Sometimes it just doesn’t work.

I love creating improvisationally without a pattern or templates, but I’m the first to admit that the process isn’t foolproof. That composition just doesn’t hang together right, or the colors don’t mesh like you thought they would, or the lines and shapes just aren’t interesting.

It happens to everyone. So what do you do?

Mostly I put the quilt top aside for a while. Sometimes I bring it out again after a few weeks or months to see if there’s something I missed. If not–I give serious consideration to cutting it up.

Emerging Original Top – Cindy Grisdela

That’s what happened with Emerging. Above is the original quilt top–I had started with a motif and colors that I liked–the blue and black in the upper right. I tried to play with the motif to change the colors, lines, and shapes. But it failed. I put it away and thought maybe I’d take it apart at some point and try to make it more interesting.

Then I saw a call for entry for a regional exhibit organized by the DC/MD/WV region of Studio Art Quilt Associates (SAQA).  The theme was Imagination and the accepted quilts all had to be 12″ x 48″. So I pulled that top out and folded it to see if cropping to that dimension made a difference. And it did!

In every class I teach, I talk to my students about the importance of auditioning–colors, fabrics, shapes. It’s important to listen to your inner artist during this process–if it’s just OK, I put it aside and try again until I come up with something that makes my heart sing. And cropping this quilt top made my heart sing.

I folded the quilt in several places to see which one made the most sense. It was a little bit short of 48″, so I cut another section and added it to the bottom. This is a difficult size to photograph well, but I was amazed at how much more interesting the composition was cropped to those dimensions. I especially like the random triangles that appeared on the sides.

Emerging – Cindy Grisdela

And it got in to the exhibit! It will be a virtual exhibit in January at Blackrock Center for the Arts in Maryland–I’ll share details when they become available.

I quilted each section in a different motif–pebbles, fans, spirals–to give texture and dimension to the composition. The colors are still a bit unusual, but the lines and shapes are much more interesting and the texture adds another element of contrast.

Here’s the statement I wrote to go along with this piece:

Ideas bubble up from the subconscious, making their way to the light. It isn’t always a linear progression. Emerging reflects this dynamic as an idea becomes reality–light emerging from the dark.

I’m glad I figured out a way to give this quilt new life. What do you do with a quilt top that doesn’t turn out the way you thought it would?



  1. Sally Harcum Maxwell on November 28, 2020 at 8:38 pm

    I like the triangles at the sides, too! And the quilting does make a difference, doesn’t it? I’m looking forward to seeing the show, even if we can’t be there in person 🙂

    • Cindy on November 29, 2020 at 3:01 pm

      Thanks Sally–the triangles are fun and they were kind of unexpected. And the quilting was the right choice, I think. I’m looking forward to the show!

  2. Ann Baldwin May on November 28, 2020 at 11:21 pm

    Great article and congrats on the show! I have found that if I don’t like the way certain pieces are going together, cutting them up helps.
    I usually do this with smaller parts as they go together. Thanks, Ann

    • Cindy on November 29, 2020 at 3:02 pm

      Thanks Ann. I’m interested in how you decide to cut up the pieces as you’re creating your design? Usually I just keep hoping that it will somehow work–but it doesn’t always!

  3. Libby Williamson on November 29, 2020 at 7:02 pm

    What a Win!
    This is a great example of creating success from something that isn’t working>

  4. Jackie on November 29, 2020 at 8:29 pm

    The new composition is really striking and i find it interesting to see how it came about.

  5. Bernadette Houghton on November 30, 2020 at 1:32 pm

    Since I mainly do medallion quilts, I just make a smaller quilt! I recently made a medallion I loved, but I tried for weeks to get subsequent frames to work the way I wanted them to. Finally, I figured out what was making the additional frame so hard to design. Once I realized that it was unlikely for me to move ahead with a full-size quilt, I simply quilted the medallion and put binding on the 30″ square piece. I love it now and all the angst has evaporated. I just wish I had figured out the problem sooner.

  6. Cindy Anderson on December 1, 2020 at 3:17 am

    I think the transformation is wonderful!