Island Batik Modern Pattern Play

This month, the Island Batik challenge was secondary pattern play.  So, of course, I made it Island Batik Modern Pattern Play!

I returned to one of my favorite techniques–improvisational curved blocks that I call Parisian Curves. (Pattern and detailed tutorial is in my book, Madly Modern Quilts available online and at local quilt shops).  This post is a tutorial showing one way that I approach improvisational design. It’s an improvisational design process that I teach in my workshops to help students move away from the layout that I provide.

Island Batik Fabrics

[Fabrics used in the project were provided to me by Island Batik–the sponsor for the Island Batik 2018 Ambassadors.)

I used these Island Batik fabrics for the quilt:

Parchment Cotton Basics for the background

Sunflowers print

Blender called Waterfall in Turquoise

Yellow Blender from the Brights collection

Short Tutorial:  Playing with an Improvisational Layout

This will give you a glimpse into one way I plan an improvisational design.

First, I made some overall design decisions–these were the elements that I was hoping to incorporate.  I did NOT make any type of sketch for this quilt.  Instead I used the design wall as my sketch pad, taking lots of photos along the way.  I also know that I might abandon one of these ideas or add a new one.

Here was my very general plan:

  1. My plan was to make a curved path by connecting colors from block to block.  I wanted the paths to connect up in different ways.  These paths would be my secondary patterns.
  2. I wanted the overall layout to be very asymmetrical
  3. I wanted to use a high percentage  of negative space in and around the blocks.
  4. I wanted to incorporate a few straight line blocks with the curves.
  5. I wanted to use a limited palette–one focus print, a couple of contrasting near solids and a negative space color.

Two tools for Design

A vertical design wall and your camera phone are critical for improvisation.  It is very difficult to see the design if the quilt is too close to you. My room is small so I take lots of photos to see the overall quilt design better.  You definitely need a vertical design wall –looking at it on the floor is acutely distorted and throws off your sense of the proportions.  There are lots of tutorials online on making temporary or more permanent design walls.

A look at my Improvisational Process

To start, I made several curved blocks and then cut some of them almost in half so that I had a rectangular slice (like a strata) and a skinny curved block.  I did this so that I would have more interesting shapes in the path.   Then I started playing with the layout to test out different ways to connect and break the paths.  Negative space also played a major design role.


One early arrangement after I made several blocks.  Notice the skinny cut offs in several places.  Most of these are just pinned to the wall. However, I had sewn a couple of them together and I UNSEWED them after seeing how they looked. Usually I do not sew anything together until I ma sure about the overall design.  I got a bit ahead of myself.


Adding more blocks and continuing to move them around. This arrangement has several design challenges:  It’s too square — I didn’t want that kind of symmetry (boring).  It needs more negative space.  The dark turquoise pieces are too dominant.  I converted the photo of this version to monochrome so that I could see the values better. See photo below.

Monochrome photo so I can study values better. Upper right and lower left corners seemed to be too dominant.

I’m finally there! I was pleased with the overall balance and the connecting paths. I started sewing sections together and adding more negative space to float the center.  Along the way, I discarded a couple of blocks that I did not believe added to the design.  They’re in a bag with other scraps leftover from this project.

Island Batik Modern Pattern Play–Finished Version

Here’s the final quilt.  It measures 42 x 46 inches and has a faced binding.

The curved pieced blocks measure  a variety of sizes but none are more than 9 inches on any side.  As I worked on the layout, I occasionally adjusted the size of each of the blocks by slicing off an edge.  How did I decide? I kept looking at the design until the proportions looked and felt right.  In this process, you must trust your well-informed intuition.    As a quilter, you have been filling your brain with successful quilt designs. It’s part of your knowledge base.  Our intuition isn’t some magical mysterious process–you create it by studying and making quilts.  And, I also study a lot of other types of modern art in library books, online and in museums and galleries–something that I highly recommend.

I had it quilted with an edge to edge quilt pattern that complements the design. I am still deciding which orientation I like best.  (quilting done by a professional)

I think I accomplished all of my original goals for Island Batik modern pattern play–asymmetry, use of negative space, incorporating straight line blocks (rectangular blocks).  I am pleased with the way I used color and shape to create connecting pathways that result in a secondary pattern. And, I like the way the pathways are interrupted–that makes it a more modern design. So I call this another successful exploration of using batiks to make modern quilts.

Completed quilt! Here’s one orientation.


Completed quilt! Another orientation.

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6 Responses to Island Batik Modern Pattern Play

  1. kristie jarchow July 30, 2018 at 12:12 pm #

    Very fun. I love the different layouts. It is hard sometimes for me to picture batik as modern but you did a great job both with color and especially design.

  2. piecefulwendy July 30, 2018 at 12:27 pm #

    Interesting how the design looks so different between the two orientations. Some day I would like to take one of your classes. Thanks for sharing!

  3. Kathleen McCormick July 30, 2018 at 7:06 pm #

    I love that you shared your process. It is fun to see how others approach these challenges! I love that it looks different depending on direction, too!

  4. Elizabeth A. Franck July 31, 2018 at 1:40 am #

    Once again, thank you for sharing “process”. I am working with “drunkard path” templates using one of my sun print dyed fabrics and 5 coordinated fat quarter with metallic gold. Last week, I started designing layouts – taking photos as I went. Afterwards, I let them gel for a period.
    Another layout has ready appeared out of the cobwebs of my mind. Thanks to your blog – something else is geling! Elizabeth

    • Carole Lyles Shaw August 6, 2018 at 11:39 am #

      So glad that I could be of help to your artistic subconscious…smile…..
      I often send in process photos to a couple of friends for their feedback. The discussion we have is always helpful.

  5. Robin Klein August 29, 2018 at 10:08 pm #

    I like your quilt. This is something I want to learn. Not to mention how to tell yourself when to stop 🙂

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