOOOOO…….it meant 2 colors including the background fabric.

Aha!!  I said to myself, “Breathe Carole….you can do this…you can do this….“.  Of course my quilt peeps were just laughing and laughing when I talked with them about what I THOUGHT the supply list meant.

Nonetheless, despite the early pain (LOL), the Minimalism workshop was a great adventure for me.  Here’s the story of how one of the workshop exercises ended up becoming a mini.

Part 1: Exploring Minimalism At QuiltCon2017

Season Evans gave us different instructions for working with the fabrics we brought.

For the 2nd exercise, she asked us to cut and arrange rectangles of the fabric on the background.  We were to experiment by changing the arrangement and even taking away some of the rectangles.  Here are a few of my experiments.


One of my first layouts. It’s intense and feels dense.  By minimizing the negative space between purple rectangles, I increased the density of the piece.  I like the varied spacing–and I really like the “block” on the left with the 4 horizontal rectangles and one vertical.    This idea could become a large quilt.


Taking away rectangles and playing with changing the angles. This is an interesting idea that I may come back to.



Taking away rectangles but keeping angles parallel. Feels very, very boring to me.  It’s static.  Nothing moves the eye around the piece.  And yes, those are my feet at the top of the quilt in my black socks….













I decided that the purple pieces were too large so I started cutting them smaller improvisationally and sewing new blocks together. No measuring. I was just creating more blocks to play with.  The green background is the rug in our workshop room.











OK….I had gone as far as I could in this short workshop (it was only 3 hours long).   I had no idea what I would do with these pieces,  but I wasn’t worried.  Trust the creative process!

Part 2: Exploring Minimalism At Home–Tutorial!!

Then, about a month after QuiltCon, I was in the studio with a deadline looming ahead.  It was time for me to make a mini for our March 2017 guild challenge. [click link to see our approach to the challenges and feel free to borrow!]

This month’s challenge was to reinterpret a Modern Quilt Guild quilt design or block of the month.  I had about 5 days to figure something out and make it in time for show & tell at the guild meeting.  No pressure….riiiight……

So, off I went to browse through the MQG website to look at the patterns and blocks on the Resources page. (This is one of the prime benefits of membership–so much inspiration! If you don’t have a chapter of the MQG near you, you can join as an individual member. Modern Quilt Guild )

On the site, I saw this block design by Silvia Sutters.  Silvia is a very creative modern quilter from Brazil.  You may know her from her blog and Instagram as ‘A Stranger View’.  If you don’t know her work, I recommend that you follow her!

On the MQG website, Silvia provides pattern instructions for making this block and some alternative layouts for using it in a quilt.  So, it’s a block AND a quilt tutorial–Thanks Silvia!!

Here’s her block.

February 2017 MQG Block of the month.

I liked the way the colors graduated in her block–the color change is echoing the slant across the top of the rectangles.  As soon as I saw this block, I remembered the blocks I had started playing with in the minimalism workshop.

So, I pulled them out and started making more blocks.  I took the blocks I had pieced, made a few more, and added the slant.  Nothing was measured–I just cut an angle and added a piece of background fabric.  Then I squared off each block.

Making new angle blocks at home.  I was playing  with changing scale by varying the widths of the purple rectangles.  I changed the direction of the slants in some of the blocks.     At one point, I was thinking of adding a large purple rectangle.  However, I decided that in a mini, this wasn’t an effective design element.


After playing with various arrangements on my design wall, I decided that 5 blocks would be effective (the rest went into stash). I selected 5 that were very different from each other to add interest to the mini.  In this layout shown, I am still playing with arranging the 5 blocks–this is one of several options.  I photographed each arrangement along the way.  When I settled on an arrangement, I added more background fabric where needed.  Again, totally improvisational process which is so freeing!

And… below is the final mini.

I used my walking foot to add straightline quilting that somewhat echoed the blocks and added other angles in the negative space.  I used a white thread.

My last design decision was whether to add more straightline quilting in purple–yes, I was still feeling the need to add more to it.   I posted it on Instagram and got some great feedback from Season Evans and other friends–and decided to only quilt it in a white thread that matched the grunge background.  The Moda grunge background fabric is basically white, with near whites and a pale sort of tan brushed on (typical wonderful Moda grunge fabric).  The purple fabric is also a Moda grunge that is just shades of purple.

Final Mini–I decided that it is a horizontal quilt–also a departure for me because I usually make vertical quilts. But the balance of the blocks was much more effective when I hung it horizontally instead of vertically. It has asymmetrical borders and a faced binding.  Size is 22 by 24 inches.

What I Learned ….and Where Will these Lessons Take Me?!?

If I had NOT made this mini, I would not have really maximized & embedded my learning from the workshop.  I had to come home and apply Season’s messages and insights about minimalism to an actual project to get the full value from this workshop.

Here are my lessons learned.

Lesson #1:  Minimalism is still a stretch for me.  Yes, I did cheat on the 2 color requirement because the grunge background fabric has a hint of additional color brushed on it.  So, my next minimalism study/quilt will really, really be just 2 colors.  So, solids it is!

Lesson #2:  Minimalism allowed me the visual space to really examine line, shape, scale  & angle/directionality without the visual complexity that multiple colors add.  I don’t think I would have come up with this final mini design if I had more color to play with. It forced me to really examine these critical design elements to make sure they actually worked well.   Exercises like this will strengthen and increase my design repertoire.

Lesson #3:  I’ve always known that making mini quilts is a great way to practice and experiment with a design idea or color palette.  I resolve to make more minis–without worrying about making it perfect or ‘wasting fabric’.  I will focus on one or two design principles to experiment with in each mini.  Make it, learn from it and move to the next one.  Making mini’s is also a great way to warm up or get out of a creative slump. And, they are great for practicing my walking foot quilting (Yep..that’s right…no free motion quilting for me….I’m sticking to what I love to do.)  Make more mini’s as learning exercises!

Lesson #4:  Although I love minimalism in painting and in quilt art, I believe that Minimalism is [probably] not a path I will travel in my major work.  At the same time, I know that minimalism is a necessary area of growth that will definitely make me a better quilt designer.  So, I can experiment and learn, and apply these minimalism lessons into my main body of design work. 


Thanks for reading and Happy Modern Quilting!!


2 Responses to Exploring Minimalism

  1. Jackie Laba March 30, 2017 at 3:05 pm #

    What an interesting discussion of your adventure with a new design process. I loved that you documented your steps and reflected on what you had learned. I hadn’t really thought of the mini as a way to explore new ideas (why not? I wonder) and so you’ve given me something new to try. Thanks for such a thoughtful and inspiring piece.

    • Carole Lyles Shaw March 31, 2017 at 10:59 am #

      Thanks Jackie, I plan on sharing this type of post more frequently. I’m glad that it sparked a new idea. Most of the time, when I made it a mini, it was for a swap. I enjoyed it but since I always gave it away, I didn’t have it as a sample for myself. And, I didn’t really reflect on or capture what I learned in a cohesive way. Blogging about it or even just making notes in my sketchbooks are a good way to do that.

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