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Make directional prints work for YOU.

Make it rain... Take a look at the background of the "Lighthouse Keeper" above left. 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, and 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... Try this out, but 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 sample blocks below.

Fabric added randomly without consideration for print direction:

Fabric added using the "Keep it Vertical" technique:

If you wish, you can go straight to the instructions, here. But first, a little diversion/discussion about directional prints:


Evaluating Directional Prints
     Most quilters are familiar with "directional prints." When used in a quilt, you can often improve the appearance of a print by making sure it  travels in the same direction in all the piecing. 
     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 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 moving the same direction. 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 are mindful to keep the design motif heading in one direction.

     These include plaids 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.

     At 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 ...and it's not HORRIBLE... but I don't like it. This convinces me to avoid plaids in general.
    Regular, 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 distracting.
    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.
     Diagonals 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.

Get A Clue
    To get an idea whether there is going to be wild things happening at the seam lines, you may find it helpful to cut out a square of fabric and lay it at an angle against a larger piece of the same fabric, like I did below. 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.
     Go over your own stash and consider some of those directional prints. Pick one out for your sample block.

Keep It Vertical Directions

Practice Pattern

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