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Magic Panels

By Barb Bergquist

Many unique panels are available today and we really would like to buy some, we want to do more than sew borders around them to make a quilt top.  So I have some suggestions for you to consider the next time you find a panel you like.

For those who are new to quilting, a panel is fabric printed to appear as a picture or a scene.  Sizes and orientation of panels vary, but my examples today are for a panel that is longer than it is wide.  My examples are not from an actual panel on the market right now, but is from a photo that I took and edited to look like a panel.  Here’s what I’m starting with…

Rocking Chairs for a Fabric Panel

So you have a panel that you like.  Press it and trim it.  You may simply just want to trim it to ensure you have straight, even edges, or you may want to cut off any printed borders.  Next you must decide what design you want for your quilt top.  You have a number of options, and all of these involve cutting the panel apart and putting it back together with other fabric between the pieces of the panel. 

You can cut it into vertical, horizontal or diagonal strips, or you can cut it into boxes or diamonds.  Not sure what you want to do?  Then you may want to take a picture of your panel and print it on paper and cut the paper to decide on a design.  If you don’t need the full visual effect, you can draw it out on graph paper.

With your design selected, you now need to do the math.  Don’t forget when you are computing how many cuts and how far apart, ½” – ¼” on each side – will disappear into the seams.  For example, you have a trimmed panel that is about 23” wide that you will be cut into 7 strips.  You will cut the strips about 3 ¼” wide, but once pieced, they will be only 2 ¾” wide.  Yes, you will lose a little of your panel in the seam, but you will find that it is hardly noticeable.

So let’s start slicing.  First, I’ll show you my panel that is to be cut into vertical strips.  I’ve decided on my design – well, actually, three potential layouts – and I’ve done my math.  The dotted lines show where I am planning to make my cuts.

Possible Vertical Cuts in a Fabric Panel

Taking a deep breath, I start cutting and when I’m finished, I have my strips.  The next step is to cut the other fabric that I’m using in the quilt top.  For my example, I’ve chosen a solid that coordinates with the panel, but keeps the focus on the panel.  What you choose is a matter of personal preference.  You may want a solid or a blender fabric, or you might choose a print that draws the focus to colors in the panel.  Pick what makes the statement you want to make with your quilt.

In my examples below, I have three possible layouts to choose from.  Each of them works well and it is just a matter of choice.  To keep things simple, I may want to use the first example, keeping the strips parallel with the ends in a straight line.  The second example is what I would call a stepped layout; each strip is positioned a consistent distance above or below the previous strip.  This example shows upward movement, but it could easily be reversed with the first strip being the highest and the last the lowest.

The last example is more of a random placement where the strips are staggered so that they are positioned differently than the one(s) next to it.  You have to admit that this adds an interesting perspective to the panel!

Fabric Panel Strips Laid Out StraightStrips in a Straight Line Layout

Fabric Panel Strips Laid Out as Stair StepsStrips in a Stair-stepped Layout

Fabric Panel Strips Laid Out RandomlyStrips in a Random Layout

At this point, you have cut your panel into strips, and you have cut your other fabric(s).  As with any quilt project, it is always good to lay out your cut pieces so that it closely looks like the finished product.  Next, you sew it together.  When you have finished and pressed it, stand back and admire your work.  Is the finished size good?  Adding a border or two will make it a little bigger, or might just add extra color or interest.  By sitting back and looking at it, you let your creativity take over and your imagination make your quilt unique.

If you are looking for something a little more (but not much more) challenging than strips, go for a window style that you get by cutting your panel into rectangles.  Add narrow sashing between the rectangles to create the illusion of window panes.  For more of a finished look, add an outer border.  Just as before, do the math and calculate your cuts.  The dotted lines show the cuts for my example.

Possible Window Pane Cuts for Fabric Panel

As before, you’ll cut apart your panel, cut your other fabrics, lay everything out and then sew it all together.  When it is finished, you’ll almost feel as if you are looking out a window.

Possible Fabric Panel Window Pane Quilt

If you are really adventurous, consider cutting your “panes” diagonally giving you diamond-shaped panes.  This may take a little more planning but would be great for a little more of an “English cottage” effect.

So I guess what I’m saying is, don’t be afraid to experiment.  Be creative, let your imagination go, and be willing to try something new.  You’ll be amazed with what you can come up with on your own!

Happy quilting!


Barb Bergquist along with husband, Ron, own A Block Away Quilt Shop.  A dedicated quilter with more than 25 years of experience, she is now actively sharing her love of quilting through the work in her shop.

Contact Us:

Phone: (956) 638-1961
Location: A Block Away Quilt Shop
                 2706 N. 10th Street
                 McAllen, TX 78501
Hours: Mon-Sat: 9AM-9PM, Sun: 10AM-6PM
Email: barb@ablockaway.com


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