Kaleidoscope Quilt Patterns

kaleidoscope quilt1

Kaleidoscope quilts have become popular in the latter part of the nineties and their popularity continues, since they are visually strong, bold and striking and thanks to easy “stack and whack” cutting techniques, fast and easier to make than ever. The key to a successful kaleidoscopic effect in a quilt is the fabric selected to create the optical illusion. The technique involves piecing patches in a radial manner from a central point, with their designs centered in a symmetrical way that resembles looking through a kaleidoscope.

Selecting Fabric For Kaleidoscope Quilts

The main fabric of a kaleidoscope quilt needs to be a large to medium print, preferably with a bold pattern. Fabrics that don’t necessarily work well in other quilts, because they appear too busy are the perfect choice for this type of kaleidoscope fabricquilt. High color contrast, bold patterns and large motifs are the key points to remember when selecting your fabric. Fabrics with little contrast in their prints will work, but the kaleidoscopic effect is reduced. Small prints will only work if the block you select is small as well. Although you need to select fabrics with large prints, make sure there is enough background under the prints so that the design doesn’t become confusing. The background of the main fabric needs to give the eye a place to rest and allows the optical illusion to pop out. Taking a hinged small mirror with you when fabric shopping will help you visualize the effects on the fabric you select before you buy it.
You will need to determine the repeat of the pattern on the fabric, that is, how many inches apart your cuts will have to be made in order to get identical pieces. The ideal repeat for a kaleidoscope quilts is at least 8 inches, but more of a repeat will give you more options. If you can find fabrics with a 24-inch repeat and good color contrast, strong lines and enough background showing, that fabric might just be the ideal one. Keep novelty prints in mind, they are kaleidoscpe mirroroften a great choice for this type of quilt. Knowing the repeat will help you figure out how much fabric you will need to purchase to make your quilt. You will have to cut your fabric in strips from selvedge to selvedge and the length of the strips will be the exact length of the repeat of the design on your fabric.
You will also need a background fabric that doesn’t detract from the strong visual effect of the kaleidoscope. They should compliment rather than detract. It is a good idea to piece a few blocks and take them to the quilt shop with you to place on the background fabric before making a purchase. Most often, tone on tone prints, marbled monochrome prints or prints with very soft colors and very subtle prints work best.


Once you have your fabric selected, make sure you have a large rotary cutter with a fresh blade, as you will be kaleidoscpe rulercutting up to eight layers of fabric at once. A small cutting mat will also be helpful, as it is easier to turn the mat around to make the cuts than moving the fabric itself. There are specific wedge shaped rulers for cutting kaleidoscope block pieces, which simplify the process. These are triangular rulers for cutting the central pieces of the block.
Large pins, such as the flower head types will help pin through all the layers. Aside from those, you will need the normal supplies for machine piecing.

Cutting The Fabric

You will have to cut strips as long as the repeat of your fabric is, that is, if the repeat on your focus fabric is 12 inches, your strips will have to be cut selvedge to selvedge and they will be 12 inches long. How many will depend on how many pieces the central part of your kaleidoscope block contains. If you are using a pinwheel design with eight kaleidoscope blockblades, you will need to cut eight strips. The strips must be lined up very carefully, using your long pins to make sure the designs on the fabric strips are perfectly lined up (remember that the design is supposed to look as if looking through a kaleidoscope and it must be exactly symmetrical). Use a point on one of the motifs and push the pin exactly in the same place through each of the strips. Line them up carefully and use your wedge ruler to cut through all eight layers. You will have eight pieces cut which will become the center of your block. Move the ruler to another repeat in the fabric strips, so that each of the blocks has a different look with the same fabric. Continue cutting until you have enough pieces to make the blocks for your quilt.

Sewing The Blocks

You will sew pieces in pairs carefully aligning them so again there will be perfect symmetry in the design. Two pairs will be sewn to make half of the block and in this case, against the normal rules of piecing blocks, it is best to press the seams open. Repeat to create the two halves of the block and then sew the two halves to make the center of your block. Press all seams and add the background pieces necessary to make your block square. The piecing sequence might change depending on the type of block you choose to make, but the cutting of the central pieces is always the same when making kaleidoscope quilt blocks. There are lots of books available for purchase and tutorials and free patterns to try this pattern on the web.

For more information on making a quilting block click here!


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