Value is Key for 3-D Quilts

Value is Key for 3-D Quilts

Posted by Marci Baker on Mar 29th 2024

“It’s magic!” Sara Nephew and I have heard this comment so many times over the years, when showing our techniques for 3-D designs. All of the fabric pieces are just fabric pieces, individual shapes with values of light, medium, and dark. When they come together, all of a sudden, they appear to be physical blocks sitting on the quilt. The trick is value, getting the right “distance” between the lightness and darkness of the sides of the block. How have we mastered this? Practice and study have given way to our development of a variety of methods of learning how to distinguish values.

Sugar Cube by Sara Nephew

My Cloud by Sara Nephew

We worked separately from the 1980s until 2006, when Sara sold her business, Clearview Triangle, to my company, Alicia’s Attic, Inc. Because of our mutual interest in 60-degree shapes, which create many 3-D designs, we now collaborate and write books together. We bring our different experiences and talents to the table. In some ways, we are very different, and in many ways, we are similar. Sara has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Arts with minors in German and Philosophy, and I have a Bachelor of Science degree in Applied Mathematics. Opposite ends of the spectrum, for sure. She has grown in her quilting with an eye for what looks good whereas I have analyzed techniques to make quilting easier. We both enjoy fabric, designing quilts, sewing, and definitely a love for quilting.

Transitions by Marci Baker

On the Diagonal by Marci Baker

With all of this value-able experience, almost 80 years between the two of us, we have brought our knowledge together in this book, 3-D Magic! Simple Blocks, Striking Quilts. The quilts are not just beautiful; they are also practical. They are constructed from blocks with no set-ins or Y-seams, hence “Simple.” And the designs can be simple, moderate, challenging, sophisticated, or intriguing, hence “Striking.” This means that no matter your skill level, you can create stunning 3-D designs with ease.

Casino by Sara Nephew

Silk Road by Marci Baker

As mentioned above, value is the key to making 3-D designs work. But what exactly is value in the context of quilting? It's a term that refers to the lightness or darkness of a fabric. To determine the value of a fabric, you need to compare it to another fabric. This can be a bit tricky, as what may appear light in one situation may look medium in another. Sometimes, the fabric values are so close that the difference is not immediately apparent. To help you see value, Sara and I both recommend squinting when looking at the two pieces. This reduction in light helps the contrast show up. There is either a line between them, therefore a strong contrast with one being lighter than the other, or a blending of the two indicating they are of similar value.

Tumbling Blocks, 3 Cubes by Sara Nephew

In 3-D Magic! Simple Blocks, Striking Quilts, we share this concept of squinting in more detail and many other methods for discovering concepts of value. For example, Sara has a value chart exercise where several fabrics are compared to each other to be arranged in order of value. I have included a greyscale in the book to help determine the values of fabrics by comparing them to this “standard” of value. From this detailed discussion, practice of value, and simple block construction, you too can sew your fabric pieces into 3-D, like magic!


Shop 3-D Magic! Simple Blocks, Striking Quilts at C&T Publishing. 

Sara Nephew is an internationally known quilt designer, author, and creator of the Clearview Triangle. She resides in Seattle, WA.

Marci Baker is internationally recognized for her quilting expertise, having been featured in magazines and television. She resides in Fort Collins, Colorado.