I just finished writing the pattern for a quilt by Pam Rocco that will be a free web pattern for our February/March issue, and I’m feeling a little cocky. Pam writes the regular “Words to Quilt By” column in which she describes her design inspiration and process. For each column she sends us three or four quilts that illustrate the technique, and then we write a pattern for one of them.
Pam works in an improvisational style that can be a challenge to translate to written instructions. Fortunately for me, we had already published a few of her patterns and workshops before I was assigned to write a pattern for one of her quilts, so I had resources I could turn to. Also fortunately for me, Pam is incredibly easy to work with and has seemingly no ego when it comes to how we edit her columns or pattern her quilts.
The first one I wrote was a free pattern for the August/September 2012 issue, Double Cross. When it was time to start working on it, I hung that quilt on the wall of my cubicle and proceeded to stare at it for — oh, I don’t know — an hour or two. Maybe less. Doesn’t matter. I just know that I stared at it longer than I normally do when starting to write a pattern.
I knew that I could write a fairly straightforward pattern that would have resulted in a straightforward quilt, one that would have resembled Rocco’s original but with none of its organic quality. So I took a shot at how I thought she constructed it and made a test block just to be sure it would work. Sewing that block went so quickly it made me want to dash home and make my own Double Cross that night (I didn’t but I know I could have). I felt vindicated when Pam confirmed she made her blocks the way I wrote the pattern.
After that experience, I decided the best way to write a Rocco pattern is to try to honor the spirit in which the quilt was made. Sometimes, as in Double Cross and City Traffic, honoring the spirit results in a lot of instruction.
City Traffic was the free web pattern for the October/November 2012 issue. Again, I stared at that quilt on my cubicle wall for awhile. My choices seemed to be 1) make it completely foundation pieced, or 2) don’t write it as a pattern but more as a description. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I opted for #2 although there are a couple of foundation patterns, too. The thing I love about Pam’s columns and quilts is how her entire aim is to get us to trust ourselves as artists and translate our experiences of the world into fiber.
The current free web pattern for the December/January 2013 issue, Semaphore Flags, just went up on our website a few days ago. While it is definitely a Rocco pattern, it is written for traditional piecing and our usual rotary cutting diagrams.
With this quilt, Pam was striving for simplicity. Our pattern encourages you to make it in the simplest way possible that works for you, whether that means following the pattern to the letter, tailoring the pattern to your preferences, or ditching the pattern altogether and just going for it.
The pattern I just finished writing, titled Spools, is actually much simpler than the three shown above. It’s a very cute little wall hanging that incorporates a little improvisational piecing, but features one basic block of a uniform size. So while I’d love to say I’m now so proficient at breaking down a Rocco quilt that I can zip through one in a couple of hours, the fact is this was an easy one to write. And the one I have on my schedule to write for April/May looks similar in that regard — some improvisational techniques, but more geometric and traditional looking.
However, I saw the glimmer in our graphic designers’ eyes when we were looking at the photos of the quilts Pam sent and they saw the big, striking, completely improvisational quilt in the group. “Maybe there’s a way we could pattern this one, too?” they asked. Looks like I shouldn’t get too cocky too soon.
If you’ve ever made anything based on a Pam Rocco pattern or how-to, we (Pam included) would love to hear about your experiences and see photos of your work. You can leave a comment here, or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.