Friday, August 29, 2014

Spiral Quilt

When I first saw RaNae Merrill's book, "Simply Amazing Spiral Quilts" I was so fascinated that I bought a copy.  I didn't get inside it for awhile because I kept looking at the cover photo trying to figure out how she did that quilt (why open the book when it is such fun to challenge your brain to solve the problem).  I was so thrilled when I figured out that the basic design was nothing but a pentagon and triangle kaleidoscope that I immediately sat down and read the book.  During this time I went to the Rocky Mountain Quilt Festival where the complete gallery of the Hoffman Challenge for that year was on display, and fell in love with the fabric for the next year's challenge.  It wasn't long before I delved into the design process for a spiral quilt and bought the challenge fabric to use in it.  The rest is history.

Although variations are possible it is probably easiest to start with a wedge 1/6th or 1/8th of a circle.  Draw some shapes on it and use a mirror to see if you like the repeated design...or decide on shapes you think you would like to fit into the wedge.  They do not have to be even, but these lines will be seams and you must be able to sew them together.
Basic outline of one 30º wedge
I know, I said to use a bigger basic wedge than the example above, but I never start out with the simplest possibility.  Two of these, side by side, will make 1/6th of a circle and the larger number of wedges increases the design possibilities.  The process is the same.  For this first spiral of mine I chose only two shapes because I saw them in the quilt on the book cover, and thus could visualize the potential results.  Illustrator is my software of choice.  You can draw your design on paper if you prefer.

The next step is to draw lines that create triangles within one of the shapes.  There are several ways to do this, but I started with the pentagon and used the "Pinwheel Spiral" as below.

Step 1 (fig 1):  After you have drawn the outline of the pentagon use a ruler and pencil or the pen tool in Illustrator to draw a straight line from point A to a point on line BC about 3/4"-1" from point B.  The chosen distance for that point does not have to be exact but 1" (give or take) is a good place to start for an entry level spiromaniac.  You can measure the distance or guess.

TIP:  The lines you draw within the pentagon shape create triangles.  If you are using the computer I recommend that you draw the complete triangle with the pen tool on a separate layer so that it can be filled with color later.  If you are drawing with pencil this is not necessary as you can color in the lines with your choice of coloring implements.

Step 2 (fig 2 & 3):  Next you draw another line from point B to a point on line CD about 3/4"-1" from point C.

Step 3 (fig 3):  Now go back to where the second line crosses the first line (red circle on Figure 2) and erase or adjust the line so it no longer crosses over the second line.

Step 4 (fig 4):  Continue in this manner until your drawing looks like Figure 4.

Step 5 (fig 5):  Second round.  Continue as you did for the first round, but place the first point at the intersection of the large end of a first-round triangle (red circles) and the second point 3/4"-1"  from the intersection of the first and second first-round triangles.  Erase the overlap as you did in step 3.

Continue in this manner, completing 2 or 3 more rounds as you work toward the center.

Look at that:  it is basically a Twisted Log Cabin!  If your pentagon's sides are equal and every triangle's broad end is the same measurement, then the center will also be a pentagon.  My centers are always wonky because my pentagons are not always equilateral and I don't measure my points precisely, but I rather like the quirkiness they give to a design that is otherwise so ordered.  The triangles do not have to be perfect, but the points must be in the right place and the large ends must lie on the line of the previous round.

Give this a try.  It is fun, and while you are at it, work the triangle piece at the lower part of the wedge and fill it in the same way.

TIP:  You are designing your own quilt.  There is nothing wrong with adapting an idea from someone else, but once you get the technique down, modify it to make it your own.

Stay tuned for my next post, which will continue with the process.  These quilts are beautiful, but they require spending design time, pattern prep time, and sewing time, so I will give you a few days to work out the basics as described here.


  1. I have had my eye on a similar pattern for years and years. Your post reminded me it. This block is so fascinating and looks like fun to make. It will be even more fun to see finished blocks next to each other.

  2. looks like paper piecing? That's something I've been wanting to learn for sometime and finally have a workshop coming up in October.

    1. Good luck on learning a new skill. Yes, this is paper piecing, which I love. It makes possible a precision that I could not achieve any other way.

  3. Love this block. I must try it! Thanks for sharing.
    Love form Amsterdam