Creating with Solids #3: Shapes & Negative Space

In Creating with Solids #1, I remarked upon solid fabrics reveal the full expressiveness of our own personal lines and marks. Creating with Solids #2 highlighted how solids come in a wide range of colours and showcase how colours interact. Building on these posts, I now look at shapes and negative space.

When I first started quiltmaking in the early 2000s, solids were out of favour. As Weeks Ringle and Bill Kerr wrote in their first book Color Harmony for Quilts: A Quiltmaker’s Guide to Exploring Color in 2002, “Solid fabrics have have but disappeared from the local quilt shop. It is increasingly difficult to find a broad selection despite their small, loyal following.” Today, solids have been embraced by the Modern Quilt movement as the cornerstone of an aesthetic that uses asymmetry in quilt design; utilises alternative block structures or lack of visible block structure; and incorporates increased use of negative space. (See What is Modern Quilting?)

In design terms, “shape” refers to a two-dimensional area with identifiable boundaries. Whereas a “line” is a mark which is very much longer than its width, shapes are characterised by both height and width. Paradoxically, shapes have lines around them. These lines may be drawn like the ribbing in a stained glass window or simply implied by the edge of the shape. Either way, solids work brilliantly in defining shapes because cutting and seam lines show and edges are sharp.

Consider this teaching sample from my workshop Stacks of Improvisation. Is your eye drawn to the lines or the shapes? What happens with the negative space, the space around and between the subject(s) of the composition? If this quilt was made with patterned prints, the edges of the lines and shapes would be softened, maybe even blurred, creating a quite different effect.

Within a nine-patch format, I chose a composition where the nine underlying blocks remain discernible and the negative space tricks the eye. Look what happens when those blocks are rearranged – different lines and shapes emerge and the negative space, often the background of the blocks, morphs into a larger field of colour:
Stacks - Rearranged
It is great fun to play with solids and experiment with optical illusions.

Related posts:

Look out for my forthcoming Quilters Companion DVD – Modern Quilts: Improvising Using Stacks of Solids. Out on 12 December!
Improvising Using Stacks of Solids


  1. Love what you’re doing with the solid colours – very striking.


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