Earlier this year, Patty from Elm Street Quilts asked if I would consider taking part in a group quilt. The theme of the project was given as Teamwork, and the design constraints were that we were to create a path for a ball to move across the quilt top in the style of a Rube Goldberg machine. I was intrigued and eagerly said that I would be thrilled to participate.
Patty’s idea was to arrange the quilt blocks in such a way that we knew where the ball would be entering our individual blocks and where we needed the blocks to exit. The only law of physics that we were to (loosely) observe was gravity, and we could assume the ball is very bouncy.
We were given fabric to make our blocks. The background fabric is purple, and each bundle also included magenta, black, and lime green or yellow (I received lime green). Each 12″ finished block was divided up on the edge into three-4″ wide sections to denote places the ball might enter or exit. My goal was to receive the ball in the upper left hand 4″ of my block, coming from a block made by Kitty Wilkin @nightquilter, and make sure the ball exited in the middle 4″ on the right hand edge of my block to give to Pat @peacockcreekdesigns.
I really wanted to maximize the motion the ball might have in my block, so my first draft of an idea was to allow the ball to fall naturally (gravity), to compress a spring, which would then push the ball up and onto a ramp to guide the block out the right hand side of the block. To keep the very bouncy ball from going out of the bounds of my block, I envisioned using 1/4″ finished piecing lines in lime green to be fixed guides or walls. My idea was going to be contingent on my ability to see if I could create a tight spring using bias tape.
Needless to say, while I tried, I did not feel confident in my ability to create a nice enough “spring” using bias tape, so I went back to the drawing board and instead drafted a pinball flipper to move the ball along the path. I’m not a paper piecing expert, but I knew this block would benefit from being paper pieced; it would help me keep those 1/4″ finished lines nice and crisp, the angles in just the locations I wanted, and it was the only way I could fathom making the pinball flipper.
Thankfully I remembered to mirror the direction of the pinball flipper when I created the paper piecing template, so I only needed to make a single test block. As you can see, my creation of the template is a bit rough, but it served its purpose!
I took note of all the sizes of fabric I used to piece each section of the pinball flipper block, and as you can see in the upper right hand corner, I knew that I was going to need a bigger piece of fabric than what I tested in order to cover the corner seam allowance there (the fabric is just curled under in the lower left hand corner).
Once I had confidence in piecing the pinball flipper, I was able to quickly create the other templates I needed (making sure they printed out at the desired sizes) and piece my block.
I sent my block off to Patty to be incorporated together into the full quilt, which has been named Patent Pending, and today, the blocks are all being revealed. From Patty: “Patent Pending is a Rube Goldberg machine in quilting form. A Rube Goldberg machine is a chain reaction-type contraption intentionally designed to perform a simple task in an indirect and overly complicated way. Since my least favorite task in quilting is to rip out a seam, Patent Pending offers a way to remove those unwanted stitches with ease.”
To see more about the other blocks and how the quilt came together, check out the #RubeGoldbergQuilt and #PatentPendingQuilt hashtags on Instagram. This really was a fun challenge that stretched my skills and I really enjoyed getting to see everyone’s creativity! One of my favorite aspects is that I was able to share my really rough pinball flipper with Sarah Ruiz @saroy and she incorporated it into her block as well.
Updated to add: Patty is sharing the full Patent Pending quilt and details on her blog!