Colorwash Bargello – Machine Quilting Options

This is the ninth in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I am following the pattern for Cascade, the most beginner-friendly pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.

The quilt top is complete, and I’m considering my options for machine quilting the quilt top, batting, and backing together.

There are no rules about how best to quilt a bargello quilt, only preferences.

Sometimes I feel that adding a lot of free-motion quilting might distract from the power and clarity of the design.

In those cases, I usually opt for clear MonoPoly thread in my needle and a walking foot (or even-feed foot) on my machine and hide the stitching “in the ditch” between the vertical rows. Fire on the Savannah from Colorwash Bargello Quilts is a good example of this – you can’t see the quilting on the front of the quilt unless you examine it extremely closely.

Close-up of the quilting on Fire on the Savannah from Colorwash Bargello Quilts by Beth Ann Williams

Another “in the ditch” alternative is to stair-step the quilting, following the design line.

Close-up of the backside of a version of Cascade from Colorwash Bargello Quilts made by Sandy Harvey. Note the “stair-step” quilting along every third fabric in the vertical rows. This stitching is hidden “in the ditch” on the front of the quilt.

At other times, I deliberately use lots of free-motion quilting with highly visible thread (and a free-motion foot) to add an additional design element to the quilt. You may not notice the quilting from a distance, but it can be a fun surprise when you get up close! I also like to use the color of the thread as an additional unifying element in the quilt – the subtle sheen or veil of color it creates across the surface of the quilt can help reinforce a cohesive impression of the design as a unified whole rather than emphasizing individual colors or pieces of fabric.

Here are some close-ups of the free-motion machine quilting on some of my bargello quilts:

Close-up of the quilting on Cascade from Colorwash Bargello Quilts by Beth Ann Williams

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Colorwash Bargello – Measuring & Sewing the Borders

This is the eighth in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I am following the pattern for Cascade, the most beginner-friendly pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.

I’ve picked out my border and am ready to sew it on.

When I first started quilting many, many years ago, I would just lay my border strip across the end of the quilt, sew it on, and then cut off any extra border fabric that extended past the edge of the quilt.

Sometimes this method seemed to work just fine; but other times, I would find myself grappling with quilt edges that were bowed instead of straight, wavy edges, or even little “volcanoes” or bulging areas within the quilt.

The problem was that the outer edges of a pieced quilt sometimes seem to “grow” or stretch a little more (from handling?) than the interior of the quilt. This tendency could be exacerbated if the pieced quilt had a lot of small pieces, strip-piecing, bias edges, or even just a lot of cross-grain pieces – especially if the fabrics in the quilts varied even a little in weave. (High-quality batik fabrics usually stretch a little less than high-quality quilting-weight cottons, which usually stretch a little less than chain-store quilting cottons, etc.)

What I eventually learned is that perfectly flat quilts with perfectly square corners are much easier to achieve if you follow these tips:

  • Always measure through the center of the quilt to determine border lengths
  • Always cut parallel borders together, so that they are exactly the same in length
  • Pin, pin, pin! 

BUT if the discrepancy between the center of the quilt and the outer edge of the quilt is more than 1/4″, I recommend strategically trimming the quilt top or “squaring it up” before proceeding with the borders!  

Here is how this method looks in practice:

I like to add the side borders first, so I begin my measuring through the center of the quilt vertically

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Colorwash Bargello – Auditioning Borders

This is the seventh in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I am following the Cascade pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.
The body of the quilt top is complete, and now it is time for the border. 

Cascade from Colorwash Bargello Quilts – ready for borders! (the blue painter’s tape numbers at the top of each vertical row can also come off now)

When I teach quilting classes or workshops, I usually caution class participants to wait, if possible, to make their final choice of border fabric until the interior of the quilt has been completed. This is because the sum can be much more than its parts! The way the colors, values, and visual textures of the fabrics interact with each other, as well as with the border fabric, can produce significantly different results from what you might anticipate.

Furthermore, like any scrap quilt (or multi-fabric quilt), a bargello quilt can often be made to read as a “blue” or “brown” or “green” quilt simply by adding a border of that color.

I find it helpful to lay the quilt top out on top of any fabric I am considering for a border so that I can see the border fabric on most or all of at least 2 sides of the quilt top.

To illustrate, I’ll share with you some of the border fabrics I “auditioned” for this project: Continue Reading…

Colorwash Bargello – Sewing the Vertical Rows

This is the sixth in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

I’m following the Cascade pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts.

We’re on the home stretch!

The vertical rows have all been numbered and are ready to sew. Just like before, I start with a small piece of “header” fabric in my machine, stitch across it, take a stitch or two on “air” and then (without raising the presser foot), slide my first set of strips under the presser foot.

I sew all of the strips into sets of 2, always first checking the numbers at the top of each strip to make sure the strips are in the correct order and orientation. 

Checking the numbers at the top of each strip before sewing them together

The horizontal seams should “nest” against each other. I watch from the side and “finger pin” as I go, but you can use regular pins if you prefer.

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Colorwash Bargello – Laying Out the Vertical Rows

This is the fifth in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

Now that my loops are all cut from the strip-pieced tubes (see previous post), I’m ready to open the loops up and lay out  the bargello segments that form the vertical rows. This is exciting, as it will be the first chance to see what the finished quilt will look like.

I start by laying all the loops on my worktable in order. Remember – the colors are different in the photo only because the tubes have been rotated differently. All of the odd numbered loops have been cut from one tube, and all of the even numbered loops have been cut from another tube.

Laying the loops out in order first on the worktable – note the alternating direction of the seam allowances

Now it’s time to open up the loops!

I like to use an inexpensive foam core board for this. Being able to look at the design vertically helps immensely. As I open each loop, I pin it to the board and transfer the number to the top of the bargello strip.

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Colorwash Bargello – Cutting the Bargello Segments

This is the fourth in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

Two sets of fabric, each sewn into a tube, seam allowances pressed in opposite directions.

Once you have your fabric sewn into tubes, it’s time to cut the bargello segments.

There is a cutting chart for each project in Colorwash Bargello Quilts. I’m following the chart for Cascade here and am cutting my segments 1 1/4″ – 2 3/4″ wide, but you can design your own pattern if you’d prefer. 

Either way, the most important thing to remember is to cut all of the odd numbered segments from one tube and all of the even numbered segments from the second tube.

I begin by sliver-trimming first, to give myself a clean edge to work from. 

I also number the loops (bargello segments) as soon as I cut them, so that I don’t get the order of the loops mixed up. (Don’t ask me how I know how easily this can happen….) Continue Reading…

Colorwash Bargello – Sewing & Pressing the Strip Sets

This is the third in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

Once you have your strips cut (each pattern in Colorwash Bargello Quilts tells you how many strips to cut – Cascade requires 2 strips of each fabric, each strip 2″ x 20-21″), it’s time to sew them together.

Note: the original Cascade pattern calls for 19 fabrics.  I am using 20 for this new quilt.

Use 2 different colors for your top thread and bobbin thread. You’ll see why later!

First of all, I highly suggest using a noticeably different color thread in the top of your machine than what you are using in the bobbin.  This makes no difference when you sew the strip sets, but it will make a LOT of difference later…

I also have a few tricks I’d like to share that might help you avoid uneven strip sets, seam allowances that curl, or puckers or pleats in the seams:

  • A consistent seam allowance is a MUST. Quilters generally stick with 1/4″ seams. For this kind of project, an exact 1/4″ isn’t as important as a consistent seam allowance that measures the same width at any point along the seam.

    Two styles of quarter-inch presser feet. I prefer the one with the blade, but either one can help keep seams consistent.

  • I also recommend a straight stitch throat plate, if you have one. 

    A zigzag throat plate (left) vs. a straight stitch throat plate (right)

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Making a Bargello Quilt – Fabric Selection & Arrangement

This is the second in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

Strip set for a Colorwash Bargello quilt

I spend two entire chapters discussing selecting a palette of fabrics and using color, value, and visual texture to help arrange them to maximum effect in my book Colorwash Bargello Quilts.  I won’t try to repeat all of that here, but I’ll boil it down to essentials.

Note: Since batik fabrics are generally more tightly woven (and therefore have a little less stretch) than other quilting-weight cottons, I highly recommend that you stick with either ALL batik fabrics or NO batik fabrics for your first bargello quilt. The slight differential in stretch can make matching intersections more of a pain than a pleasure when assembling the quilt. However, if you have lots of strip-piecing experience, press very carefully, and are accustomed to mixing these fabrics, than feel free to go ahead – I do it myself! I just want to warn you that it has the potential to make life a little more challenging…

  • I generally use 18 or more different fabrics in a Colorwash Bargello quilt. Don’t worry – it’s a lot easier to pick out that many fabrics than it sounds! It helps if you don’t overthink it at the beginning of the process. I recommend starting with either a focus fabric, a mental picture, or a theme.
    • The easiest type of focus fabric to work from is a medium-to-large scale, asymmetrical, multicolored print containing a range of values from dark to light. But don’t fall into the trap of overmatching the exact colors in your focus fabric! Variations in color, value, and/or intensity only add to the richness of your palette.
    • Once you have your focus fabric, mental image, or theme in mind, start gathering fabrics that share the same or similar colors, making sure to also grab fabrics that are lighter, darker, brighter or duller. It’s best to have lots to choose from!
  • I narrow down my choices by grouping fabrics into “runs” – 2 or more fabrics arranged from light to dark and “blenders” – fabrics that have 2 or more colors and/or values that can be used as transitions between runs.

Grouping my fabric into “runs” and identifying potential “blenders”

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Making a Bargello Quilt – Cascade

Cascade, designed and quilted by Beth Ann Williams, pieced by Pam Crans for Colorwash Bargello Quilts. 29″ x 34.5″

This is the first in a series of sew/quilt-along posts about making a bargello quilt.

For a little more background information, you can check out my previous post, Colorwash Bargello.

For this series, I’ll be referring to the Cascade pattern from my book Colorwash Bargello Quilts.  If you don’t have the book or would rather design your own bargello quilt, you can still follow along and find a lot of (hopefully!) helpful information.

This has been one of my most popular bargello classes, as it can easily be completed in a day (or two days, if you are having lots of fun with your friends).

To help you start brainstorming a color palette for your own bargello quilt, I’d like to share some of the ways my students and friends have interpreted this pattern:

Cascade II, made by Eileen R. Clous from pattern in Colorwash Bargello Quilts. (gift from Eileen)

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Colorwash Bargello

What makes a quilt a bargello quilt?

And what does colorwash mean?

In the introduction to my second book, Colorwash Bargello Quilts, I credited 3 main influences:

  • Centuries-old bargello needlepoint, also known as Hungarian point, flame stitch, or Florentine work.

    Two examples of Bargello needlepoint patterns or Florentine work. (Left) typical curved Bargello motif, (Right) “flame stitch” motif. Image from Velvet-Glove (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) Public domain, via Wikimedia

  • Modern strip-piecing methods pioneered in the 1970s by quilt artists such as Barbara Johannah
  • Colorwash/watercolor quilting designers in the early 1990s such as Deirdre Amsden, Pat Maixner Magaret, and Donna Slusser.

I also recognize the influence of traditional quilt patterns such as Trip Around the World and Star of Bethlehem or Lone Star when the makers have used gradations of color and/or value in their fabric layout.

In my bargello-style quilts, I emphasize blending the colors and visual textures of the fabrics to create smooth gradations and transitions or “washes” of color across the face of the quilt, punctuated at intervals with areas of higher contrast.

Close-up of Aurora pattern from Colorwash Bargello Quilts showing gradations from light to dark and back again, as well as areas of  higher contrast.

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