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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Quick Tips for Making Color Theory Work for You

Do you ever struggle with something you are creating, just knowing that something is off or missing, but not sure what it is? Both from personal experience and from that as a long-time instructor, I find that quite often this has to do with color and value choices.

Color theory to the rescue! But sometimes color theory on its own isn’t enough help…

Color Theory Infographic from paper-leaf.com - a great overview!

Color Theory Infographic from paper-leaf.com – a great overview!

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