Fractal quilting


Fractal quilting

This is a follow up blog post to ‘Quilting Reulanach’ where I describe different approaches to quilting the negative space in the Reulanach (personalised) quilt pattern. 

Not familiar with the personalised pattern creator? There’s a reference section at the foot of this post so you’ll find a link. Essentially, you define a location, date (and time) and then, behind the scenes, a digital telescope, computer vision and some other bits of data (location, star brightness) are brought together to create a quilt pattern of the stars in your special location. 

David Hewitson (coder and theatremaker) and I are working towards a foundation paper piecing version at the moment. It’s called Reul-iùil, meaning ‘guiding star’ in Gaelic (pronounced ‘Rayl-ool’).

My first example of this quilt was displayed at the National Museum of Scotland last month as part of the Edinburgh Science Festival. I got the chance to chat to people during the Creative Informatics ‘Unleashing the Power of Data’ showcase and there were a few queries about the quilting. 

Deciding on quilting is one of the things I find quite hard with my own quilts but when an idea falls into place, it’s just the best! My starting point for this quilt were my quilt books as well as Pinterest and Instagram for looking at negative space quilts. I’m often drawn to Jacquie Gerring’s geometric designs, which I love. Conceptually, the fractals worked well with this quilt on multiple levels. I like the geometric nod towards mathematics because it struck a chord with the pattern design being data-driven. To me, having the quilting complement or enhance the piecing is really important. I also really like how dynamic these fractal patterns feel taking your eye around the quilt in different ways. This same dynamism also gives a sense of space. 

But how to quilt in this way? Let’s start with the technology used to achieve this result. Essential kit:

    Pen and paper  

    Quilt pattern

    Photo software 

    Clover quilt marking pen

    Domestic sewing machine (walking foot)

I also used a longarm (Bernina Q24) and Intelliquilter (IQ) computerised design system but neither were essential. You can only go so far (between the bars) on a longarm on a frame but I had some fun on the IQ connecting line-to-line and then stitching out the centre of each fractal. 

First things first, I used pen and paper to understand the process of creating fractal designs and to try out different angles, the lengths of each extension as well as altering the shape of the centre, which defines much of what comes next. It’s worth thinking about how heavy you want the quilting to be early on. Longer lines will result in wider spaced fractals. 

I exported my quilt design from EQ8 though a colouring chart would also work. I wanted to use an image with the pieced colours so that I could easily visualise the colour of the quilting thread. I use Affinity Photo 2 to edit photographs so I opened my quilt design image there. Having selected something close to the colour of the thread I wanted to use, I added a new layer and then selected the continuous pen tool to draw the first fractal. I started adding fractals to the largest negative space areas, adding new layers for each new fractal. Doing so allowed me to transform the designs (rotating, flipping and resizing) until I had something I thought worked well together. The functionality of digital far outstrips pen + paper here because you can simply delete a layer or manipulate it rather having to rub out or start over. 

Link to video designing fractal quilting patterns 

With my general plan mapped out on the computer, I marked up the physical quilt top using my clover quilt marking tool. I started from the centre of each fractal until I had enough of a sense of where I would be going. The marking took quite a bit of time and as I was under some time pressure (I was booked in for the longarm the next day) I left quite a bit of negative space as it was, partly so I could let the design take shape. I was quite heavy with the clover pen but the eraser worked flawlessly when it came to that part.

If you’re on a longarm on a frame there are some additional things I’d recommend. You don’t actually need to mark very much on the quilt initially if you’re mapping out connected lines on your computerised design system. You can do this on the computer and it will likely be more accurate than defining the turning points from the markings on your quilt (with a laser eye on the needle). Grab yourself some practice calico and try it out both ways. This would be a good opportunity to have a practice with your ruler table too.

Straight to domestic machine? Strap on your walking foot to help keep those lines straight. My quilt was small (42” x 48”) so it was manageable to move around on my sewing machine. Periodically, I found it helpful to take the quilt off the machine and lay it on the floor thinking about the remaining spaces I had and how I might bring the fractals together.

I’ll be playing with quilting fractals much more as I go forward. Interested in an online workshop quilting with fractals? Drop me a line or sign up to my mailing list to find out when and how this will be happening.


Quilting Reulanach

Edinburgh Science Festival 2024

Unleashing the Power of Data, Creative Informatics showcase