Even among more traditional quilters, the practice of taking quilt blocks and supersizing them is a popular practice. Called “single block” or “big block” quilting, the blocks can range from 18″ to the size of an entire quilt. It’s easy to see why big blocks are growing in popularity. For one thing, they’re more bang for your cutting-and-piecing buck: instead of repeating the same block over and over again, you can knock out a good size quilt in not much time. But it’s also a great technique for highlighting quilting more than piecing, and it’s a fabulous approach to modern quilting because it focuses on large, bold graphics. Quilters like Heather Jones are popularizing modern traditionalism, while Katy Jones‘s “Traditional Modern Quilt Blocks” class at QuiltCon this coming February will feature big churn dash blocks.
I made my own attempt at a big block quilt for the “Colorful Colorado” quilt challenge* for all the modern guilds in the state. We were each assigned four solids as a starting point to make a quilt inspired by the Colorado landscape. I knew I wanted my Colorado quilt to include the sun, and that led me to the traditional New York Beauty quilt block. I based my design on one of Valori Wells’s Radiant New York Beauties and basically blew it up to 40″ square. Instead of just making a regular big block, though, I decided that I wanted to fragment the sun and make each part of it based on a different classic quilt pattern (Ohio star, drunkard’s path, clamshell, diamond log cabin, etc.). Most of the rays were paper pieced on freezer paper, as was the larger New York Beauty pattern, while the center of the sun was improv. It was quilted for me by the marvelous Amy Wade, who complemented all the different piecing styles beautifully.
While it’s definitely more work than a traditional block, I think the effect of having a “pattern within a pattern” in the context of a big block quilt was definitely worth the attempt. In retrospect, it was a cool way to bring my own voice to a traditional quilt pattern. I can definitely see folks doing something similar with traditional stars or churn dash blocks or even chevron quilts.
Have you tried big block quilting? If so, what patterns or modifications have you used?
*For those in the Denver/Boulder area, this quilt and many others from the “Colorful Colorado” challenge will be featured at the Berthoud Outdoor Quilt Show on Saturday, June 21, from 10-4. C’mon out!