Thursday, July 10, 2008

Mystery Quilts: What are they?

I just got an email from a friend who says there are several new members in her guild who may not know what a Mystery Quilt is. I said I'd write a bit about them, and decided to share this with you, too.
Mystery Quilts are classes (or magazine instructions, etc.) that do not tell you what the final quilt will look like. Each step in making the quilt is called a "clue", and you must finish doing one clue before getting the next. You are solving a mystery by making the quilt top one step at a time.
When the original classes were being taught in this style, part of the fun was to have a prize for the person who first recognized the pattern and could name it.
Some Mystery Quilts had a murder or other mysteries to "solve" as you did each step.

Today's Mystery Quilts have evolved beyond using only simple traditional blocks, but they still must follow a few basic guidelines: not require too many fabrics, and be relatively easy to make.
SO: a Mystery Quilt is not a kind of a is a way of making a quilt.

This is from the very first Mystery Quilt class I taught:

Each unit in this quilt had a funny name, like The Gorilla or Bunch of Bananas.

I called it "Scrap-Fari" and each clue was about our journey through the jungle. Those rectangles at the edge are supposed to be the border. As you can see, this is still a top....many years later!

This is a Mystery Quilt I taught at a Big Box Store several years ago:

Can you imagine working on this during an all-night "lock-in"??? The event was never repeated!

This is the basic 3 fabric quilt...light background, 2 colors (or a dark/ medium/ light combo).
This is still a top because I'm not sure my eyesight would stand up to quilting all those little dotty flowers! This is an excellent example of why you need strong contrast to make a successful quilt...that yellow blends in the white, and the prints are all the same size.

Don't let this happen to you!

You don't get to see a sample before you sign up for a Mystery Quilt class, and that makes choosing fabrics more difficult. I try hard to write my classes for the 3 fabric method, and give a few hints if there's something interesting you can try. I often reccomend choosing holiday colors/ fabric, so you will end up with a useful decorative item or gift. Then, if you like the pattern, you can make it again with more carefully selected fabrics.

Sure you can make a scrappy Mystery Quilt! Ask the teacher first, though, as it's probably planned using strips and fast-pieced units.

These days I always have one of my wonderful Beta Testers try out the instructions before I teach the class. I also make the quilt top (at least once), so I have several versions to show. Seeing the quilt pattern done in different colors is good inspiration. I'll often bring my EQ6 on a laptop and run through a variety of other ideas that can be made with the same basic block.

I wish you could see the orange polka- dots on the black fabric!

I love the 3-D quality of this block, and did use it for a Mystery pattern. I am pleased to say that most students were quite happy with the way their top turned out.
Even if you aren't totally thrilled, it makes a great charity quilt, and you will no doubt have a better time when you select fabrics knowing what it looks like!

The Mystery Quilt I designed for the Central Florida Quilters Guild has been rescheduled for October, and I am soooo excited about it!
For years I have wanted to have a fabric exchange be part of a Mystery class....yet how do you assure people their fabric will work with somebody else's? We all want to make a quilt that is to our own taste (even though this is a quilt to celebrate friendship!).
Well, I did come up with a way to do it...and now we will just have to wait until October to see what it is! My "alpha" Beta Tester, the fabulous Cherry-Cherry, has made a version that is to die for!
And to me, the best part of any class is when somebody says, "Hey! I'm going to do this...." and just runs with a great idea!


Anonymous said...

Margaret Miller showed a group quilt at our guild where the contributors' marching orders were in terms of value (dark/light), with no color guidance at all, and it was stunning.

I bet there's a cool scrappy mystery quilt to be made by specifying "darks, lights, mediums", or even "Fabric groups A, B, C, and D", where you assign (as you will -- and there's part of the mystery) one of: deep darks, darks, brights, muted brights, lights, and very lights (tints) to each of A, B, C, and D. Yes, there are more categories than letters -- that would make the quilts even more different from one another.

I think I'll put "Design a Mystery Quilt" on my "Someday Maybe" list!


Sunnie said...

I always use values as the fabric descriptions for Mystery Quilts, because people want to make their own quilt in the colors they like. And we know it's the values, not the actual colors, that make the quilt!
The Crossroads Mystery Quilt, for the guild in Perry GA, required a more complex fabric selection than I usually like....but it was so much better that way, I took a risk. And they stepped up to it!
A confident solo quilter can take a supply list and do wonderful things.
A too-complex supply list can scare off some quilters....and they would miss having a great time in class!