When you need an easy pattern for a scrappy quilt, the internet may answer. If you are sitting on 2,5″ strips, even better. Please allow me to introduce my free pattern to you: “Ponder”!
Precuts have been on my mind lately as have my older fabrics. Even in my first ever online order a decade ago, I had included a wide selection of small-sized cuts and there are quite a few bits left. But as many of us recognise, eventually may arrive a time when we want to use up even those last scraps to make room for new visual interest.
That time for me is now and scrappy patterns hold a special interest at the moment. Not only do I want scrappy for the sake of acting sustainably, but I invite opportunities of putting colour theory to use in an attempt at observing for example how a pattern of black dots on a white background can appear grey when viewed from a distance.
It becomes a moment of nerdiness for sure, but there is so much more to that print of white shoes on a solid background, or those monochrome and white swirls on another solid background than merely shoes and swirls. I think my journey into fabrics became considerably more interesting when I stopped editing myself such as “But who would buy shoe fabric when you can get something far flashier?!?” or “Goodness, but… isn’t that swirl print a bit boring? No?”, and instead allowed myself to experience soothing colour interactions when pulling randomly from my stash.
Those questions are valid when shopping for feature fabrics, but not when building a stash of prints with colour shifts close to the monochromatic. Multicoloured prints are fabulous, but sometimes too loud when put together, and so now is the time to explore “basics”, sometimes dismissed as “Ugh, boring!” Pro tip: these basics, full of potential, are often found in sale sections of webshops due to being dismissed as slightly inferior.
If you ever have had the pleasure of admiring the work of both Jen Kingwell and Sarah Fielke, to mention two industry heavyweights, you know that the quilt somehow becomes more than the sum of its individual prints. They have a knack for picking prints that may be colourful yet still have a clear background colour. Multicoloured prints without one obvious background colour is what I’m referring to as too challenging at times, regardless of how pretty they may be on their own.
The name “Ponder” therefore carries multiple meanings to me, as you may gather from this, um, pondering. Moving on to the block and a few example sizes for a quilt.
The Block Size
So, precuts. 2,5″ width-of-fabric (WOF) strips are common and if you didn’t buy them as precut rolls, you may have cut them yourself for a precut-friendly pattern. But what to do with leftover bits? Put them here! All patches are 2,5″ on one side, with the other one varying depending on its placement in the block.
The “Ponder” block is 14″ x 18″ finished (in the quilt top). As a finished block it measures 14,5″ x 18,5″. Apart from some pressing of seams that you may wish to do during construction, it comes together very quickly, and thanks to its generous dimension creates quite a bit of bang for the buck.
The Quilt Size
For a nice throw quilt you could sew 4 x 4 blocks, 16 in total, and its size would be approximately 56″ x 72″ (ca 142 x 183 cm).
One step larger at 5 x 5 blocks, 25 in all, would be 70″ x 90″ (ca 178 x 229 cm).
Going with an almost-square at 5 x 4 blocks yields 70″ x 72″.
If you are looking for something smaller like a wall-hanging or baby/pet quilt, 3 x 3 blocks end up at 42″ x 54″ (ca 107 x 137 cm).
Keep going until you are happy, in other words. If you happen to sew a few extra blocks to increase the colour options for your first project, sew a few more once the final layout is done and make a second, small project to avoid orphan blocks.
There are four layers to my “Ponder” block and cutting is not fiddly in any way, but once you size up from the previous layer, all pieces for the larger one are happily of the same size.
My Writing Standards
If directional fabrics are on your radar, my standard when writing tutorials has been the same for years. Following coordinates in mathematics, first comes the x axis and then the y axis. Put in fabric terms, in relation to the fabric bolt with its two selvedges, the width is mentioned first, and the height next.
Refer to the green fabric of layer 3 for an example of a directional fabric, if this concept is new to you.
As for my choice of decimal sign, I use the international standard comma (not period). To avoid typing, reading and cutting confusions, half an inch is 0,5″ (not 1/2″ or ½”).
The Piece Sizes
Cut the following:
- Layer 1 (yellow): one (1) piece 2,5″ x 6,5″.
- Layer 2 (red): four (4) pieces 2,5″ x 6,5″.
- If direction matters: two (2) pieces 2,5″ x 6,5″ and two (2) pieces 6,5″ x 2,5″.
- Layer 3 (green): four (4) pieces 2,5″ x 10,5″.
- If direction matters: two (2) pieces 2,5″ x 10,5″ and two (2) pieces 10,5″ x 2,5″.
- Layer 4 (blue): four (4) pieces 2,5″ x 14,5″.
- If direction matters: two (2) pieces 2,5″ x 14,5″ and two (2) pieces 14,5″ x 2,5″.
To avoid confusion when cutting, it is worth it to decide on one of two tactics and keep going with it. One is to cut for one block at a time and set all those patches aside. The other is to cut pieces of the same size (for one layer only) for all your blocks and set them aside, then continue with the next layer for all blocks and set aside, and finish with the final layer in a final batch. But if you have nothing against a few extra cut bits here and there, by all means cut up one fabric entirely before moving on to the next print or solid!
If you are wondering how to cut WOF strips for maximum yield, here are a few alternatives based on 42″ wide fabric:
- 42″ / 6,5″ = 6,46 (or 6 pieces + 3″)
- 42″ / 10,5″ = 4
- 42″ / 14,5″ = 2,89 (or 2 pieces + 13″)
- 2 x 14,5″ + 1 x 10,5″ + 2,5″ = 42″
Maybe you want scrappy layers instead of one fabric in each layer? Go wild and make it your own!
Constructing The Blocks
Chain piecing is definitely a time saver if you have many blocks prepared simultaneously. With a bit of organising you can breeze through this pattern quickly.
Sew seams 1 and 2, then press (see my thoughts below on pressing). Sew seams 3 and 4, then press.
Sew seams 5 and 6, then press. Sew seams 7 and 8, and press again.
Sew seams 9 and 10, then press. Sew seams 11 and 12, and press a last time.
This is a great pattern for beginners to practice cutting, sewing seams evenly and pressing without distorting fabrics.
If you are using fabrics from different manufacturers, it is also an opportunity to get a feel for how textiles can behave slightly differently. Use pins especially if these latter fabrics don’t stick together as well as fabrics by the same manufacturer would.
When making my own first block I finger pressed seams open to avoid using the iron in between sewing horizontal pieces to the vertical ones, but it makes the final pressing rather laborious. For this reason I will do the work of pressing with iron before adding perpendicular pieces, but do test to see what feels the most efficient to you.
A bonus of dealing with pressing as you go is that all seams can be relaxed quickly, which can’t be done if there is nothing but finger pressing of the outermost part of a seam. Even with luxuriously thin yet strong Aurifil 50wt thread, relaxing the stitches into the fabric seems beneficial to me. Do you have some thoughts on this step?
As for pressing seams open or to the side, I prefer open whenever possible due to not enjoying the visible ridge created when seam allowances were pressed to the side. Also, it feels like a lot of work to figure out how to press for nesting seams when blocks are more complex, compared to simply pressing them open, but again your mileage may vary. Choose what makes you happy!
Constructing The Quilt Top
Since this quilt design is rectangular you can sew blocks together in columns, rows, or clusters of rectangles. If you want a planned design, it is beneficial to use a photo for reference, but otherwise sew together blocks until your quilt width (alternatively height) has been reached, then continue with next row (or column). Sew those together and keep going until the quilt top is finished.
Create a backing fabric a few inches wider than your quilt top on each side. A pieced backing is a wonderful way to use your stash, but 108″ wide backs can serve equally well.
There are many seam lines in this pattern to use as guides for quilting, if you want to quilt at home using a walking foot. I warmly recommend Jacquie Gering’s fabulously creative resources for quilting with this presser foot, if you want something line-based instead of more organic shapes. Walking-foot quilting is not equal to square grids or dense matchstick quilting, but there are numerous other options to explore.
Spray basting in preparation of walking-foot quilting is a great choice, but do remember to use a special non-stick needle such as the graphite grey ones by Schmetz to avoid hazardous sticking of glue to them. Before quilting, set the glue with a warm iron (no steam).
As for thread choice, consider a sturdier option such as 40wt by Aurifil. This quilt pattern is great for using up colourful thread remnants left in bobbins, but you may be interested in deliciously variegated colours as well.
The length of your binding depends on how large your quilt is going to be. Calculate the sum of all sides and add 10-12″ to that. See my example below.
My preference is 2,25″ wide binding strips, but some people want it wider, for example 2,5″. Width of fabric is 42″ on average.
If for a 5 x 4 block quilt I would need (70+70+72+72) + 12″ = 284″ + 12″ = 296″ length of binding, I would need a piece of fabric that is 296″ / 42″/strip = 7,07 strips. That is 8 full strips of 42″ wide fabric. My binding width 2,25″/strip x 8 strips = 18″ fabric, or half a yard, slightly less than 50 cm.
When attaching strips to create one long binding it is often said that you should sew them together at a 90° angle. I have had great success attaching them end to end as well, which can work superbly if there is a pattern such as stripes you would like to match perfectly.
While it is great that designers offer highly technical patterns, it is also important to recognise the need for less time-consuming options for those of us, who support parents and kids simultaneously, have demanding careers, aren’t neurotypical but face various mental challenges in everyday life, have other hobbies competing for attention, or simply feel burnt out due to something as awful as a pandemic. There is beauty also in the simple and sometimes we may prefer a minimalist expression altogether.
If you make a project using my pattern Ponder, please share your creation with hashtags #NMPatterns and #NMPPonder if you want. I would love to see your work and am certain others would, too!