We’ve talked about secondary design in the past but I like to come back and flesh out some topics at times. In this post, I’ll talk about what secondary design is and how to accomplish it in blocks and quilts. There isn’t just one way to do it. I’ll talk about three ways that are more common and then a fourth way that could be surprising. Maybe you have some ideas too? So let’s get started!
Secondary design is a design that develops that is secondary to the overall intended design of a quilt when blocks are joined. The most common way to achieve this is to start with a block with interesting elements that, when joined with additional blocks into a quilt top, combine to make the secondary design.
First Method: One block quilts can have secondary designs appear when there are elements in the blocks that create movement. Here’s a block that has a design moving through it.
The diagonal geese create a design within this log cabin block that, when joined with other blocks of the same design, give you a secondary design other than the log cabin.
The above layout will make a criss cross design when all the blocks are assembled into a quilt top. This is the design I chose for my quilt, Crisscross Cabin Blooms.
Another way these blocks can be arranged is with all the geese going in the same direction when the blocks are joined. If you do this, there will be an overall diagonal design across the quilt top.
Another option in the one block method is to create blocks that are the same but are made in different colorways and with color prints and tan prints positioned differently in each block. Here is a fun block in two different colorways.
Notice how the tan and color prints are opposite in these blocks. Alternate between these when you join the blocks and this is what you get:
The blocks themselves do not have a lot of movement but when you put them together in this on point setting in Stepping Stones, there’s an interesting secondary design made by the stitch and flip corners of each block.
Finally, try adding stitch and flip corners to the end of any block. Alternate the colors used. For example, on the Mill Country Sky quilt below, I made some blocks with green corners and some blocks with tan corners. When I alternated between them when piecing the quilt blocks together, it made a fun hourglass design appear that looks like it’s between the blocks.
Here’s how they look in the quilt:
Second Method: Two block quilts are the most common and usually the easiest way to create a secondary design. Often, these quilts will have a checkerboard design block as one of the blocks. Then, whether the blocks are on point or set straight, there is a fun checkerboard design that runs through the quilt.
In Prairie Sky quilt on the left, the blocks are straight pieced making the checkerboard blocks create a crisscross design. The quilt on the right, Country Dance, has the blocks set on point making the checkerboard blocks create a grid pattern.
You can also put two completely different blocks together to create an interesting secondary design, without one of the blocks being a checkerboard. These two blocks below are a Courthouse Steps block and a 4-patch variation with stars and squares.
When they are set together in the Twinkling Log Cabin quilt, the squares and stars make a secondary design running through the quilt.
Also notice how the on point setting also creates a design that makes the 4-patch variation block look like it is bordered by strips. Here’s a close-up look of two of the sections:
Third Method: A third way to create a secondary design is by joining blocks with a unique sashing. One of the most popular is to create a secondary star design with the sashing like in my quilt, Posey Patch:
As you can see in the photo on the right, by combining sashing strips with stich and flip corners on the ends and sashing squares, stars are created when all the blocks and sashing are joined together.
Another sashing creation is a mini “monkey wrench” design in my Open Windows quilt. Here’s the quilt and a close-up of the sashing below:
By doing stitch and flip corners on the blocks on opposite sides and then joining the blocks with sashing strips and sashing squares, I created a monkey wrench design that alternates between the block rows.
Surprise Fourth Method: This is one that is created by changing the colors of the background fabric. In the following photos, you can see how the different pieced backgrounds create a diagonal or striped design depending on how the blocks are joined.
Table Runners with diagonal backgrounds:
Larger Quilts with a “striped” background:
The stripe in the red background quilt is a bit more subtle than the others, but if you look closely, it’s there!
So that’s it for this week’s blog post. I hope this gives you some ideas on how to build a secondary design into your next quilt project. It’s a lot of fun! Share your thoughts with me in the comments below and you will be entered into a drawing for my quilt pattern Open Windows (see above).
The drawing will be on Monday, November 8th. Good Luck!
Kaye Mattson says
I really enjoyed this post! Just by adding stitch and flip corners to the blocks of Mill County Sky and alternating lights and darks, you have added a fun secondary design to the quilt. It makes it much more interesting to look at!
Your patterns encourage trying secondary designs. Beautiful!
Brenda Tucker says
Your quilts are really awesome, thanks for sharing.
Catherine Dorsey says
Thanks for the awesome show and tell. I am just getting started in quilting. This was a great tutorial.
Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it!
This was an amazing post! Really shows the ability to change the entire look of a quilt so drastically with just a small flippy corner or placement of color. And you can’t judge a block by looking at it by itself – put it with more blocks and experiment with colors and it just may change completely! Thank you for being as inspiring as always!
The little monkey wrench using the stitch and flip corner is genius! These are great ideas to change up a ho-hum design.
Mrs. T says
Great post. I enjoyed learning about how much a quilt can change just by changing colors in a block or the position of a block in the quilt. Makes me almost want to try my hand at designing. But I think I’ll leave that to you. Thanks for all you wonderful ideas.
Another great post! Thank you so much for these in depth articles, I have in the last few years, returned to quilting. Your posts have greatly improved my quilting results. – Happy Sewing