myBearpaw Blog by Jo Avery

Almost Black Quilt

Presenting ‘Almost Black’, a new finished quilt and a bit of a departure for me.

This got sent off earlier today to Festival of Quilts as my entry to the Modern Quilt category.

I’ve been thinking for a while now about how to make applique look more modern and minimalist.

My recent mini (for the Pantone Challenge) ‘Greenery Shoots‘ was an initial experiment which I have extended here.

I started off using just dark grey, charcoal and black fabric and making panels of what I always call ‘scrappy improv’, basically lovely playtime in my sewing room!

The first few had too much contrast so I started using just black and charcoal.

Folks were very encouraging on Instagram and a slowly pieced together bigger and bigger panels. It’s a bit like working on a giant fabric puzzle.

I even asked for some suggestions for blocks that I could ‘improv-up’, and Tatyana Duffie suggested a churn dash and Cheryl Arkison suggested some wonky letters, so I created the word ‘night’ which was a bit of an indication of the design I had in mind.

When I posted this photo of the finished top, quite a few people wanted me to leave it like this and just quilt it, and I did consider it (briefly!). But anyone who knows me would understand that not including ANY colour on a quilt is just not going to happen.

My plan all along was to applique different coloured circles in lines that would appear as coloured ‘fairy light’ against a night sky.

I prepared three sizes of circles and spent time appliqueing them in three rows (some nice summer weather luckily coincided with this hand sewing!). Using Aurifil 80wt really helps stitches disappear!

I did think about just one or two strands but, after consultation with my quilty advisers (Lynne and Karen) I decided to go for three, as odd numbers are always best (according to Karen!).

Can you see that I have left a gap in the top strand of lights? I do like a little ‘oddness’ (like the one pink leaf in Greenery Shoots) and I decided to leave a space as if a bulb had just blown, and to hand quilt an empty circle there. But someone on Instagram (Kim Moran-Jones) suggested appliqueing a grey circle instead and I loved that idea (thanks Kim!)!

I really agonised over how to quilt it. I wanted the dense texture I had achieved with matchstick quilting on my Greenery Shoots mini, but didn’t want to do straight line quilting (my Pfaff machine, though wonderful at FMQ, really struggles with straight line as the integral walking foot isn’t up to it). So I ended up with this kind of woodgrain type thing, wavy lines but all done with FMQ. 
I didn’t want to quilt over the circles at all, I love how they stand out when quilting happens around them. Somebody asked me if they were padded the other day. The answer is no, but they do look a bit like they are!

I used a variegated grey Aurifil 50wt for the FMQ, one of my favourites, number 4670.

When I had finished all the machine quilting I hand quilted around each circle with a pale yellow perle cotton 12, to give the appearance of a ‘glow’. The blown bulb, now an appliqued grey circle, has a very faint glow (it’s very recently blown!) achieved by using Aurifil 80wt in cream.

I had deliberately left space between some of my quilting lines to add some hand quilting. It’s quite subtle as I used an ecru perle cotton number 12, but I really think it adds to the texture and interest.

I love the fact there is so much to look at in this quilt, even though the background is kind of dull. I think that makes you notice more because there is so little distraction.

I used a scrappy binding made of the same blacks and charcoals, I just wanted something to blend in really.

I’m really pleased with how this worked out, it’s pretty much as I saw it in my head when I first conceived it. Actually it’s a lot better!

And I have more ideas for this sort of ‘applique on improv’ look, so watch this space!

Oh and do any of you recognise the reference (from a British sketch comedy show) in the title?! It’s a family private joke in our house and what my husband said when he saw me working on this!


  1. Jo, the first picture just took my breath away! I couldn't wait to read the rest of the post. Almost Black Quilt is so beautiful and fun! All the very best of luck for your entry!

  2. Fascinating quilt. The contrasts between dark and darker are very well thought out. The quilting and bright color applique really accent it well.

  3. This is such a great idea – congrats on pulling it off so well! I love the dark moody washed and faded feel of the all the blacks and greys. Good luck with the show!

  4. what an amazing quilt you have made will certainly bee having a very good look at it at FOQ, best of luck, Sarah from our MG won last year and has entered again but not seen her completed quilt yet. My granddaughter wants a black quilt for her 21st but it certainly will not be as amazing as yours

  5. Hello, looking forward to seeing this in the flesh at the Festival of Quilts 😉
    PS I didn't get the "reference" in the title but I don't know that many British comedy sketch shows (apart from the Monty Python – Dead Parrot, perhaps?)

  6. I always love to see what you come up with-always inspiring. This would be a departure for all of us I believe….glad you went with 3 strings. I follow this rule in gardening too. 🙂 Susan

  7. I love it, haven't seen any of the build up on IG don't know how I managed that but all the better for the lovely surprise at seeing just the finished quilt. Hope you win.

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