Exploring Simple Designs

Exploring Simple Designs

Field Notes: Kaffe Fassett

Years ago when I was in the first flush of my love affair with quilting and exploring the variety of visual designs, I came across a quilt made of blocks shaped like the letter “H.” Roughly 12” square in size, these blocks of bold H shapes were made up in various shades of neutral tones. It was striking in a way that the tufted, raffia fabrics of African Kuba textiles are—packed with wonderful geometric forms.

Another similar design that caught my eye was a 19th century Caucasian Dragon Carpet. It featured S-shaped dragons boldly placed across the carpet, each one studded with smaller motifs. The idea of a large geometric layout that filled each block and that wasn’t immediately obvious to the viewer appealed to me. Burying the structure (in this case, a letter) in a pattern keeps the viewer studying the design until the brain can discern the layout.

Simple Block, Powerful Results

I took inspiration from the H-block quilt and the S-shaped dragon carpet to design my S-Block quilt. Each block contains a simple visual structure: the letter S, yet the repetition of the design pulls viewers in. By rotating the block in different directions, I further abstracted the image. What keeps one’s attention in this layout is the way a basic geometric block is placed in so many different directions. Plus, the patterned fabrics are so richly varied that there is much to study.

In patterns like these, color choices are key, as they allow the design to stand out or fade subtly into the background. The coloring of my S-Block quilt comes from my passion for Oriental art, where yellow often plays such a powerful role. When the Peking Opera visited London in the 1980s, I was blown away by an entire act that was played out in front of a huge yellow dragon tapestry. Each player on the stage wore large, ornate costumes in shades of yellow with highlights of lime green, lavender, pink, and pale turquoise. The result was breathtaking, and I have been playing with this saturated palette ever since in my knits, quilts, and fabric collections. Combining a yellow-based palette in this very simple-to-construct block was a joy. The way it looks draped on an autumn tree in an English country garden reveals the emotional impact that yellow has for me.