Paper Panache Workshop:
Working with Directional Prints
Take a look at
the background of the "Lighthouse Keeper" at right. Do you wonder how to get the "rain" to
run in one direction like that? Well, in spite of all the
wild angles in paper piecing, you can have control over placement of prints without
a lot of difficulty. I call it the "Keep It Vertical" technique.
Sometimes, having this little trick up your sleeve can make a big difference
to your project. The viewer will focus on the subject or design and not some unexpected
pattern made by your fabric. (Just imagine "Lighthouse Keeper" with the "rainy
sky" turned every which way.)
By the way...I think a fine philosophy
is "Reasonable results for reasonable effort." Don't obsess--not every piece of
fabric you add will be plumb-line perfect, and guess what--when you don't focus
on it, your eyes do a lot of the "fixit" work for you. Close is usually close
enough. So, relax!
Compare the two rows of (ugly!)
Fabric added randomly without consideration for print direction:
Fabric added using the "Keep It Vertical" technique:
Evaluating Directional Prints
Most quilters are familiar with
"directional prints." When used in a quilt, you can improve the appearance of
a directional print by making sure it "travels" in the same direction in all the
I took a look at my stash and culled out
some of these prints. I grouped them informally and gave them names: Verticals,
Horizontals, One-Ways, and "Testers." Below are some observations about using
these various fabrics with the "Keep It Vertical" technique.
In general, all directional prints have a strong vertical element, but the ones
I call Verticals will look the same even when turned upside down. They are great
candidates for the "Keep It Vertical" technique. They will look fine even when
the vertical elements of the print do not line up perfectly across seamlines--just
try your best to keep the print parallel. Uneven stripes (see green block above)
are especially rewarding to work with and much more forgiving than even stripes.
A "One-Way" fabric is any repeated print motif that "travels" in one direction.
When it is turned upside down, it doesn't look the same. Treat it like
a vertical print, with a little extra consideration: it will look its best if
you keep the design motif heading in one direction.
These include plaids AND stripes, and fabrics that not only have a strong vertical
element, but a strong horizontal element as well. The horizontal element usually
needs to be matched to look its best. Even if you can keep the vertical element
straight, these prints are difficult to line up from side to side without undue
effort. Seam line "misses" using these fabrics are usually obvious and distracting.
left is a sample block I did in plaids using the "Keep It Vertical" technique,
taking only the average amount of care when sewing. I got the verticals perfect
on maybe three pieces, and two are off quite a bit (under the arrowheads). The
horizontals don't even pretend to line up. My standards are pretty flexible, but
I don't like it. This convinces me to avoid plaids in general.
even stripes would be troublesome in the same way. If the stripes did not stay
parallel or they didn't meet at the seam lines, the gaps would be obvious and
You may wish to avoid plaids and the
like except when they are in isolated areas or when you have no more than 2-3
seams to worry about. With more effort than I expended here, they CAN be matched.
It can be very time consuming with results that are still less than perfect, but
if you're willing, I won't stop you!
In this category I separated out possible "troublemakers" like diagonals and other
fabrics. These may or may not line up well when using the technique; they are
more difficult to predict and may take more work to look good. In my estimation,
these prints would probably require a test block in order to judge the final effect
and whether more care needs to be taken when sewing.
sometimes need to line up horizontally like plaids in order to look their best;
however, the diamond I used (see block under "For Comparison" above) looked fine.
As for the basketweave, I have a suspicion that it would require making a test
block to see whether it was important that those horizontals lined up.
To get an idea whether there is going to be wild things happening at the seam lines, you should
find it helpful to cut out a square of fabric and lay it at an angle against a
larger piece of the same fabric. If you can't see it, there is no special treatment
to carry out. Remember, however, there will be seam lines and shadows added to
the mix, and they will make things look a little worse rather than better.
The samples on either end are one-way directional prints, but you can't see
the squares on them. The middle one, a diagonal, tells me that piecing this one
randomly would be distracting (at least to me). It is a diamond with horizontals
in it...if I loved the color, if results were important, and if I had the time,
I would make a test block before using.
your own stash and consider some of those directional prints. Pick one out for
your sample block.
Keep It Vertical Directions
• Evaluating Prints
• Keep It Vertical
• Practice Pattern