Check out The Quilter’s Negative Space Handbook!

This year, one of my goals is to learn more about modern design. It may seem ironic since I am after all a fabric designer, pattern designer and I design a lot of machine quilting motifs, too. However, I feel that my design skills could always improve, so I was thrilled when I got a chance to ready Sylvia Schaefer’s fabulous new book, The Quilter’s Negative Space Handbook.


I don’t have much need for pattern books, but I love books that can teach me more about design principles, with plenty of interesting things to say. Sylvia’s book does just that! She walks you through several exercises on how to apply negative space (the space between or behind the focal point of the design) to your quilts.

My Starting Example – Out of the Box

Out of the Box by Christa Watson for American Patchwork and Quilting using Fandangle fabricOut of the Box by Christa Watson

I had actually been working on ways to make my quilts more interesting and so reading this book has really broadened my understanding. For example, take a look at my quilt “Out of the Box” above, which features my Fandangle fabric line. I’ve been tweaking the design of this quilt and have considered remaking it with a much more modern, minimalist approach in a limited color palette.

Tire Tread design

My new and improved design after adding negative space to the quilt.

My new arrangement looks like “tire tread” which is very appealing to me. It’s a little more funky and “out there”, but I’m actually very excited about it! As a pattern designer, the updated design may not be as commercially viable, but the more I design things for public consumption, the more I want to balance that out with “just for fun” quilts that explore design concepts more fully.

Syvlia’s book has given me the tools to do just that! She walks you through a series of exercises to apply some basic design concepts to your quilts. This has opened up a whole new world to me, because up until this point my design process was really more like a stab in the dark and every now and then I’d hit what I call a design jackpot!

Sylvia explores all sorts of design techniques in her book, and I can already tell I’ll use it again and again for reference when designing future work. One concept I haven’t fully explored but which she covers beautifully is the idea of varying the scale of your blocks in the same quilt. Here’s an example excerpt from the book in which she explains this concept:

Example from Quilter's Negative Space Handbook

Although I’m mainly interested in the design concepts Sylvia explores in The Quilter’s Negative Space Handbook, she also includes 8 fully developed patterns so that you can make your own version of the quilts in the book. I think this is a great way to explore modern quilting for those who want to make a knockout quilt but don’t yet have the confidence to come up with their own unique design.

Icy Feathered Star by Sylvia Schaefer

Sylvia’s Icy Feathered Star – She even did her own quilting on it, which I love!!

One of my favorite quilts from her book is the Icy Feathered Star. Not only does she give you the full quilt pattern and ideas to explore how to offset your design, there’s plenty of eye-candy with beautiful machine quilting throughout the book. Sylvia’s quilts are great examples of how she incorporates modern machine quilting as well as modern piecing. (Ya gotta love those traditional feathers used in a modern way!)

Row-of-Diamonds by Sylvia Schaefer

Another fabulous quilt pattern from the book – Row of Diamonds

The biggest thing I learned from Sylvia’s book is that effective design in modern quilts happens when thought is put into fabric and color placement, using established principles of design rather than being completely random. I have to admit that most of my successful “modern” quilts have happened through pure trial and error. But now that I understand why and how negative space design principles work, I’m very inspired to apply these concepts to my future work.

This book is incredibly thorough and even includes a section at the end on thinking about fabrics, quilting designs, plus tutorials on foundation paper piecing methods, curved piecing, improv piecing and more.

Negative Space Handbook Back Cover

Click here to get your copy of the Quilter’s Negative Space Handbook – I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did!


7 thoughts on “Check out The Quilter’s Negative Space Handbook!

  1. Rose Stepnick says:

    I think that’s why I’ve always like Amish quilts. The black and dark backgrounds lend a different focus on the colors as well as the space.

  2. Lynette Caulkins says:

    This does look like a book that I would gain a lot of inspiration and educational value from. I’d love to make the icy feathered star quilt and the one on the back of the book. I’m sure there are others in the book that would call to me!

  3. Janet Lange says:

    Christa,I really enjoyed this post. I felt that I needed to tell you that I would not buy your original quilt design, but I certainly would buy the redesign, with the “tire tracks.” I hope you will continue down this path. I love modern quilts but don’t really want to design my own, so I am always looking for great new patterns.

  4. nana5smith says:

    Thank you for the information about the book above. It sounds very good & I’ve definitely been trying to give my quilts a more modern twist, so I’ll keep a look out for the book here in Oz. Have a lovely weekend & take care.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s