behind the scenes: the Sun Salutations quilt

Sun Salutations Quilt. Pattern by Whole Circle Studio.

It’s no secret that Hawaii, specifically the Big Island and Kauai, is my most favorite place on earth. {Read more about my obsession with Hawaii and Hawaiian inspired quilts.} If I could pick just one place to live, it would be on the islands. My first visit was in January 2010. Jason and I flew in late at night, jumped into a rental car and drove about two hours to Hilo. The drive was interesting. At the time the most direct route, Saddle Road, was considered pretty dangerous to drive at night in the winter. We were skeptical until we encountered fog and snow (yes, snow!). There were some nail-biting moments given how remote the area is, not to mention we were pretty exhausted from traveling all day from the East Coast. We made it to our cute bed & breakfast located directly on the Pacific Ocean and were treated to the most amazing sunrise the next morning. Luckily, I was up early—even with jet lag, I can never get used to the time difference!

Hilo, Hawaii. Photo by Sheri Cifaldi-Morrill | Whole Circle Studio
Looking east over the Pacific Ocean in Hilo, Hawaii. This photo doesn’t do the view justice.

This moment of my first trip to Hawaii is something I think about often. It was an amazing trip and what better way to continue to remember it then by designing and making a quilt. A quilt that I can always wrap myself in.

When I started to design Sun Salutations, I wanted to focus on the amazing color gradations of the sky. As a lover of solid color fabric, I knew I wanted to create my own color gradation using only solids. Selecting the right colors and placing them in the right location was the trickiest part of the design. I wanted to make the design look random, but as is with most good design, random is rarely random. Most good random design needs to be planned.

Since I wanted the color to really be the star of the quilt, I kept the shapes simple and used the traditional and versatile half square triangle, also making it a beginner-friendly quilt pattern.

Once I was happy with my layout and color selections, it was time to calculate fabric requirements. I’m sort of a math nerd (as long as I have a calculator) and kind of like this part of the process. For this quilt, I did it on old-fashioned graph paper in my Moleskin notebook while I was a passenger on a five hour car ride. Good use of time, right?

Quilt math calculations for Sun Salutation quilt. Quilt pattern by

For my quilt sample, I used Painter’s Palette Solids by Paintbrush Studio. In the Sun Salutations pattern, I provide a fabric conversion chart for:
Kona® Cotton Solids by Robert Kaufman
Designer Solids by FreeSpirit
Cotton Couture Solids by Michael Miller
Painter’s Palette Solids by Paintbrush Studio

Fabric for Sun Salutation quilt. Quilt pattern by

Once the fabric arrived, it was time to get cutting and testing to see if all my calculations were correct!

Cut Fabric for Sun Salutation quilt. Quilt pattern by

I’m a huge fan of labeling all of my cut fabric and sewn half square triangles. Once all the blocks are made, the labeling makes piecing a breeze. I use cut up scrap paper and straight pins.

Half Square Triangles in the making for Sun Salutation quilt. Quilt pattern by

I also label all of my sewn rows as I’m sewing them together. My rows inevitably end up out of order while I’m pressing or just moving things around the studio. Labeling them takes out the guesswork of what order they should be in, which means I use my seam ripper a lot less!

Piecing Half Square Triangles into strips for Sun Salutation quilt. Quilt pattern by

Piecing Half Square Triangles into strips for Sun Salutation quilt. Quilt pattern by

I pieced Sun Salutations with Aurifil color 2324, 50wt. This neutral is my go-to color for piecing most of my quilts that don’t have white backgrounds. I often press my seams open and I find that this neutral color blends nicely with most colors.

Here’s another tip: do you despise pin basting? It’s still my least favorite part of the quilting making process, but once I started basting on a tall table, it became easier. Check out this video for how I pin baste my quilts.

Basting Sun Salutation quilt. Quilt pattern by

I started quilting the lower half of the quilt by starting in the middle and working my way down. I wanted wavy lines for the water, but didn’t want to free motion quilt them. Did you know you can use your walking foot to achieve gentle wavy lines? Let the quilting begin!

Quilting Sun Salutation quilt. Quilt pattern by

Quilting waves in Sun Salutation quilt. Quilt pattern by

Quilting waves in Sun Salutation quilt. Quilt pattern by

Once the water was quilted, it was time to move on to the sunrise. Check out this lovely gradation of Aurifl 40wt colors I chose to quilt sunrays with. Notice that one spool is a little more loved than the others? I used that orange color to quilt my Queen sized Road Work quilt. Want to use the same colors I used? Here the Aurifil colors I used: 2110, 1135, 2135, 2140, 1133, 2277, 4010 and 1100. For the water, I used 1148.
Beautiful gradient of Aurifil thread colors | photo by

I quilted LOTS of straight lines radiating from the sun. I used all of the thread colors shown above, quilting with mostly the yellow to orange threads in the middle and the orange to magenta threads on the edges. I wanted the thread colors to have a gradient effect too.

Burying sun ray threads in Sun Salutation quilt. Quilt pattern by

Quilting sun ray progress in Sun Salutation quilt. Quilt pattern by

Detail of quilting sun rays in Sun Salutation quilt. Quilt pattern by
I used my left over fabric from the quilt top to make a scrappy rainbow binding. I matched up the blue colors to the lower half and the sunrise colors to the upper half. Making scrappy bindings are a great way to use up left-over fabric that you have. Check out a blog post I wrote for Craftsy all about scrappy bindings.

Scrappy binding for Sun Salutation quilt. Quilt pattern by

Scrappy binding for Sun Salutation quilt. Quilt pattern by

Scrappy binding for Sun Salutation quilt. Quilt pattern by

And of course no quilt is complete without a label!

Labeling Sun Salutation quilt. Quilt pattern by

Want to make your own Sun Salutations quilt? Get the pattern here.
Sun Salutations quilt pattern. Available at


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  1. This is a beautiful behind the scenes description of your inspiration, design process, and quilt creation. The quilting really makes the quilt for me. It certainly captures that moment you describe perfectly. I hope you have some plans to get back to the islands to visit soon. 🙂

  2. Reading this post makes me want to go back to Hawaii again! I fell in love with it eight years ago on my first and only trip there! Your quilt is beautiful and reminds me of all the incredible sunsets you can only see off the Islands. Your quilting brings it all together!

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