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The Positive Side of Negative Space

Hello everyone! I know it’s been awhile since I posted anything but I am so happy to be back! Taking a week-long vacation and only getting about 4 hours of sleep a night takes a long time to recuperate from, but I am now thankfully well rested and just finished up a great challenge project this week.


I recently joined the New Jersey Modern Quilt Guild and am having a ton of fun working with everyone there. For October they ran a great challenge that looks at the different ways positive and negative space can be used. Traditionally the positive space is the design feature that you want to act as the focal spot and the negative space is the simple background. However depending on your design and color choices the relationship between the two can be easily inverted, creating a whole new perception of the pattern.

For this challenge I decided to develop an idea that had been floating around in my head for awhile. It is inspired by one of Australian quilter Di Jobbins quilts, and New York City. The quilt which is titled “Don’t Look Up” is an abstract interpretation of midtown Manhattan when you, well, look up. One of the first pieces of advice you receive when going into Manhattan is don’t look up or you will look like a tourist. However when you do look up (who can resist when everyone tells you not too), the buildings loom upwards and take over the edge of your vision rather than having an uninterrupted sky.



My original sketch takes the approach of fitting a circle into a square essentially since it uses a single point perspective. I adjusted the height of the buildings (since nothing in Manhattan is a standard height), and strove to create spaces that would represent the streets. Originally I had intended to use a blue for the sky and various grays and blacks for the building. I stayed with the grays and blacks for the buildings but decided to choose a taxi yellow fabric for sky since that color palette feels more New York City to me. So how does this fit with the negative space challenge, and the interplay of negative and positive space? The sky section of the design takes center stage (especially in yellow), even though its is technically the background with the buildings taking a back seat even though they are actually in the foreground.


Piecing the quilt required first sewing each building price to its corresponding piece of sky to create just over twenty triangular strips which were in turn pierced in groups to form the body of the quilt. You can see more on how the quilt was constructed in the video above.


So what did I learn from the process and what changes will I make for next time?

One of the biggest things I learned is never bind a mini quilt. Out of habit I bound this quilt in black but I later realized that it created a very bulky and unattractive edging. The next time I make one of these I will use the turn method for finishing the quilt (when you sew around the quilt inside out, turn it right side out and then quilt). I will be doing this next time and it will hopefully result in a cleaner edge.


The second biggest thing I learned is that I need to work in more quilting. To be fair I had intended to do more quilting on the building sections to help emphasis the perspective in the quilt. However my quilting machine has been giving me nothing but headaches so I ended up quilting this on my little sewing machine and settled for less quilting. The next time I make this pattern I intend to do considerably more quilting.


Third, I need to look at different ideas for the very center of the quilt. When you have over twelve seams meeting at the same point it gets very bulky. I was lucky that I only snapped one needle in the process of sewing this. Not really sure how to solve this issue (maybe a circle applique?) but will keep working on ideas.


On a really positive note I did learn a lot of different ways to play with positive and negative space. And in the process learned that I really enjoy subverting the expectations about what each is, and how they work together. I will definitely be including these new ideas in the big project I have coming up for 2020!


I hope you picked up some helpful ideas and inspiration and will be back next week when we look at quick, easy Halloween costumes that can still be worn to work. There will be some great picks for teachers! Have a great weekend everyone and happy sewing.

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