Friday, August 21, 2015

Tips for My Small World Quilt {Part 1 - Fabrics, foundations, and all that sky}

Here it is, my version of Jen Kingwell's My Small World Quilt, finally finished, except for the quilting, after six weeks of rummaging through scraps, mess, fussy cutting, mess, picking threads off every outfit I've worn, ... and did I mention the mess?

My finished My Small World Quilt
From the moment I first set eyes on this quilt in the Spring 2015 edition of Quiltmania I knew it was bad news (but in the nicest possible way!).

Jen Kingwell's My Small World Quilt in the Spring 2015 edition of Quiltmania 
Like the Lorelei, this fabulous quilt, with its thousands of tiny pieces, called to me right from the start, but I knew I had no room in my life for a new project. 

With quilters the world over scrambling to secure their copy of Quiltmania, I couldn't believe my luck when I found a copy in my local newsagent (but then I am the only quilter in the village!) and I had to have it. I quietly congratulated myself on the wisdom of my purchase, "just in case I might want to make it at some time in the distant future," I told myself.

Then this happened.

I blame all the quilters posting dazzling photos of their quilts on Instagram. Inspiration overload! In a weak moment I succumbed, and in no time at all I had completed Part 1.

... and Part 2!

Virtual champagne glass in hand, I joined the worldwide My Small World Quiltalong party on Instagram (#mysmallworldqal) steered by  

and ably supported by  

Each of these experienced quilt makers has offered really useful information on their blog about how to complete the various sections of this quilt, and most importantly the errata, and if you're reading this in preparation for attempting wonderful quilt you should read what they've written. 

I've found it immensely helpful.

At the risk of possibly repeating some of their advice, I thought I'd also share with you some of the lessons I've personally learnt along the way. 

1. It's not as simple as it "seams"
This is not a quilt for beginners. The pattern has very few instructions beyond the printed templates and there is a huge amount of assumed knowledge.

A short stitch length, and pressing your seams open, instead of to one side, is helpful. 
An accurate scant 1/4 inch seam is essential, with so many seams involved. I used my Westalee Scant 1/4" Seam Gauge to try to ensure I had a consistent seam measurement each time I turned on my machine. With so many seams the opportunity for distorting the dimensions is hugely increased.

Press seams open.
2. The importance of a good foundation
One of our early arrivals at the party was foundation piecing whizz, Sarah of Sew What Sherlock, who realised pretty quickly that many of the blocks could be created much more easily using foundation paper piecing rather than piecing fabric shapes cut from the templates printed in Quiltmania.
If you contact Sarah through the link above, ask very nicely and supply her with a "ransom photo" (you'll understand when you read her blog) she'll email you a PDF of foundation paper patterns which will make your job considerably less stressful.

3. Choosing fabrics
Don't over-think these, it is a scrap quilt after all. 
Search Instagram (#mysmallworldqal) and you'll be surprised at all the different colour schemes. Fabulous inspiration!
I made my quilt entirely from my scrap bin, and for once I was glad to be a hoarder. 

Since my quilt is for a little person I decided to include lots of "I spy" elements for little eyes to search out. These include the school bus, sailing boat, clown, puppy, bees, daisies, stars and little boy that you can see in this photo.

The important thing to remember when selecting fabrics is balance.

It doesn't have to be all matchy-matchy, but if you use a scrap of fabric on the right hand side of your quilt it will look balanced if you also use a tiny piece in one or two other areas. I think, in the end, I had a palette of around 40 to 50 fabrics of all different sizes, and I kept to these, with a few exceptions, trying to evenly distribute them across the quilt.

Your quilt will also look better if you generally keep a balance of dark, medium and light hues throughout the pattern. I've found the best way to keep track of this is to periodically take a monochrome photo of my quilt, so I just see the hues and I'm not distracted by the colours.

 And don't think that, just because you're making a 33" x 52" quilt using (much) more than a thousand pieces of fabric, you're going to make more than the slightest dent in the level of your scrap bin. 

It doesn't work that way. 
Don't ask me why. 
It's just the Law of Scraps!

4.The sky's the limit!

Here's Jen Kingwell's original My Small World Quilt, photographed from the back cover of Quiltmania. She's used a low volume palette of beiges and creams, but you don't have to stay with this colour scheme.

Use your imagination! You're going to spend a great deal of time piecing that sky together so you might as well make it interesting. 
On Instagram I've seen dark night skies, blue skies, bright sunshiny yellow skies and more. 

I chose to create a sky with graduated shades of blue, yellow and white. Each of those squares finishes at 1 inch so you can really have fun "painting" your sky with your fabrics.

I  didn't embroider the Sydney Opera House and Harbour Bridge, Leaning Tower of Pisa and Eiffel Tower patterns designed by Jen to 'float' in the sky, delightful as they are. Here's an opportunity to add your individual touches. I've seen appliquéd birds and hot air balloons, as well as embroidered scenes from a quilter's own travels.

Since I already had these fairytale castle towers in my stash I pieced them into my sky, along with some fat little bumble bees, and finally added a big golden sun with Dresden rays. 

I hope this has given you lots of ideas to get those creative juices flowing!
Next time I'll show you how I worked the Dresden appliqué, as well as some of the other elements of My Small World.


  1. I'm not sure I'll ever make this but it has been a joy watching you build it. I got to see Jen's in person last June. It's an amazing quilt and you have have done her pattern proud.

  2. Well.......what a fun quilt! Love your colour choices, Di, they make it such a happy quilt.

  3. Not on my list but for those who do your hints will be very handy. Yours looks great and the little person will love it!

  4. It came out wonderfully. I'm afraid it's a little busy for me, but I've been admiring the many versions that have popped up out there.

  5. Such wonderful thoughts about this quilt! I haven't followed the "along" quilters, so I need to start there. But gosh, I almost want to start over so my sky can be more planned, like yours! I love every single thing you've done with your version and will be checking value and reworking prints into my designs. Now you make me want to get back to mine right away! Thank you for taking the time to write such a thoughtful post. It's really helpful. 😘

  6. I've so enjoyed watching from the sidelines since I was not able to secure my own pattern. You've done a beautiful job! Thanks for sharing!

  7. a great use of scraps and you did a great job on yours. How some come up with the designs that they do is beyond me, I can't design a pattern for anything, yet so many have such wonderful ideas.

  8. I've seen a few variations of this lovely quilt and yours is gorgeous. I also secured a copy of the issue and am collecting fabrics as we speak. I also plan to have some blues in my sky. Thanks for the inspiration and wonderful twists you did with yours.

  9. Amazing quilt! I tried to find the pattern in English, but it looks like that edition is all sold out.

  10. Thank you so much for such a useful post! I know it took a lot of time to put it all together. This quilt is on my list for Fall and Winter. Summer just ran away with me this year. But all in a good way so I can't complain. And I have myself totally stuck on fabric choices but your advice is so good! With all the different scraps we accumulate just following Jen's general choices will still result in a unique quilt. So what's the quilting plan? 😂

  11. This quilt is on my to-do list and yours is one of my favs that I've seen on IG! So happy. I love all the I Spy bits and the addition of the sun is brilliant. Can't wait to see how you quilt it.

  12. I am just starting this quilt now, your post was very inspiring, thank you. I don't consider myself a beginner, but was hoping for a little instruction. Is there a place where I can find that, do you know?

    1. Hi Ruth, since you're a No Reply commenter I don't know if you will see this reply to your query about instruction. Anyway, if you have the pattern, either from the Quiltmania Spring 2015 issue or separately published by Jen Kingwell, you will find instructions. For lots (and LOTS) of extra tips, please see the links in my blog post. Each of these bloggers has spent a great deal of time sharing useful tips, over several blog posts, to make the quilt making process easier. Finally, I wrote two more blog posts like this one, with plenty of insights I gleaned from the creative process myself. You'll find them under the same title, but added Part 2 and Part 3. Put these all together and you can't fail :-) Enjoy the journey!

    2. Thank you, don't know why I was a no-reply, guess I forgot to do something. I remember seeing someone that gave instruction for making it larger, but can't find it anymore. Your reply was very helpful. thanks again


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