There are several ways to create secondary design in a quilt. You can do it in one block quilts, two block quilts, with sashing and borders and even with the background. Or sometimes with a combination of a few of these. This week, I’ll talk about what secondary design is, how to have fun looking for it and how to actually create it with some of your quilts. So let’s get started!
What is Secondary Design?
First, we need to know what I mean by secondary design before we can move on to the other things I want to talk about. When you look at a quilt and you not only see the actual blocks but you see other designs emerge as you step back, that’s secondary design. Sometimes it’s intentional… and sometimes you just get lucky and two blocks you decide to place next to each other make another design. I like to design these types of quilts because it adds another level of interest. So now I’ll talk about the different ways to achieve this.
One Block Secondary Design
You can create a secondary design with one block quilts. I have done it! The key to doing this is to choose a block that has interesting elements in it with a design has a “movement”. An easy example is this simple block I designed:
It’s a combination of a star with some strips and stitch & flip corners to complete it. Now here is the quilt, Star Struck, that I made with this block:
When I joined the blocks, I turned them so the stitch & flip corners alternated in which direction they pointed in each row. But if you look at the block columns in the quilt, the corners point in the same direction. Those stitch & flip corners create an illusion of flying geese “flying” across the quilt!
Here’s another of my block designs that is simple. A log cabin style block that includes black stitch & flip corners:
Now, when I put four of these blocks together they create a cool “criss cross” design.
Now look at it in the quilt:
Notice the overall criss cross pattern throughout the quilt. But, imagine if you turned all the blocks going in the same direction, you would get a different look! The black “geese” are going in one direction and the color print section of the log cabin blocks move in the other direction. This gives you more movement in this quilt.
Two Block Secondary Design
Next up, another way to achieve secondary design is to combine two blocks to create a design. The simplest of this is a nine patch block and a plain block combined to make the Irish Chain design.
Here’s my quilt, Seaside Cottage, that uses this design:
A bit more complicated is to choose two pieced blocks that, when joined together, will make an interesting design. These next blocks from my Strips & Stars quilt take a little more piecing than the nine patch block above, but still not too difficult:
Now here’s the quilt that they are in. Notice how the blocks combine to make two directional designs.
The nine patch star blocks create a criss cross design and the log cabin blocks create a one-way diagonal frame around alternating sections of the quilt. Your eye keeps moving around the quilt which is the purpose of a secondary design.
Sashing and Borders Secondary Design
You can create a secondary design with sashing and borders. This quilt, Open Windows, is a good example. Here’s a close-up of the blocks:
Between the blocks that are all the same, just in different colors, I did a sashing that included a dark square. This square “plays” with the stitch and flip corners, on 2 sides of each block, to create an alternating monkey wrench design. Here’s the whole quilt:
Also, by turning the blocks in opposite directions in the rows, there’s another design that emerges. It looks like circles!
Here’s another example. In this quilt, Homestead Trail, I did a sashing of nine patches and then built an interesting border design off that into the outer borders of the quilt.
Background Secondary Design
Finally, you can create interesting secondary design with your background. I only have a few of these examples right now, but I want to try more in the future. In these two quilts (below), I made the “plain” block two-tone and, with it on point in the quilt, it creates a subtle stripe effect.
The stripe effect is a little more noticeable in Butterfly Garden on the right than it is in Liberty Star Shine on the left since there is more contrast in the two fabrics I picked for that block.
So, next time you go to a quilt show, instead of just looking at a quilt close up, step back and see if you can pick out a secondary design. It’s a lot of fun to do! I hope you enjoyed this little tutorial on design this week. Leave me a comment or ask a question below and be entered into a drawing for my Butterfly Garden quilt pattern. **We have a winner! Congrats, Judy in MO!**