Mary 5-19-09:  I love both designs….just hope they are what we are after….. [Click on small images to see larger view]

Mary C 1

 Mary C 1a Mary C 1b

Mary C 2

 Mary C 2aMary C 2b

RaNae:  The underlying structure of both these mandalas is good. If I had to choose one, I’d go for the second one — I like the spacing of large and small areas of this design. However, take a close look at your black-and-white layouts of both designs: the clockwise/counterclockwise placement of the wedges in these designs doesn’t match what you’ve done in the colored versions.  You could play with the the symmetry of the wedges in these designs, but whatever you do probably should match across both halves of the design. 

As for coloring, you have so many colors in each flow form that we’re not seeing them — your lovely design is obstructed in what looks like that old children’s game Pick-up Sticks because you’re thinking about coloring in terms of individual triangles, not in terms of flow forms.  Also, you’re using the same colors and coloring patterns in every spoke of every spiral and every flow form.  The center of the first sketch is good, but then you run into this “pick-up sticks” problem in the outer ring of sketch 1 and all the way through the colored version of sketch 2.  The black-and-white version of the second design is the most interesting.  Here you have used dark and light to emphasize a kind of spoke structure that really works.  I would suggest developing this design, using strong differences in color and value to bring out the structure as it shows in this B&W sketch.

Remember the coloration needs to focus on the flow forms. Try one sketch with just one color in each flow form so you get a feel for how they move from spiral to spiral. It might be helpful for you to look at Dianna Kihs’ recent sketches and the comments about them.

You’re on the right track, you need perhaps just a bit less enthusiasm when you get to the crayon box! 🙂

Mary:  Thanks for the note. I really was interested in the structure. I was away with limited resources for coloring! Or maybe I had too many! The only place I like the coloring is in the center of #1. I thought that the outer portion was way too busy.  I didn’t want to go any further until I knew that I was on the right track. Thanks.

Mary 5-24-09:  I just loved your pick up stick analogy. I’m sending three colorings of each design. I think my garden has sent subliminal messages to my crayons! I hope this is more what I’m looking for. I like both designs and if you think I should play further, I’m happy to do that. I just don’t want to keep going if I’m in the wrong direction.

(The first mandala, 3 different colorings)

Mary C 1d Mary C 1e Mary C 1f

(The second mandala, 3 different colorings)

Mary C 2d Mary C 2e Mary C 2f

RaNae:  Ooh, Mary, I envy you your garden.  I can definitely see it sending messages to you!  And I see that you found that 64-color crayon box, as it were.  Isn’t it amazing how different the same design can look by just changing colors?  You’re definitely on the right track. 

One suggestion I could make about the first coloring of the second mandala is that if you alternated lighter and darker shades of the same color in the outer border (the orange as you have it there), it would look like a ribbon twisting over and under.  Deb Sorem originally had a border like this on her mandala, and I love it, but she ended up changing it.  If you felt inclined to color yours this way I would be happy to see it here.  You’re really close to it already — all you would need to do is to take the darker orange that you have in your spiral centers and extend it into the adjacent spoke or flow form.

Mary C 2a

One thing I found particularly intriguing in the second design here is the way the inner spirals connect to the “branches” that then connect to the outer ring.  And there is something about the white space here, how this negative space became a sort of reverse design.  I could almost see this design made up just in black and white — or navy blue and white.  It somehow reminds me of a Deflt plate.  It might be really interesting among so many quilts with so many colors to have one or two with a really limited color palette — like black and white, or blue and white.   Can you see what I’m talking about?  Does that idea appeal to you at all?

Which coloration of each mandala do you like best?  Is there any here that absolutely makes your heart sing?  If there is, let me know which one.  If you think you haven’t quite found “the one” yet, then try a few more colorations.  I really like what you’ve got going.

Mary 5-25-09:  I just couldn’t put the pencils and crayons away last night, so here are two more. I like what is happening in 1h with the blue working its way around the design. In 1g, the black adds some interest. I showed the colorings to my husband. He thought that each one was a separate design, not two designs with different coloring!

Mary C 1g Mary C 1h

RaNae:  Well, Mary, you are officially a Spiromaniac now!  Have you started losing sleep yet?  Or dreaming in spirals?  🙂

Interestingly, I find that for some reason, in your designs I am attracted to the negative space, the white areas.  So, for example, the coloring of this design that most attracts me is the first one in the previous group — the green and pink.  I’m not sure why it’s your designs that are striking me this way, but in any event, I just wanted to let you know that it’s happening, and it might be something that you feel inclined to explore.

Mary 5-26-09:  Here are two colorings of design #2 above:

Mary NY 2g  Mary NY 2h elephant

RaNae:  Mary, I love the coloring on the right, and it’s really remarkable, but there are ARE elephants in the coloring on the left… 

Mary: Design #1 drafted with spirals. 

Mary C 1 wedges complete 5-26

RaNae: Please go down and read Mary’s comment below dated 5-26-09.  She has some great insights about negative space, color and drafting.

Mary 6-1-09:  Two blue and white versions of the black-and-white sketch above.

Mary C blue-white 4 small  Mary C blue-white 5 small

RaNae: So, Mary, with so many wonderful choices, which are you going with?

Mary, 6-3-09:  I came up with these instructions for drawing a wedge in PhotoShop 8, if anyone is interested.

-New document – 8 ½ ” X 11” [letter]
-On the top tool bar, choose ‘Shape layers’ [it is the first in the series of ‘buttons’ to push – ‘shape layers’, ‘paths’ and ‘fill pixels’ – you want ‘shape layers’]
-Also, on the top tool bar, choose the weight of your line [I chose 1 px]
-Also, make sure that black is set for the foreground color
-Holding shift key down, using the line tool, draw a straight vertical line at 5” [extending from about ½” to 10 ½”]
-Right click
-Choose ‘Free Transform Path’ You will get a set of three squares on the line, at the top, mid point and bottom
-On the top bar, where you see the angle indicator, type in the angle you want [I wanted 36 degrees] [R: this will give you a 10-wedge circle]
-Hit the check mark [your angle should now be fixed in place]
-Holding shift key down, using the line tool, draw a straight vertical line from the bottom point of your angle to the top of the page.
-Voila! – a perfect angle
-Save as a Photoshop PDF

RaNae: Thanks, Mary!

Mary 6-2-09:  I drew a 36 degree wedge in Photoshop [just the wedge, no inside lines] and scanned my sketch of the wedge with the inside lines and had both printed at Staples in actual size [30″ radius]. I then used the scan under the blank wedge to get my lines for the wedge. [I didn’t want to use my sketch as the pattern because the enlarging made the lines very thick and the wedge made in Photoshop was much more accurate than the one I sketched.]

Mary C wedgeHere is the result. [Click image for larger view] I did not sketch in the lines where the background will be. Hope this is an acceptable way of doing it. It was very simple, only cost a few bucks and I think it will be very accurate for my pattern. I welcome any suggestions that might help in the construction.

Mary 6-13-09:  [R: Here’s her blue mandala, version 1]

 Mary C blue-white4-_6-13-09 

Mary 6-14-09: Ok, I’m obsessed! But now I’m finished.

Mary C blue-white_final_6-14-09I worked on one cranky section of yesterday’s photo and now I’m happy. I’M MOVING ON. I think I still have a life without spirals….

RaNae:  Mary, I agree that this is an improvement — amazing how a subtle change can make such a difference, isn’t it? The effect of just the blue and white is really striking. I like what you have going.

As I look at both of these photos, the one thing that comes to mind is that you might want to consider using a white fabric with a tiny bit of pattern — maybe something like a subtle, lacy scrollwork in a fine light blue or grey line — in just a few places, to add some interest to the white sections. Perhaps just right next to the blues, or right in the center of the white. This fabric would still read as white, would not separate from the other white, just add a bit of rhythm. You would still preserve the strong contrast that you have going between the white and the blue, but there would be a little bit of texture or movement to hold the eye’s interest over the wide expanse of white. Something to think about….

I’m excited to see your progress, and your design is lovely!

Mary C color_pallet_6-14-09About your color palette:  Amazing what changing the order of the colors [in the mandala] makes. In the mock-up I see lots of contrast, in this gradation-ordered arrangement of fabrics, I see almost none.

Of the blues, two fabrics stand out from the pack: the 5th from the left has a more pronounced pattern than the ones surrounding it, the 9th from the left is a geometric (directional) while all the others are non-directional. Neither is a reason to get rid of these fabrics, but just watch their placement a little more carefully than the others — they are not wallflowers!

In the whites, there is a similar issue with the 4th fabric from the right — this has a prounced, directional pattern while all the rest are non-directional textures. By now you have probably seen my comment in the previous email about adding in a white with a bit of pattern — perhaps you might want to replace this “stripe-y” fabric with the kind of print I described there. Try it an see what you think. If you do keep this fabric in, again, like with the blues, just be aware of how you place it.

I think it’s going to be a lovely mandala!

Mary 6-24-09: Thank you so much for your lesson on Saturday. It was very helpful.  [R: Mary came into the city with her daughter and niece — hope I got that right — and we spent the day doing some drafting work on her mandala, going to Max Brenner’s chocolate restaurant and visiting the Indian sari shops in Jackson Heights.]

The tip that you gave me about lining up the pencil point with the ends of the lines was great. I try to use it on EVERY line. Takes practice. Also, I think the tip was in the book about using different colored pencils for each round. I wasn’t having any trouble with the triangle shapes, but was getting a little lost on the four sided shapes and went to the colored pencils until I could do it correctly.

Mary C 6-24-09 wedgeI now feel confident that my wedge is drawn correctly and will be able to sew it. I’ve attached for your review… And I’m happy that I made the size smaller. I can now print the individual spirals from my computer. I couldn’t get out to have the wedge enlarged, but had a blank wedge printed in actual size and so I drafted it right on that using my small copy as a guide. I’m going to have it scanned so that I can use it from my computer…. Let me know what you think.

RaNae:  Mary it looks like you’ve done a really good job of drafting this.  My only thought is that you have used many small increments, and you have a LOT of rings of triangles to sew in each spiral. This is NOT a mistake. I’m only thinking of your endurance factor in sewing these. If you think you might find this many pieces daunting, you can draft your spirals with fewer rings (6-8 rings might be a comfortable number) by using larger increments.  However, if you’re comfortable with the size and number of your pieces, and you don’t want to draft this again, go ahead with what you’ve got. It looks good, and you’re on your way to a beautiful mandala!

Mary:  I did realize that I have a lot of wedges [R: I think you meant “triangles” or “rings” here], but I think that I will be happy with the curves this way. I have no problem with the sewing. I sew very quickly and accurately, so not a problem. I’ll do one wedge and take stock!

RaNae: Okay!  You definitely have enough colors in your fabric selection to handle a lot of steps of color gradation.  Keep me updated as you sew.

Mary 7-4-09:  Here’s my finished mandala (actually one wedge finished and Photoshop-ed into a circle):

Mary C final - small file

RaNae:  Mary, this looks terrific — I think using a single color really lets the design shine!

March 2010:  Flow Blue won Viewer’s Choice at the 2010 Northern Star Quilt Guild show.

7-13-10:  Mary’s quilt was juried into the International Quilt Festival in Houston.  It’s an honor just to get in!  Congratulations Mary!


24 Responses to “Designing Flow Blue

  1. Mary C in NY Says:

    RaNae, I have finally set aside the needed time to devote to getting my brain around your concept. We were away and I had no distractions, expect the Atlantic Ocean outside my window!

    I learned many things….and I hope I have learned them correctly.

    I don’t sketch, I’m more of a pencil and ruler type girl. I was trying to sketch using the shorthand and it was just not working. So I remembered one of the posts that I read and started inserting the spirals in each of my wedges and had much more success. My first few attempts, I forgot that I need straight lines, not curves….great designs, but not spirals.

    I did a few variations on color placement and was amazed at the difference in each one.

    I’m sending you the sketches and coloring for two different designs. I don’t want to play any more until I know that I’m on the right track. Got my fingers crossed.


  2. Mary C in NY Says:


    I just drafted one wedge in ‘real’ size on tracing paper. Since it was so large, I wanted to stabilize it, so decided to iron it to freezer paper. And because I didn’t want to smear the pencil lines, I ironed it right side down.

    It did not stick to the freezer paper, but what it did was to transfer the lines to the freezer paper and now I have my mirror image!


  3. Mary C in NY Says:


    The negative space has been on my mind. My ‘working’ title was ‘hole in the barn door’– I like the floating – not the right word – aspect of it. I guess it gives dimension to the design. The pink/green is my favorite, but the ribbon effect on the very last version of design 1 at the bottom is also attracting my attention

    On the second design, it’s interesting that you see it in two colors because when I first did it and copied in black and white, what I saw was the profile of an elephant trunk, eye and tusk abstractly skirting around the outside. I thought that in greys, blacks, off whites, it would be great. I’m going to recolor that in shades of grey and also look at the one where you saw the ribbon.

    I’m glad I only have two designs – I think it’s not going to be a one quilt summer!

    My thoughts on getting a wedge to enlarge accurately – I work for an architect and we have our plans copied all the time and it’s very inexpensive (about $3 for a 24″ x 36″ copy) [he can copy 36″ wide by any length] I was going to draft the wedge in photoshop (when I can figure out how to do that) and email it to the printer. I’m sure I can fit a bunch of wedges on the copy. Is this cheating? It’s sure easier than pasting all the sheets together! My next step, I’m not sure if it’s possible, I have to ask him. I thought that once I had the spiral lines in the wedge, I’d take it back to him to copy – or do I need to scan it back to my computer???? Haven’t gotten that far in the process. I don’t know if there would be any changes in the copying at that step. I will ask him and let you know my progress. If you have any suggestions, please.

    I’ve been perfecting my Photoshop skills and I’ll send you my layout of design 1. I bought a Wacom tablet and love it.


  4. Mary Ann in Wisconsin Says:

    “Is this cheating?” Gosh, Mary, wouldn’t it be whatever works well for you and is available? We’ve had the capability in our not-so large city for a very long time of having engineering drawings copied. Many, MANY cities and towns must have this and most peeps just aren’t aware of this. The only reason I am is because my SIL used to be an engineering department secretary. I’ve definitely had this option floating around in the back of my mind.

    As far as sending a copy to the printer or perhaps taking a disc into the printer…I think that capacity veries greatly from printer to printer. It’s just how techo savy they are. I have one or more printers in my city that could do that but DH just began working for a printer out of town who is very techno UNsavy.

    • Mary C in NY Says:

      Mary Ann,

      I was successful in drafting the wedge in Photoshop and had it copied! I actually went to Staples over the weekend – couldn’t wait to use the other guy on Monday. I’m very confident that I have a good and accurate wedge.


  5. Mary C in NY Says:


    You asked if I’m dreaming about spirals. No but every waking moment seems to be comsumed! Luckily, after 4 days off, I have to work tomorrow.

    I will be sending you my ‘elephant’. It’s like those Magic Books – or that vase and profile. You look at it one way and you see the elephant face on and then look again and it’s the profile. cool. Or I’m way too invested in this stuff!

    I tried the ribbon effect that you suggested and will attach also.


  6. Mary C in NY Says:

    Hope you are enjoying your time off. I’ve been working on the two color layout of my design 2. And its placement in the whole quilt. I’ve drafted my wedge in full size and will be looking at my fabric choices this week.

    While I love the two color design, I just can’t resist my design 1, so I’ll be doing that one too.


    • RaNae Says:

      Mary, you caught me running out the door — these are beautiful! If you do decide to go with this all-blue coloring, my only suggestion would be to use a bit more contrast in your blue gradations — in other words, include a bit more dark blue in some of them so you have a greater sense of dimension.

      Actually, using a wide range of contrast in your gradations would probably be a good thing to keep in mind for any coloring you’re working on.

      Looking forward to seeing what you’re up to when I get back! Have a great week!

  7. Mary C in NY Says:


    I drew a 36 degree wedge in Photoshop [just the wedge, no inside lines] and scanned my sketch of the wedge with the inside lines and had both printed at Staples in actual size [30″ radius].

    I then used the scan under the blank wedge to get my lines for the wedge. [I didn’t want to use my sketch as the pattern because the enlarging made the lines very thick and the wedge made in Photoshop was much more accurate than the one I sketched.]

    I have sent you the result. I did not sketch in the lines where the background will be. Hope this is an acceptable way of doing it. It was very simple, only cost a few bucks and I think it will be very accurate for my pattern.

    I welcome any suggestions that might help in the construction. Hope you had a good rest.

    Mary NY

  8. Holly W Says:

    Hi Mary, I love your designs and remember seeing them before. Which one are you making?

  9. Susan A Says:

    I really like your designs–they’re all pretty. Isn’t it amazing that changing the coloring changes the whole thing? If I had time, I’d try that on mine but I must get this one sewn first!
    As for sewing all the inner first spirals of each wedge, I did it because it was more efficient for me to sew all the same at once. I’m using 63 different fabrics, and to sew one wedge at once would create an absolute fabric mess in the room!
    Susan A

  10. Mary C in NY Says:


    I am choosing the fabrics to use for the blue/white design. I know that you have said that it isn’t necessary to piece the ‘background’ areas that are all the same color, but I can’t figure out how I’m sewing the wedges with those being one piece? Other than applique.
    In fact, one night I dreamt all night how to solve this dilemma….and didn’t come up with an answer!

    • RaNae Says:

      Mary, if the fill-in area is a spoke, it has to be pieced. You can only use a solid fabric in a “background” portion of the design that is not a spiral, or is the center of a spiral. Hope that answers your question! R 🙂

      • Mary C in NY Says:


        In your note about ‘including negative space …’ # 5 – I think this is where I got lost. I was thinking that my negative space was a complete shape within a wedge, but it’s really a part of a section of my wedge that makes up the spiral. Is that correct? [I’m talking about the two color design].

        Mary C in NY

        Mary, that’s correct. Thanks for the comment — I’ll be sure to make that clear when I talk about this in the book! R. 🙂

  11. Mary C in NY Says:


    I’ve been choosing fabrics. My original blue/white design has expanded to be more turquoise/blue/white. I’ve also redrafted two of the wedges. They were too ‘straight-on’. I wanted more movement to them. I’ll send you my latest coloring. I traced the design on freezer paper and put the fabric on each spoke of freezer paper and put up on the design wall – a little primitive but ok to get an idea. Please comment on my color placement. Do I have enough variation in my fabrics? Do I have a enough flow – any changes you would make? Thanks.

    Mary C in NY

  12. Mary C in NY Says:


    Ok, I’m obsessed! But now I’m finished. I worked on one cranky section of yesterday’s photo and now I’m happy. I’M MOVING ON. I think I still have a life without spirals….

    Please just comment on my color placement and overall impression if this will make a good quilt. Thanks.

    Mary C in NY

  13. Mary C in NY Says:


    Just noticed the date of my first posting. Six weeks ago. I’ve come a long way!

    I’ve finished sewing my first wedge and I love it.

    I’ve used Pattern Ease as my foundation. I was able to print the spirals from my computer onto the Pattern Ease [ironed onto freezer paper]. It’s a non woven polyester material from HTCW. It’s 45″ wide and about $3 a yard. It kept it’s shape throughout [and I iron with steam and a clapper after each seam].

    I will send you a photo of the competed wedge as well as the Photoshop magic to make it into a full circle.

    A good tip. I was making myself a little nuts following the chart for the piece # and the fabric for that spot and then I remembered a good tip that I learned from Mary Sorensen, a fabulous applique teacher. I’m sending you a picture of the example.

    I made a chart for each of the sections of the spiral – beginning with the outer triangles – I entered the piece number (letter and number), the number that I’d assigned to the appropriate fabric, the measurement of the actual triangle and in the last column, the size of the rectangle that needed to be cut for that triangle. I continued with each triangle down to piece #1.

    I cut each of the necessary rectangles according to the chart IN THE REVERSE ORDER THAT THEY WILL BE SEWN. As I cut each rectangle, I placed it on a pin that already had a note attached indicating that it was i.e., spiral #1, A. When all of the “A” pieces are cut, put the pin in a large pincushion. I continued this process with each section of the spiral. When finished, all of the pieces are in the correct sewing order. When I was ready to sew, I removed the bottom piece from each of the pins – and had round 1 ready to sew. No more checking the chart. I think it’s more difficult to explain than to actually do. All you have to remember is to do it in the reverse order of sewing so that when you remove the pin from the pincushion, the next piece that you take off is your next piece to sew.

    Also, I left a 1/2″ seam allowance at the edges of each spiral to make the joining seam easier to sew. Worked well – and my wedge went together like a breeze.

    Please give me your opinion. I haven’t decided on borders, but I do think that I’ll use the background as in the photo.


  14. Mary C in NY Says:


    I tried to reply to your message with an attachment and that came back. Then I tried without an attachment and that also came back.


  15. Mary C in NY Says:


    I’m sending you a photo of a “I’m glad I made that mistake on the first spiral”. Because I have so much background, I have to be careful when trimming the triangles that I don’t skip a line. In my photo, I’ve circled the area of white where I was supposed to have two triangles of the white and I only sewed one and it covered both spaces. However, what then happened, which I didn’t see until I was finished the spiral was in the other circled section. It through off the next round. I would be happy to provide this wedge to you if you want a ‘don’t do this’ example.

    I have all my fabrics cut – it was a good tip from you to cut – because I did run out of two fabrics, but the wonderful Andrea at City Quilter was able to find the fabrics I needed and mailed them to me.

    Using the knee lift and thread cutter is invaluable.


  16. purplepassion Says:

    Mary, I love it and am totally impressed!
    The only way to “improve” on it would be to have it
    all in Purples . . . heheheheh
    Purple Passsion aka Jamie

  17. Mary C in NY Says:


    Your work is beautiful. I’m proud to be working with you. I have enjoyed every aspect of the process and am SO close to finished – have only one more section to complete.


  18. Holly W Says:

    Very beautiful!!!!!

  19. scowlkat Says:

    Congrats on getting into Houston! Your quilt is so beautiful!

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