Creating Depth and Dimension
In quilts where traditional blocks are set against a background, it is important that there be contrast between all the colors in the design and the background color. Often, people make the mistake of picking a background fabric which perfectly matches some color in their print fabric. What happens is that whenever that color is on the edge of a piece, it blends into the background and the definition of line is lost. Choose a color that is several values less or more than the color in the main design pieces.
When I came across this block, it was not very appealing. The spaces now colored in deep purple (called red-violet on the color wheel) were a dead green. Simply changing to a color across the wheel helped a lot, but there were more things wrong with it. The choices of color and value placement did not make the most of the shapes. The grayscale picture at right is flat, with no hint of the optical illusions this block was meant to have.
I played with the block in EQ, changing to a blue palette and incorporating some blue-violet and touches of green in the print. More importantly, I completely changed the placement of light, mediums and dark values.
In the picture at left, the center is pieced with different fabrics from the long pointed sections. This gives you a different effect than is seen on the right where the colors in the long pieces extend right to the center. On the left, your eye first sees the darker 4-pointed star and the registers the long pieces that point to the corners. Those pieces look more integrated in the version on the right.
In the version at left below, the medium value is changed again, becoming slightly darker and introducing more texture and more green. The background has been changed to a cream color and is the same everywhere, rather than changing color as in the previous examples. The grayscale version of this coloration clearly shows the dimensional effect of choosing values in this block. Any of these three colorations would work.
Learn how to make a mock up using real fabrics. This can usually be done by cutting a 1" strip of fabric and cutting squares and half squares to be arranged in the design of the block you are making. Seeing how your colors and values relate to each other before cutting out all the pieces can be an eye-opening experience.
Contrast with Texture
Lastly, take advantage of the magic of value to add the maximum amount of textural variety to your quilts. Remember how we worried about two same value fabrics causing our eye to lose the definition of the design? If you find 3, 7 or a dozen different fabrics with the same color and value, you can use them interchangeably throughout your quilt. When you do that, it means you can use many different fabrics instead of one large piece of yardage. The resulting quilt will have a lot more visual interest. Each different fabric, while maintaining the same value relationship in the design, will entice the eye with a different pattern. Quilts made this way are more fun to construct and more enjoyable to use.
Old Maid's Puzzle is one of my favorite blocks. The block looks like a set of bow ties with two half squares in the corners. It is perfect for a scrap quilt because it relies totally on value placement for impact. Set in a quilt layout with all the blocks oriented the same, you get what I call the Slanted Star layout, shown above right. With every other block rotated once, you have an entirely different design. Look at the layout below. What did you see first? The squares in square? The small stars? Or the big interlocking stars? Clever color and value placement can create a stunning quilt with this single block. These quilts used blue, blue-green, green, yellow, yellow-orange and orange-yellow. The first background is a cream with a blush of pink. Having it the same adds stability to the quilt and allows all the colors to shine.
The second quilt is exactly the same except the background is black. Notice how the contrast changes the colors. The light values seem much more vibrant. To my eye, all the colors seem richer. In the light version, you notice the blues and greens first. On the dark background, the yellows and oranges grab your attention.
The layouts above combine the Broken Dishes and Hour Glass blocks. The arrangement on the left was my first try. I liked the strong diagonal effect achieved with the light squares in the 4-patch. The busy prints in the Broken Dishes were the right value but I found them distracting. I decided that I needed the Broken Dishes blocks to be the secondary player in my design. Once they were calmed down, I could vary the light square fabric and still maintain the strong diagonal design.
These are often personal decisions, based on what pleases you. The important thing is to consider all the possibilities. If you cannot work in the computer, make the fabric mockup. Take pictures each time you change out a fabric. For a successful result, preparing to make your quilt is as important as the actual sewing.