A spot of planning with Gypsy Wife

Well, what do they say? All work and no play… That has been the situation here for the past couple of months, as at my work we are busy with a very special project, that has involved seven-day-a-week commitment since the beginning of February. So either at work, or too tired to sew! Result: very quiet in the Ice Bear Quilts Studio. 

Although there hasn’t been any sewing time, I have been planning the next stage of Gypsy Wife (cutting the strips and sewing together the sections). Those of you who are on, or have completed (yay!) the journey that is Gypsy Wife, will know that the instructions for putting the quilt together are, um, minimal…and that the detailed diagrams of the sections (with all the strips that have to line up between sections) are not to scale.


The overall scheme for the Gypsy Wife sections.

So I have been puzzling about how best to tackle this, given that I don’t have enough room to either hang the whole thing on the design wall or lay it on the floor and leave it. I also wanted to ensure that I had a good distribution of the blocks over the different sections, in terms of colour. I decided it would be easy to lose track of that, especially with the multiple same-sized filler blocks, and I didn’t want to get to the end and discover that, for example, one section only had blocks in shades of blue! I’m all for a nice scrappy effect, but controlled scrappy.

So I made photocopies of the detailed section pages, and set to with my Derwent coloured pencils: first colouring in the major blocks, and then the filler blocks. This was really quite relaxing and good fun, especially choosing which colour to use to represent a patterned fabric.

colour sheets

The section diagrams, photocopied and blocks coloured in.

I only had to swap two filler blocks with each other near the end of my colouring and placement sessions to ensure that no two identical fabrics on the outside of a block ended up adjacent to each other. You can see the notations in pencil that indicate where I needed to do this (hint: brown pinwheels!). I didn’t bother colouring the blocks in again, just noted that I needed to switch them.

This means that I have a coloured ‘road-map’ for the block placement. I chose the pencil colours accurately enough that I can identify the identically sized filler blocks from the colouring.

section colour

A close-up of a section sheet.

Having done this also means that I know which colours will be touching which strips, which I hope will help with working them out and getting a nice distribution and harmonious whole. Because I have used Civil War Reproduction fabrics, with the odd touch of muted Moda Marbles, the blocks are pretty busy. I am using the reproduction fabrics for the strips too, but wanted to leave the odd resting place for the eye, by having an occasional Moda Marble strip: I have decided that all the extra thin strips (printed dark grey on the diagrams) will be Moda Marbles, and I have eight colours of them, and seven strips, so that works well. I have already worked out which colour goes where: that is indicated by the little block of shading beyond the line, in the photo above.

strip sheets

The section sheets, with cut strips highlighted in yellow.

Having got that far, I decided to cut a few strips. Every strip I cut I then fill in with yellow highlighter on the section drawings, so I know its done. But I found myself pawing through the pile of blocks trying to find the next one in the row, and decided that wasn’t very effective, of good for the blocks! Also I wasn’t sure how to keep the strips arranged with the blocks they belong to, especially as the same strip can run through two or even three sections.

So I decided to gather all the blocks for each section together, clip them together with a Jumbo Clover wonder Clip and label them with their section number.


The blocks in neat labelled section piles.

I used a few cut up index cards to make the labels: they just have the section umber written on them in pencil. That felt better immediately!

Staple 5

The block pile for section 5.

Now I know where all the blocks are, that nothing is missing and that per section they are easy to lay out. The block piles also give me a location for storing the cut strips. I am cutting the strips per section (so if a strip is in two sections, I cut two strips).

Then I can just attach the strips to the correct block pile with another Jumbo clip. I don’t know how I managed before Wonder Clips were invented. 

stapel with strips 1

Section 9 block pile, with section nine strips attached.

stapel with strips 2

Section 10 block pile and strips: the same coloured strips are also used in section 9.

So I went back to cutting strips and marking them on the coloured sheets.

single strip sheet

Section diagram with cut strips highlighted.

To make sure I don’t lose my way within a section, where the strips are identical in length, I write a colour indication on the strip: in this case, left to right, red yellow and green.

So now it’s back to cutting: watch this space to see if all this planning helps in the construction stage.

2 responses to “A spot of planning with Gypsy Wife

  1. Dear Fiona,
    I am about to undertake the Gypsy Wife quilt, and have enjoyed your site immensely. Did you ever finish the quilt top? Will you post or send a photo?
    I have viewed several Gypsy Wife Quilt-Along sites, but enjoy yours especially because, like you, I am looking for a “scrappy but coordinated” look, versus total random fabrics. Also, your approach (doing all the same types of blocks at a time, versus doing the quilt by Section) appeals to me more.
    Let me know how it went and if in hindsight you would do anything differently.
    Thanks for sharing your lovely work with us!
    Leslie Allison,
    North Carolina, USA

    • Hi Leslie,

      Thanks for your comment. Gypsy Wife is still an ongoing project for me: the least several months have been very busy at work and privately, so she had to take a back seat for a while. It’s not really a project you can do in lost moments, but one you have to sit down for. I am hoping to get going on the top again in the next week or so: I will certainly be posting the sections and the quilt top on my blog when they are done. I think the most important tip I can give you is to keep a good track of what you are doing! The instructions are a bit minimal and the use of finished sizes (ie without the seam allowances) for describing the blocks, together with the sizes with the seam allowancess for the strips can get confusing. But rest assured: it is well worth the effort! Enjoy!

      Kind regards, Fiona.

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