I hope that by now you're well on the way to getting all your cross blocks pieced. You might have played around with your fabrics and colours before cutting, but now is the time to really have fun deciding on a layout for your blocks.
This is one of the parts of quilting that I love and enjoy. Different layouts can give a quilt a totally different look and can be the deciding factor in giving your quilt a "wow" quality. Everyone has their own way of doing it and you need to find what works for you. However, I'm going to share some of the things I like to do in the hope that it might help, particularly if this is your first quilt. I've had to think quite a bit about some of this post as mostly I'm pretty intuitive about how I do this - so it was kind of surprising when I broke down what I was doing to realise there is actually some order to it!! I'll show you some different versions of my layout to illustrate the points. I need to apologise that my pictures are a little dark in this but indoor photography is always difficult.
1. Find a space to lay out your quilt blocks. (If you have a design wall then I am totally jealous of you!!) For new quilters, a design wall is a great idea if you have a blank wall somewhere with reasonably good light you can use. Jennifer has more information on design walls in her post today, so check it out if you want to find out more. Me, I live in a small house and have no wall that is suitably blank at the moment, so I use either the playroom floor or my bed to layout my quilts. If you're using the floor, make sure it is clean! Bending up and down moving around blocks can be hard on the back, so I tend to use the floor for small quilts, and the bed for bigger ones. This is one reason which design walls are a great idea ;-)
2. For this quilt, I wanted a random colour/pattern arrangement rather than a graduation of colour, or a particular theme. I do a lot of my quilts like this. (Obviously if you are going for a particular look you will have to work within that, but some of these pointers may still be helpful.) I usually lay down my blocks pretty randomly the first time, basically trying to separate out colours from each other. If you can manage to do this without little helpers moving your just placed blocks its always helpful :-))
3. Then I look at the prints and try to make sure that my print patterns are well balanced. I try to make sure I don't have duplicates of the same print in different colours too close together, or beside each other, as in the bottom right 2 blocks in this picture.
I also like to balance small vs. large prints. In the next picture, you can see that in the first and second rows, the left and middle blocks are all prints of a similar size, and likewise, further down, larger scale prints are too close together.
Finally I look at the density of colour and print, and how the blocks interact together. Some prints almost look like a solid colour, or have very strong colours and more lightly patterned fabrics may recede beside them. Have a look below - the middle blocks in the top 2 rows are both strong, dense colours causing the blocks to the right to recede a bit too much. Likewise, the bottom row has two strong coloured blocks side by side, causing a further imbalance.
4. I move and move and move my blocks until I am happy. I look at lots of different versions and I take a pic of every version of the layout I do with either my phone or the camera. Mostly, its intuitive for me, I just go with what feels right.
5. When I get to a layout I'm happy with, I leave it and shut the door and go do something else for a while. If I had a design wall, I would leave overnight and come back the next day to finish off. However, that's not possible so I usually have to finish a layout the night I start it.
6. After a little break from looking at it (always best if accompanied by a cup of tea and some chocolate!) I usually start flicking through the pictures I took. I find taking pictures to be the most important part of the layout process for me. It gives me so much perspective. I see things that I never see when looking at the layout myself. Colours jump out at me, areas which are receding too much, areas where the colour is too strong and imbalanced. I get an idea of what works and doesn't from looking at the pictures.
7. Then I go back and look at the layout I arrived at. Sometimes, I am happy with it. Sometimes I tweak it based on the pictures I've been looking at. Usually at this stage, I snap each change and look at it there and then and know instantly if it works. It's a little like a dance for me. I keep going till I'm happy. Then I take a good overall picture of my layout, and if its a detailed quilt (like my Kaleidoscope quilt) with a lot of prints and blocks, I take close up pictures of areas of the quilt - e.g. each quarter of it, so I have them to refer to for sewing. But you shouldn't need to do that here.
8. The last step is to organise and stack your blocks ready to sew together. This is REALLY important. Take your time and decide how you are going to do this. After making lots of mistakese with my first few quilts, I now have a system I use for every single quilt. I sew in rows rather than columns, so I start with the lefthand block on each row and I put it on top of the block to its right, and continue like that to the end of the row. I end up with a little column of block stacks.Then I ususally pin through the centre of each little pile to keep them separate, and I stack the piles, starting with the top one. At the end, all my blocks are stacked in piles of rows, from top to bottom. That way when I start to sew, I work from left to right on each row and I sew top row first, continuing to bottow row. I never vary from this, and I find being consistent on how I organise my blocks for assembling my quilt top has helped me a lot. Sometimes, particularly if you have fabric repeats, it is a good idea to put a little post-it with the row number on the top block of each little row stack. That way you can't get mixed up (or if your kids get at the sewing box, they can't ruin all your good work!)
The next step will be to sew your rows together and to add your borders. Jennifer will have more information on this next week! For now, here's where I'm up to: