The Lily Pad: The Journal of White Lotus Quilting

The Atom-smasher’s Guide to Quilting

Posted in Atomic quilting,Block of the Month (BOM) by whitelotusquilting on October 6, 2010
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The word atom comes from the Greek word ‘atomos’ meaning ‘indivisible,’ or what it has become in science, the smallest unit of matter.  (the fact that modern science has gone beyond atoms and studies strange new sub-atomic particles like ‘charmed quarks’ we’ll ignore for the moment).  So maybe it’s no surprise that I approach quilting with an atomic sort of point of view, considering I have a strong grounding in science and engineering.  I break every quilt block down into its smaller units, into units that are bite-sized and manageable — quilting ‘atoms’ as it were.

A great example is the ‘Thrifty’ block, a key element of the first block of the Behemoth.  Its components are squares and four-patchies, arranged in a nine-patch layout.

Thrifty block completion

In my last post I talked about making four-patchies, and here’s a splendid use of them.  A block beautiful in its simplicity and utility.  This makes fantastic diagonal chains when set alternately.  Also provided you keep the same proportions, the block is very easy to resize.

Bonnie Hunter at Quiltville has some great tips on making four-patchies in her free scrap pattern Four-Patch and Furrows.  She uses her four-patchies to make into larger 16-patch checkerboards, definitely worth checking out.  She has a simpler kids’ pattern, too, just with four-patchies and squares, called I Spy a Four-Patch.  Here you can definitely see how four-patchies make great chains when you line up their colors and/or values.

So there you have it.  Four-patchies are one of my favorite quilting atoms, and are among the most versatile quilting units there are.  They are easy to make — easy to vary in color and size — and easy to compose with.  In any pattern when you see a fairly large-sized square you can use your favorite large-scale print — or substitute a four-patchie instead.

And by just using simple four-patchie skills, we’ve been able to build two components of the first Behemoth block: the checkerboard strip and the Thrifty block.  I’m sew happy!  🙂

Quilty Pleasures

Posted in Atomic quilting,gadgets,Quilting tips and techniques by whitelotusquilting on October 3, 2010
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If you’re new to quilting and don’t know where to start on a pattern like the Beige Behemoth — just begin with small easy-to-manage units.  One of my ‘quilty’ pleasures is just sewing up a stack of four-patches or nine-patches from my stash of pre-cut strips (that I’ve cut down from my scraps — look at Bonnie Hunter’s advice on scrap management at for some great ideas) without much regard for color or scale of print.  I always have a bucket of ‘spare parts’ going (something I learned from the Collaborative Quilting book, yum) and just keep filling it with small usable quilty units in common sizes.  You can constrain the color palette as much or as little as you want, depending on how ‘scrappy’ you want the quilt to look.  In any case paying attention to value — where there is two lights and two darks in the four-patch, diagonally opposite — gives you a chance  to make a terrific checkerboard without having to cut individual squares.  Clear as mud?  I’ll use the Behemoth as an example.

The first block of the Behemoth has a checkerboard rectangle that I constructed out of four-patches, as well as the ‘Thrifty’ block that also uses four-patches.  There’s also a nine-patch block, which is constructed similarly.  Here’s what I started with for the checkerboard: two identically-sized strips, one lightish and one darkish (sizing details in the pattern, go to Big Horn Quilts to get your copy) sewn together along the length, pressed toward the dark.

Making 4 patches for checkerboard

Then I cross-cut the strip combination into the same width I started with.  In this case I used Linda Laney’s brilliant Log Cabin ruler, which itself is the width of the strip, so you don’t need to read any measuring lines for this cut.  You can find Linda and her wonderful rulers (and custom-cut templates if you need them) at Baycreek Quilting.  I’m always pleasantly surprised by how much cutting time the right size template saves, and it happens because you don’t have to take time to measure.  Maybe that’s why I’m such a gadget geek :).

Sew the cross-cut pieces together with right sides together, and light against dark, and then press toward either side, or open if you like, and voila!  Four-patches.  Or four-patchies as I wind up calling them.
Making 4 patches for checkerboard
In this case I used a solid that graded in color from a dark to a light, so one end of my checkerboard will have a lot of contrast, and the other side will have low contrast.  I like the movement that produces.  Clothworks makes these wonderful graded solids — they do all the work of color shading for  you!  I paired the solid with a mottled hand-dyed fabric in a similar color family, so, no prints this time — unusual for me.  I have to admit a love for huge garish botanical prints — and teeny weeny uneven polka dots — but I restrained myself this time :).

I’ll keep adding pictures of the smaller components of block #1 as I add them, and then show you the finished block later in the month so stay tuned!