Mosaic Piecing Tutorial

First off on this Monday morning, I wanted to tell you that I’m *definitely* participating in Project Selvage.You’ve heard of it by now I’m sure, but Spoonflower and Michael Miller are teaming up to find the next fabric designer for Michael Miller fabrics. It’s very exciting, but I think the theme (Baby Boy) is pretty challenging! I already have ideas swimming around in my little brain.

What I really want to talk to you about today is the mosaic quilt that I’ve been making. I actually have it AND it’s partner quilt — a second quilt based on the same photograph — ready to have the binding hand-stitched to the back. I don’t have any photos to share with you right now, but I thought it might be nice to post a tutorial on how I did the piecing.

I spent HOURS arranging all these little 2″ squares, and I was concerned that I would make myself crazy trying to keep them all straight as I was piecing the quilt, so I devised this little plan and wanted to share it with you.

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial

In order to keep the order and orientation of the pieces straight while I was piecing them, I used a masking tape system that worked out great. I put a tiny piece of masking tape on each of the 20 squares in the first row. Each piece of masking tape had a little folded over tab at the top that made it easy to take off later. I put the labels in the centers of the squares (approximately) to keep them out of the way of the stitching. I could easily tell which way was right-side up, because the little tabs were at the top.

Masking tape works great because 1) it isn’t very tacky so it doesn’t leave weird residue on the fabric, 2) it’s tacky enough to stay put for the time you need it to stay put and to reuse multiple times, and 3) it’s cheap.

Here’s a close-up of the masking tape labels.

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial 1

And here’s the first row all labeled up.

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial 2

Once the row was labeled, I moved it over to my ironing board that sits next to my sewing machine.

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial 3

I sewed all the squares for this quilt together using chain piecing, which requires you to just keep sewing between the pairs and not cut the seams. You should check that your machine is okay with this before you do it (my Viking doesn’t mind a bit). Also, I always start and end on a scrap so that I only really start sewing one time. This saves a lot of time and eliminates a lot of problems that can occur at the beginning of your stitching.

Here you can see my starter scrap in the back — the little yellow piece with multiple lines of stitching on it — followed by the first pair of squares.

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial 4

I chain pieced pairs together for the entire row — square 1 to square 2, square 3 to square 4, etc. Here they all are laid out on my ironing board, still attached to one another with the starter scrap on the left. The scrap I used at the end is still under the presser foot on the sewing machine.

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial 5

Keeping them all in order, I clipped them apart. (By the way, I could not live without these 4″ Gingher snips. So wonderful!)

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial 6

Here they are all cut apart.

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial 7

Then I opened up the pairs and sewed pairs of pairs together. So, I sewed the 1/2 pair to the 3/4 pair.

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial 8

Then the 5/6 pair to the 7/8 pair, and so on. I continued chain piecing throughout.

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial 9

At the end of this round of piecing I had 5 sets of squares. Here they are still attached to each other and the starter scrap.

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial 10

Opened out they look like this. Note that I haven’t pressed any seams yet! This makes the sewing way faster and lets me keep all my labels on without having to worry about avoiding them with the iron.

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial 11

Next up, I sewed the first two sets together and the third and fourth set together. The fifth set had to wait out this round.

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial 12

Then I sewed what are now the second and third sets together (squares 9-20). The reason I didn’t just attach the two larger sets to each other is that I think piecing goes more smoothly if the two parts you are sewing together are closer to the same size. If I piece the 1-8 section to the 9-16 section, I would have ended up with one section of 16 pieces and one of 4 pieces. The way I did it keeps it slightly more even.

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial 13

Then, I pieced the very last seam. Note that I am still doing the chain piecing at this point, with a starter scrap, my single pieced seam, and an ending scrap.

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial 14

Once I had the row finished, I transferred all the masking tape labels to the next row on the design wall. You shouldn’t need the labels on the pieced row any longer because you’ll be able to double-check the proper orientation for it against your photo of the quilt laid out (you do always take a photo when you’ve decided on your layout don’t you? I refer back to these photos often to make sure I haven’t switched anything around).

It’s finally time to press. I decided at the beginning of this that I was going to press all the seams open. That’s because 1) the pieces were such different values that I didn’t want them showing through light fabrics in places, 2) I had already developed a quilting plan that meant I was going to be quilting across all these open seams multiple times to help reinforce them, and 3) it would allow me to save all the pressing to the end!

I recommend first either finger pressing all the seams open…

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial 15

…or using a hera marker to do this. I chose the hera marker because my wimpy fingernails would never have made it through the entire quilt finger pressing! I don’t usually do this step before pressing with the iron, but I thought it would make the iron pressing go a lot more smoothly because all these little tiny seams are so close together.

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial 16

Then, I pressed all the seams with an iron on the back side…

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial 17

…and flipped the finished row over and pressed it from the front.

Mosaic Piecing Tutorial 18

Once I completed sewing each of the individual rows together, I switched all the labels to the first square in each row and assembled the rows. I’ll admit to you that I did not pin this quilt at all. I just matched up each of the seams as I went. It turned out pretty well!

I opted to press the longer seams to one side, because I wasn’t going to be sewing across them. When pressing to one side, I find it easier to press as I go, so after each seam. Since you’ll keep the masking tape labels on throughout this assembly (or at least one label per sewn-up section), be sure when you press these seams that you do not press the masking tape label on that first block, as it can get very yucky when you do that!

Questions or anything you think is unclear? Let me know!

Finally, a New Quilt Project!

I’ve had this project in my head for months (since at least July 9 of last year), and I’ve been so happy to finally get started on it. Since this is something totally new for me, I thought I’d share it with you as I go, instead of waiting for the end.


I recall thinking about all the different things I was enjoying doing at the time and came up with an idea that would combine photography, Adobe Illustrator & Photoshop, and quilting. I started by combing through my photographs and selecting this one.


It’s a photo I took during my photography class two summers ago of an alley behind a row of businesses near my home. I really liked the blocks of colors and the strong lines in this photo.

I then used Photoshop to push and pull it into something that I thought would work for this project, but that still definitely resembled the original. In this case I primarily removed the distortion from the angle of the photo, which also forced me to eliminate the bits of ground and sky.

Altered Alley

At this point I imported the image into Illustrator and used one of the filters to create a mosaic. You can pixelate images in Photoshop to look like mosaics as well, but you don’t have the fine control like you do in Illustrator. In Illustrator you can choose how big you want the final mosaic to be (and you can make it actual size) and how many tiles you want to have. The tiles can also be any size rectangle; in Photoshop they are always square.

I spent a lot of time adjusting the image and the final mosaic until the end result created a pleasing design. It’s amazing how colors and patterns will come and go as you adjust the details of the mosaic. I *am* going to be a bit of a tease and not show you the mosaic until the quilt is done!

Scraps from Mosaic Quilt

The next step is to pull out fabrics that have similar colors and to recreate the mosaic in fabric. I’ve decided to use my favorite Kona cotton solids, though I may throw in a few other fabrics as well (like some Kaffe Fassett shot cottons maybe?). The strange thing for me with this is that all the pieces will be exactly the same size. I’ve gotten really used to doing improvisational piecing for most of the detailed work I do.

(Though I did recently do a baby quilt for Bobbin’s Nest off a pattern in a book, since we like to try to use patterns we sell to make samples. And that was lots of precise cutting as well. And I never showed that to you — I’ll have to get a photo of that!)

I think most of the improvisation is going to come in arranging all the colored squares. I’m not going to try for an exact one-to-one match on the colors. That would be impossible. So, I expect arranging all the little squares to be the most fun part.

Stack of Colors for Mosaic Quilt

Today I finally started cutting fabric! I have 2″ strips and will make a pile of 2″ squares tomorrow, hopefully.

I’ll keep you posted on my progress as I go!

Who else has a brand new project for the new year?

Birth of a Quilt — Layout

We are now back to the regularly-scheduled story of my Not So Straight and Narrow Quilt.

Not So Straight and Narrow Quilt
Not So Straight and Narrow Quilt

At the end of the last episode I had gotten all of the individual quilt blocks made, at which point I needed to decide exactly how to lay them out. There are a lot of possibilities when you have 56 blocks! Some things were settled pretty early on as I was making the blocks, like that the direction of the pieced strips would alternate between vertical and horizontal. But to finalize the exact placement, I had to lay it all out on my living room floor, since it’s the only space I have that’s big enough for a queen-sized quilt!

Layout Testing for Not So Straight and Narrow quilt

I always take photos and look at them while I’m rearranging, because I just can’t get far enough away from something this big, especially when it’s on the floor! I alternate between looking at the actual quilt and looking at the photos on the camera, trying to find things that aren’t working for me.

With this one I started by looking at issues with the primary block colors, like those two coral blocks near the top left that are diagonal from each other.

Layout Testing for Not So Straight and Narrow quilt

I like to make sure there is variation in the positions of the pieced strips, so that they aren’t all lined up the same way next to each other or across a row. The last two horizontal blocks on the second row were bugging me, so I flipped one around to switch the top and bottom.

Layout Testing for Not So Straight and Narrow quilt

I also spend a fair amount of time looking at the layout of all the various little colored bits in the piecing to make sure that there is nice movement in the quilt. I want the eye to be led around the quilt as it hits the bright blue color over and over, or the brown color over and over, that sort of thing. I don’t want any single color to be all lumped together in one spot.

As you can imagine, all of this takes some doing! There were TONS more intermediate changes and photos than I’m showing you here.

Final Layout for Not So Straight and Narrow quilt

The above was my final layout for this quilt. I ALWAYS take a picture of the final layout, so I have a record I can refer to as I’m piecing the quilt together. I would definitely not want to get confused and have to figure this all out again!!

At this point I was curious what this quilt would look like in a slightly more subdued color palette. I think maybe I was still nervous about that bold coral color! So, I took the photo of the final arrangement and performed a little Photoshop magic on it, replacing the coral color with a more subdued green color.

Photoshopped Color Swap for Not So Straight and Narrow quilt


Reaffirmed in my choice to use the coral, I sewed these blocks together and had a finished quilt top!

In the last and final installment tomorrow, my little (queen-sized) quilt gets quilted!

My Custom Quilting Design

Quite a few people commented on my recent post that they loved the quilting on the quilt I showed.

Aerial View

This is one of the queen-sized quilts that I have designed and made samples of for my business. Now that I have the samples together, I am getting myself organized for some product photography, after which I hope to put the final touches on my web site and actually think about some marketing. It’s finally coming together!

In the meantime, I thought I would tell you the story of how this quilting design came to be.

When I started on these quilts months ago, I got to thinking about the quilting. I realized that *I* do not want to quilt queen-sized quilts on my sewing machine at home. And, honestly, if I considered the hours of labor required to do this, I could provide my customers with both better quality and a better price if I hired out the quilting to a long-arm quilter (or to professional hand quilters).

Oval Quilting Detail 1

With that decision made, my thoughts turned to what sort of quilting design I would choose for the long-arm quilting. It was important to me that the design reflected my personal aesthetic, as well as contributing to the overall design of the quilt. I did a lot of thinking and looking and sketching and decided that what I thought would work well for the samples I was making — and what might also work well as a sort of “signature” quilting design for my business and all the machine-quilted quilts I would sell — was a quilting pattern consisting of ovals. Great! I knew what I wanted, I just needed to find a design.

If you’ve never dealt with a long-arm quilter before, it turns out that if you want a very regular, consistent, repeatable design, you need to get one that is computerized. Sure, long-arm quilters can also do the equivalent of the free-motion quilting you do on your home machine (just faster). But my aesthetic really craves the precision that only a computerized design could provide.

Oval Quilting Detail 2

I scoured literally 1000s of quilting designs online and ran up against a brick wall. I couldn’t find anything remotely like what I wanted. Granted, I was being picky. But it was important to me that all the pieces of these designs fit together in just a certain way.

After much digging, I found a woman who knew how to create digital files for long-arm machines and was willing to make a design that was exactly what I wanted. I created an Illustrator document with the design and sent it off to her and she returned the digital long-arm file to me for a very reasonable fee. My long-arm quilter did a test run of it for me and we talked it over, then she gave it a go on my quilt.

Oval Quilting Detail 3

It turns out, of course, that this seemingly simple design is moderately complicated to achieve, because it requires frequent restarting of the pattern. But I am so very ecstatic about how it turned out! And it made me even happier to read all the great comments about it from you guys. I’m completely in love with it, and I’m looking forward to seeing it on lots more quilts!

And that’s how the official amy a la mode quilting design came to be.

The End.

A Mini Quilt

Guess what I found??? A gift certificate in the amount of $50 good toward any winter/spring or summer class at PNCA! No kidding! So funny — it fell off my bulletin board the other day and when I reached down to pick it up, I realized what it was. I totally forgot I had gotten this in a holiday card from PNCA this year (after taking the Denyse Schmidt class last summer). I immediately dashed off an e-mail and discovered that I could indeed apply it toward the fabric design course with Heather Ross that I have signed up for. WOO HOO!!!

Okay, now on to the little project I just finished!

I’ve been wanting to try a long list of things and finally decided that trying them out in miniature would be better than not trying them out at all. So, I got the idea for this on, I think, Friday, and finished hand-stitching the binding down at the coffee shop this morning. It measures a mere 20″ x 24″.

Zen Mini QuiltZen Mini Quilt Back

I am really loving it! I love how when two blocks next to each other have the same color, new shapes and patterns are created. I was testing out the pieced design here, as well as the colors (that’s gray, not black, by the way) and the quilting design. AND I managed to use up some batting scraps in the process (I really disliked using this batting — will not use it again! Some kind of cheap polyester from JoAnn’s. Yuck. It’s gone now, thankfully!) The pieced design has a secret message hidden in it. I would like to offer a prize to the first person to figure out the message, but I can’t think what to offer, so if you figure it out and want a prize, let me know and we’ll talk. How’s that?!

For the quilting design, I was testing out using this little baby I got for Christmas. It’s really for rotary cutting circles, but I wanted to try it as a template for marking concentric circles. I’d like to have something similar custom made by my local TAP plastics, but I thought I’d try out this cheaper version first to see what I thought. It actually worked pretty well! Now to think about whether I want something custom made or whether this will do…

Easy Circle Cut

In other, completely random news, I might be giving my first private sewing lesson this weekend. I’m totally psyched!

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