Kaleidoscopes and Quilts Class Plan

By Paula Nadelstern

The intent of this letter is to provide you with between-the-lines access to Kaleidoscopes and Quilts. I wrote the book exactly as I teach my workshop, and strongly suggest you do the same…which means begin with the how-to stuff in TECHNICAL SENSE and don't stop to sew until the class has thought its way through DESIGN SENSIBILITY. This takes from three to five hours. Explain to the class that there's good news and bad. The good news is, the critical information needed to get started builds logically in a developmental way. On the other hand, you have to understand the whole shebang before starting off on your own project.

I'm hoping that, after you've read the INTRODUCTION and HOW TO USE THIS BOOK sections, you'll want to create a classroom ambiance that focuses not on rules but on guidelines. Don't try to turn this concept into a beginner's class. It works with intermediate students who are ready to merge control and spontaneity to produce the unexpected.

I suggest you emphasize the following in your introduction:

The design begins by drafting a single full-size triangle on a long sheet of 1/8" graph paper. Throughout the design stage, the focus is on this single piece-of-the-pie. By marking every sewing line on this diagram it evolves into a blueprint that results in a design plan and maintains the accuracy of the 45° angle. Using an assembly line approach to sew identical units at one time, this piece-of-the-pie is duplicated eight times.

The symmetrical repetition from one piece-of-the-pie to another and another creates visual pathways. The portion of fabric that winds up along the seamlines connects to its mirror image. Seamlines will disappear, intricacy will reign, and we will get credit for the magic that happens when the whole becomes greater than the sum of its parts.

Don't decide in advance how big the completed triangle will be. Let serendipity and the available fabric guide the evolving design. Dividing the piece-of-the-pie into patches is not arbitrary; this task is dominated by fabric choices. At first, the potential for seemingly endless possibilities may be overwhelming. (Don't allow your students to become overwhelmed.)

Embracing the possibilities offered by choice can be liberating. I have come to believe in the notion that there isn't a correct or best selection -- that fabric choices made today will be different from the ones made tomorrow. After all, a breathtaking collision of color in a scope will maneuver into something different, something slightly new, during even the instant it takes me to hand it to you.

When I am piecing a kaleidoscope, I don't know what the final image will be. Making kaleidoscopic designs satisfies my urge to be both the one who makes the magic and the one who feels the surprise. If this makes you or your students uncomfortable, offer mirrors (discussion: page 127).

I appreciate your effort to promote this technique.

The kaleidoscope configuration and its symmetrical repetition allows students to explore a clarity of design possibilities using intricately printed fabric. The class covers a unique machine-piecing technique and both color and fabric guidelines for fabricating the complex and mobile reflection of a kaleidoscope.

Two all-day sessions followed by two 2-3 hour sessions allow students the hands-on experiences that result in integrated techniques. The opportunity to watch other students' kaleidoscopes evolve fosters an appreciation of how printed fabric can be manipulated to achieve a wide array of visual imagery.

Create an octagonal kaleidoscope from eight 45° triangles that meet in the middle of the block.

FYI: I like the 8-to-the-inch grid because this smaller division promotes a detailed, intricate image with very little fuss.

  1. Required text: Kaleidoscopes and Quilts by Paula Nadelstern
  2. Graph paper with eight-to-the-inch grid and bold inch line.
  3. Visi-GRID™ Quilter's Template Sheets (or sheets of see-through plastic template material with an eith-to-the-inch grid and a bold inch line).
  4. A thin 12" x 2" ruler made of clear plastic with accurate one eighth-inch grid line. (Available through C-Thru Rule, Bloomfield, CT).
  5. Well-sharpened pencils with ample and accessible erasers.
  6. An extra fine-point permanent marker. (My favorite pen: PILOT Extra Fine Point permanent marker, SCA-UF).
  7. A protractor with notations for both whole and half degrees. Bigger is better, if possible, collect protractors of different sizes. (Big protractors are available through C-Thru Rule, Bloomfield, CT).
  8. Compass
  9. Fabric scissors, template/paper scissors
  10. Set-up for rotary cutting, including a rotary cutter, ruler and mat.
  11. Sewing machine with well-defined quarter-inch seam allowance guide.
  12. General sewing supplies.


If it catches your eye, bring it! The palette of fabric does not have to match. Diversity is the key. Remember, more is more! Important: Intricately printed fabrics with at least 8 or 16 identical and symmetrical motifs, ie: border prints, wallpaper stripes. Also: a wide variety of 1/4 to 1/2 yards of big and small all-over prints, textures, gradations, stripes, marbled and stuff speckled with gold. Include painterly fabrics that evoke luminosity and rich, saturated, jewel tones.

Go step by step through the subheadings of TECHNICAL SENSE AND DESIGN SENSIBILITY, focusing the discussion on the following key points. The topics printed in bold are the technical linchpins that makes this type of design possible. Make sure the student gets started on a kaleidoscope which they should continue at their own comfortable pace at home. Most students want to go home after Day 1 and explore their personal fabric stash with their new found appreciation for fabric. At the end of Day 1, when the studnets may be feeling overwhelmed, remind them of how much they know NOW compared to the beginning of the day.

Technical Sense
The importance of drafting an accurate angle (pages 34-35)
An axis of symmetry (page 36)
Draft on graph paper (in pencil) to promote symmetry and a design that fits together (page 44)
How to use a protractor to draft an angle (pages 36-37)
Divide the wedge into sections that can be sewn together using straight seams (pages 38-39)
How to make a template with seam allowance (pages 39-41)
Trace fabric clues onto a template to ensure identical multiple placement (pages 42-43)
When to pay attention to fabric grain (pages 42, 70, and 110)
Adapting the template to the shape of the fabric motif (pages 43-45)
Step by step analysis of Diagrams 23 and 24 (pages 47-49)
Add small patches by strip-piecing (pages 50-52 and 71, Diagram 28)
Match adjacent templates (pages 54-57)
Pressing issues (page 52)
Integrating technique and fabric: analyze Examples A-H (pages 58-49)
Avoid a multitude of seams (pages 51 and 75)
The final piecing sequence, including how to fudge (pages 75-78)
Squaring off the corners (page 79)

Design Sensibility
Camouflage seams through fabric manipulation, encouraging an uninterupted flow of design or color from one patch to the next
In class analysis of Elements of a Kaleidoscopic Design (page 88)
Think of the original palette as tentative: be prepared to rearrange fabrics, colors, shapes and lines into new patterns constantly
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts: in-class analysis of pages 9 and 89
The visual effect of different angles: in-class analysis of KALEIDOSCOPIC XIV: MYST, (page 28)
Define and provide on-the-bolt examples of the four categories of fabric according to personality and function (page 97)
Balance glamour and usefulness by placing a forgiving all-over textile next to a fussy prima donna
Picking the first patch (page 110)
Connection Patch 1 and Patch 2 in examples A-M (pages 115-123)
An unconventional sense of fabric orderliness
A couple of mismatched points are not going to be noticed in an image filled to the brim with complexity.

After Show and Tell, have each student work individually. Move from student to student, providing individual attention. Call the whole class together to analyze interesting use of fabric, technical problems and piecing solutions.

Use class time to analyze the quilts and individual kaleidoscopes in THE GALLERY, and the interior images of the actual kaleidoscopes throughout the book.