Friday, July 2, 2010

Gilding the Lily, Part 1

Do you know that expression, "gild the lily"? It means "an attempt to improve something that is already fine the way it is."  Take note, it will be a recurring theme through the next few posts.

I love classic red and green quilts. You just can’t go wrong with that color combination… or so I thought. This particular block posed plenty of problems for me. I learned many lessons about color and design in the process of turning it into a quilt. Perhaps by sharing, you can learn from my experience.

I took up quilting while living in North Carolina and always intended to honor that by making a Carolina Lily quilt. The pattern is, indeed, based on an actual North Carolina wildflower.

The traditional Carolina Lily block consists of three 4 petaled blooms on long slender stems, but there are many variations. Once I came across this design in Primarily Patchwork by Marjorie Puckett and Gail Giberson, 1975, I looked no further. The full center flower and simple urn-like pot really appealed to me.

By sticking with classic red and green on a white background and limiting myself to solids, I thought fabric selection would be a breeze. Not so! It is actually possible to make mistakes using only two colors of solid fabric.

My first fabric purchase was this beautiful green. I bought the end of the bolt because it was such a good deal and I just knew I’d never find that particular shade again. By purchasing yards of fabric, however, I was seriously invested in using it and making it work, even when it didn’t.

Early red and green quilts were made with Turkey Red fabric, a colorfast, cool red cloth. In my quest for authenticity, my next fabric purchase was a rich, saturated red.

Here’s where things got interesting. What happened when those two fabrics were pieced side by side? It may be hard to see on your computer monitor, but the red and green actually "pulse" or “vibrate” where they meet. This optical illusion occurs when complimentary colors of roughly the same value (brightness or intensity) are placed next to each other. The effect was dizzying, but I thought I could still make it work.


  1. Diane, you are NOT alone! I did the same thing about 20 years ago... on a beautiful applique quilt that is now, sadly, still a UFO. Perhaps I'll take a picture of it and put it on my blog. I bet there are others out there just like us!

  2. Oh, I love red and green quilts the most. Very interesting to follow you on this process.