The Wireless Quilt is a quilt design by Johanna Masko, which is available at the workroom as a pattern or as a class. This geometric design offers a great opportunity to work with stripes and directional fabrics. The Wireless is based on a rectangular block composed of three pieces, and is easily customizable for different sizes.

Tell me about the Wireless Quilt.
The Wireless came to be when I was invited to be the first Featured Quilt Designer for a brand new quilt shop and vendor-run show called Quilt X. The idea is that they invite a designer to design a new quilt specifically for Quilt X. They distribute the secret pattern to the vendors in advance so they all have a chance to produce their own version of the new quilt in their own fabrics. The quilt pattern, the original quilt from the designer and all the quilts that the participating vendors made are revealed at the show, and hopefully the vendors will purchase the new pattern from the designer to offer in their booths. The quilts on display at Quilt X are the many versions of the featured quilt, and also a small show of the designer's other work.

This one is right up my alley in so many ways — dark and moody, made with thrifted and unconventional fabric, giving the illusion of three dimensions, with a gradient background, and the majority of the quilt fabrics shopped from my extensive stash. I also like incorporating the piecing from the body of the quilt and extending it as the border as well, with just the sashing separating the two areas. My Trapezoids pattern was my first example of this idea — the self-bordered quilt. I have used sashings that extend all the way to the edges of the quilt a number of times and that has become one of my favourite design details.

What was the inspiration for this quilt?
I was thinking of early radio and images of radiating zigzags to depict radio waves going out into the world or images of “electricity”. This little cartoon figure is called “Reddy Kilowatt.” (Note the zigzag body!) He was introduced in 1926 to promote electricity and electric companies. My mother remembered seeing images of Reddy as a child. Her father worked for Detroit Edison, the power company for southeastern Michigan. My mother’s dad, uncle, a few of her brothers and eventually she herself worked for Edison at one point or another.

Tell me about your fabric choices for the sample. 
Those hits of neon stripe? They are t-shirt jersey from a large fabric chain in the States. In addition to dark and moody fabrics, I do love it when I find a fabric whose colour gets my attention, like a retina-searing sucker punch in the face! Why did I put them in there? Because I liked them. The quilt without them is a very nice quilt. The quilt WITH them seems so much more interesting, and adds an element of intrigue and asymmetry. I've been told that my quilts feel like a hybrid between traditional and modern quilts. I'm not entirely in one camp or the other, and I'm ok with that. To work with that t-shirt jersey, I just fused a lightweight non-woven fusible interfacing to the back before I cut it out and proceeded to just handle it gently. Otherwise, it gave me no trouble at all, and I will be continuing to use non-traditional fabrics in my quilts from now on.

There is also one very special stripe in the mix. A few years ago my husband and I took the kids to visit a friend in New York City. Being a fabric lover, I made a visit to Mood Fabrics a priority. While I was there, I was looking for interesting shirtings and spied a roll of a stripe that looked like it had words woven into it. I grabbed in down from the shelf to discover that the wording woven into the fabric said “Alexander McQueen.” This brilliant fashion designer whose career I had followed over the years had tragically passed way much too soon, and I was elated to be able to have my hands on and own a piece (literally) of his fashion legacy. There are a few pieces of this treasured fabric in the Wireless.

Do you have any fabric selection tips for people making this quilt?
Fabric selection is a huge topic and a blog post about it would stretch into eternity. What I will say is this: I used a very liberating way of getting this quilt together. Essentially I have two layouts going on here: the zigzag layer, which is alternating light and dark to get the appearance of three-dimensionality, and the dark background, which is arranged as a subtle gradient.

Rather that trying to lay it all out at once and make decisions with everything at the same time, I decided to work with each layout on its own, then simply merge them together during construction. I arranged all the diagonal elements first, by themselves. After I was satisfied with the distribution of my lights and darks, I labeled my pieces and picked them up in rows and set them aside.

Next, I laid out all the background squares (which eventually get cut in half, but I didn't want to work with a bunch of loose triangles!). I arranged my gradient from lighter on the top to dark at the bottom. I labeled my pieces and picked them up in rows. Then, working a row at a time, I merged the first diagonal with the first square, and so on. At no point did I see the entire layout with both diagonals and background until I had actually sewn it all together. It was so much fun, and made a complex layout as unstressful as could be. I think this scheme will have a strong place in my design repertoire going forward!

How did you choose this design for the quilting? Do you have tips for choosing a quilting plan?
I scribbled and drew for a few days trying to come up with a longarm design that might lend itself to the Art Deco/Jazz Age vibe I was going for, but that would be easy and quick to do freehand, without straight lines. I was working under a deadline. I really had my heart set on at least some hand quilting, too. So, I decided to longarm just the background with tall, fingerlike arches that sit side by side, and then hand quilt the straight lines through the stripes. I'm so glad I did that. Machine quilting through the stripes did not feel right at all.

The take away here is that yes, you can combine machine and hand quilting in the same quilt. There. Everyone has permission now.

June 24, 2016 — Karyn Valino