Test Your Skills Sampler

After much review and revision, consideration of comments, and a teeny bit of hair pulling, this is the really and truly final version of the Test Your Skills Sampler. (I lied – I changed it again! See the probably really true final version here.) Jeanne of Grey Cat Quilts and I did a little collaborating in the back of the van on the way to the quilt show, and we’re both satisfied with the layout. There’s quite a bit of exposition here because I think the design process is sometimes treated like a big mystery, and I want to share why we did what we did.

In my intro post, I asked for input without explaining some of the reasons behind our original decisions. I wanted to ask you what you thought, not tell you what to think. Of course it isn’t going to satisfy everyone (designing a quilt by committee is never going to work well!), but I tried to address some of the major issues you mentioned. (Of course, some things we kept the same because we just loved them anyway!) Here’s the illustration from the last post:

Test Your Skills Sampler 6 Final?

The single biggest point that people (including Rebecca at Making RebeccaLynne and Sheana (no blog) raised was the emphasis on the feathered star. A few people liked the emphasis, one wanted to emphasize it more, but several felt it was too bold, with too much white space around it. First, I switched out the black feathers for purple, which softened it somewhat. One way of reducing the white space would be to make the star larger, which would keep the emphasis but make it less isolated. The problem is we designed the quilt to have 16″ blocks, the size of the feathered star, with background and filler blocks carefully placed so the final assembly of the blocks into rows and then the top would be easy. Here’s that same illustration, but with the block lines visible:

Test Your Skills Sampler 6 Blocks

As you can see, it would be difficult to increase the size of the feathered star without causing some seriously convoluted instructions when it came time for the final assembly of the top. Cross off a bigger feathered star. Instead, I added some more filler blocks in the spaces near the feathered star to decrease the white space a bit.

Now, I’ll tell you, when Jeanne and I first laid out the blocks, we deliberately left the white space and made the feathered star larger than the other blocks because we DID want to emphasis it. It’s a block to be proud of, and we wanted it to be a focal point. With that in mind, I didn’t de-emphasize the feathered star too much. There’s still white space around it, but not as much.

Oh, yeah, I should show you the final version, shouldn’t I? Here you go:

Test Your Skills Sampler FINAL

Robin (no blog) pointed out the empty top right corner. I agreed, and added another filler block up there. Ryan of abigail*ryan mentioned the possibility of adding a small, plain square to the top left corner to balance the quilt. He may have meant the right corner because the top left seemed pretty complete to me (and I didn’t ask for clarification because I’m a big dumb dork), but I loved the idea of a single floating square that wasn’t tied to anything. I also liked the idea of putting it at the top left because to me, everything starts at the top left. It’s how we read, so it’s where our eye naturally starts. Also, the flow that I see on this quilt starts at the top left, moves to the right and then sweeps down and around before swinging back up the left side and pausing on the feathered star, then flits around the small filler blocks in the middle of the quilt.

Munaiba at Sew Journal talked about how some blocks seemed to draw the eye, and felt that this disrupted the quilt. I may have misunderstood her meaning, but I actually consider the idea of certain blocks drawing the eye to be a good thing. You want the eye to move across the quilt, leading from one element to another. If everything is perfectly even, perfectly equal in color or value or scale, the quilt is very flat instead of dynamic. I did change a couple of things that may have helped the questions she had, though. One block that she pointed out was the Diamond in a Square block at the right side, second row. Jeanne suggested making the outer circuit of triangles the same as the background, and that makes the block less dominant. I also swapped the placement of the two blocks at the bottom left. This also helped address two.hippos comment that the left side felt a little cluttered. Not only did I swap a couple of blocks on that side, I added a filler block or two. That sounds counterproductive – add more to something that looks cluttered? – but I think by bringing in the smaller elements, it broke up the larger blocks. Here are the two illustrations side by side, so you can see the differences. (By the way, the final version looks narrower than version 6, and the white border looks smaller. I don’t know why, as all of the settings in EQ7 are exactly the same!)

Test Your Skills Sampler 6 Final? Test Your Skills Sampler FINAL

There were both positive and negative comments about the floating blocks, and ultimately I had to go with my own preference. I kept the floating effect because I want the blocks to feel as though they are scattered across the surface of the quilt, or, as one commenter said, “like leaves blown over by the wind.” I have to tell you, that comment made me a little giddy. I did a wiggly chair dance when I read it.

Another common comment had to do with the relative… um, modernness? modernity? … of the quilt. Some felt that it was a good balance between traditional and modern, others felt that it was very modern, and others thought that it was a modern quilt that couldn’t be traditional no matter what fabrics were used. Personally, I think that assigning the word “modern” doesn’t change the design of the quilt, and people can use whatever fabrics they like. I think that whether or not the color palette looks good is very subjective – I’m sure not everyone likes the navy and mustard version I posted yesterday, but that doesn’t make me love it less.

And that brings us to color and fabric choices, which caused a little consternation among some commenters. Wendy at Caribou’s Mom asked about solids vs. prints. Several others, including Suzanne (no blog) and Gari at Gari Quilts had some color palette ideas and questions. Here are my thoughts:

1. The background should be either a solid, or a very, very subtle print that looks solid from anything more than about a foot away. It is pieced so most prints will look choppy when the blocks are put together. Some of the larger expanses of background may have several seams breaking it up. Don’t get stuck on the idea of a white or gray background, though! It can look fantastic with a colored background.

2. Think about your overall color scheme, including the background. If your background is light, the rest of your fabrics need to be (mostly) darker. If your background is dark, the rest of your fabrics need to be (mostly) lighter. If you choose a medium value background, things get a little tricky. You need lights and darks for your other fabrics so you have definite value changes. You can use medium value fabrics as well, but be careful that they don’t blend too much with the background. Refer to these Skill Builder Series posts about fabric selection:
Skill Builder Series: Part 2A – Fabric (Sandi)
Skill Builder Series: Part 2A – Fabric (Jeanne)
Skill Builder Series: Part 2B – Fabric (Sandi)
Skill Builder Series: Part 2B – Fabric (Jeanne)
Skill Builder Series: Part 3C – The Use of Neutrals (Jeanne)
Skill Builders Series Part 5 – Fabric Fundamentals

3. This was designed with one background fabric plus six other fabrics. You’ll notice in the comparison above that I recolored some of the blocks. That’s because I wanted to unify the fabrics used for some of the filler blocks. For example, all of the small nine patch filler blocks are now made in the same color. That makes it much easier to piece all of those blocks. You are not required to use only six fabrics, though. You can use as many as you’d like, and the instructions will work either way. For those who like to plan their quilt in great detail, I’ll provide PDF coloring sheets – illustrations of the quilt with all of the block and patch lines but no colors, so you can play with color placement.

Okay, time to take a break! Later today I’ll post a button for those who would like to join in on the sampler. I’ll also share specific fabric requirements and a brief outline of the project as I expect it to go.



  1. I’m so glad you found my comments helpful 🙂

    I actually meant the other side for the little square, but I really like where you’ve put it. It’s also really cool that changing some of the colours has highlighted some really lovely blocks that I hadn’t even properly noticed before.

    Job well done, I would say, Sandi! Now I can’t wait to see it all made up!

  2. I think this looks good! Thanks for explaining the whole process — it’s really interesting to hear what others thought and learn how you thought through it all.

  3. I’m so amazed at your design process. You pointed out so many things that I hadn’t noticed before! I think all your very hard work has truly paid off. I’m sure it must be very difficult to try and please so many. I love the floating effect of the blocks. Now, I have to wonder if I should jump in and do this one!

  4. My friend and I are looking for a quilt to make for our guild show. Would we have your permission to do this? (Credit for the pattern will be given, of course) I’m showing this to her! It has something that appeals to everyone – traditional and modern – and could be made up in many colorways.
    Thank you for designing this and for publishing it for others to make! I am looking forward to following this blog and working through your various SkillBuilder series!

  5. I love the pattern. I am mixed on how full the pattern should be. The original seems a little sparse but when I look at the finished one I think it is to busy.

    My favorite quilts are stars. I would defiantly be interested in making this quilt.

    Thanks for sharing!

  6. Sandi – I think you have done an amazing job of addressing everyone’s “concerns” …and although you said you can’t design a quilt by committee…you have come very close! So congratulations!!! *smiles* I really like the newest version…and I also love the floating feeling of this quilt. I’m going to spend some time with my fabric stash today to see what I can come up with for fabric selection. This looks like such a fun quilt to make 🙂

  7. Wow, your design process is wonderful but I got tired just reading about it. However, I know that when I design a quilt I spend a lot of time moving things around, changing colors, adding and subtracting until I can see what I wanted to see. And even then it sometimes changes in the piecing process. I think your quilt looks GREAT and hope to participate in making it.

  8. Love it! Whatever you did, bam, it works. My eye still moves around but I don’t get as stuck anywhere and am so glad Feathered Star is still a feature but also being a bit of a team player. An soloist that leads while supporting. Hmm fabric… Need to think about that.

  9. Hi there
    I think you did a great job of pulling all those comments together. i think you did misunderstand me slightly. I agree you want blocks to attract your eye and move you around the quilt but what I felt was that those blocks just drew you away to themselves and didn’t encourage you to look around. However you seem t have fixed that very nicely now. Well done!

  10. i don’t dig black, so changing the feathers to purple was a good move to me. i adore the top left plain square. brilliant idea. and i like the decreased white space in the top right corner. all good moves.

  11. THanks for mentioning my input regarding colors…you are right, I don’t have a blog…how do I go about creating one? Suzanne

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