Wired for balance not random

This weeks finish is a large cot quilt.  The fabrics were chosen by a friend who searched for fabrics that were suitable for a baby girl – but didn’t feature the colour pink – whilst referencing the family’s love of the seaside and sailing.  Moda’s ‘Daysail’ fitted the bill perfectly!

Daysail quilt 2

Daysail quilt 3

I stuck to a simple design using two charm packs of the Daysail fabrics. Laying out the charm pack squares before sewing I reflected that random patterns are very hard to achieve.  As I’ve stated many times before, ‘I’m no mathematician’ but vague memories of ‘doing’ probability in school got me thinking that maybe the effect I was trying to achieve with those 80 squares was not random at all. After all if I picked the fabric squares at random I could end up with two the same touching each other (horror!) or a dense patch of one colour (disturbing!) rather than the even distribution I was aiming to achieve. Searching around I found an interesting little feature by Dave Lee on our reactions to random.  He was writing about the work that goes into making the shuffle mode of a mp3 player a satisfying experience for the listener.

Five thousand songs, and it brings up three tracks by the same artist in quick succession? Come on now, that can’t be right. This is supposed to be random!

Except, of course, it is random. Our brains just don’t like it.

“Our brain is an excellent pattern-matching device,” said Babar Zafar, a lead developer at Spotify… “It will find patterns where there aren’t any.”

It is a lack of uniform distribution that throws us off, writes Martin Fiedler – a programmer who describes himself as an “average nerd”.

Consider a playlist of 32 songs, he says, split almost evenly into three genres – 10 of genre A and 11 each of genre B and C.

A truly random playlist might spit out something like this: AACBBCBACABBCCACCCCABBACBACABABB

It is random, but it sure will not feel like it – and that block of four Cs in the middle there might be annoying.

These observations about our need for a pattern or balance to be present in a so-called random shuffle playlist seem to me to be transferable to the random shuffle of fabrics. My conclusion is that we are wired for balance and pattern rather than truely random distributions.  Earlier this year I followed Amanda Jean’s series of tutorials about creating the scrap vortex quilt.  Looking back through her other excellent tutorials I found this one titled, ‘One way to randomize patchwork’ that shows even the Queen of Scrap Quilts, introduces a bit of  what she terms ‘controlled random’ into her method of producing a ‘random scrap quilt’.


kitchen chairs 2

Straightening out our home following the six months of building work has occupied much of our time over the past four weeks.  We got as far with the painting as time allowed, now the tins and brushes are stacked in the tool cupboard and we’ve been concentrating our efforts on ‘dressing’ the rooms in readiness for our Christmas guests. My favourite purchases were from local charity shops – a pair of curtains and a set of four kitchen chairs.

Something had to give over this transition time and for me it has been keeping up to date with this blog 🙁  All the changes going on, along with the cumulative effects of the long building project, have left me a bit sluggish; needing nearer 8 hours than 6 hours sleep to function through the day and even then achieving very little of note in the evenings.  I have found reading other bloggers’ posts a source of relaxation, so thank you to those of you who do write; and many projects and posts have ended up on my Pinterest boards for future reference.

My thoughts are already turning to ideas and projects for 2016 but there is plenty to hold my attention to the present as I aim to find a balance (ho!ho!ho!) between preparing for Christmas and not getting totally caught up in the commercial whirl. Actually the overwhelmingly secular experience of shopping in our local malls provides me with an antidote to Christmas fever.  Only one shop display references the birth of Jesus and in all the decorations around town it is only the stars that hint at what we are all celebrating. Thank goodness for the Salvation Army Band that plays carols so beautifully in one of the squares 🙂 as we shoppers pause to listen before bumping and tripping our way through the crowds to the next shop!


Linking with Amanda Jean for Finish It Up Friday


10 thoughts on “Wired for balance not random

  1. Balance is the key, yes. I think only one time did I lay out the blocks for a quilt randomly, and feel satisfied it was also balanced! Your cot quilt is lovely. The red and aqua are perfect for each other, and I like the “random” placement of stars!

  2. Hi Allison, Your Daysail quilt turned out really well. I’m sure little “H” will treasure it !
    No wonder you are feeling a bit sluggish, your house has been out of balance while the renovations have been taking place ! I think it is very stressful to have everything out of place and not where you can find it and strangers coming and going in your home and not knowing when things are going to get done and if all the time and money will be worth it ect. I think what you are feeling is quite reasonable. Be gentle with yourself 🙂

    • Thanks Colleen. You are quite, that is exactly how I’m feeling. Starting to enjoy our new spaces now – I’m sat at our kitchen table writing to you – we’ve quickly got used to having the option of eating in the kitchen and the hobby/guest room with it’s sofa bed has become a sociable space too.

  3. I love this thoughtful post. I’m definitely more for balance than randomness in quilts, but don’t mind randomness in other areas.

    I have been thinking of Christmas and the meaning and what is important to me about the day. I’m not a religious person, so for me the best part of Christmas is the time with family spent in relaxing pursuits, done together. The hustle and bustle and near panic that occurs around this time, even when just shopping for groceries, takes away from the peacefulness I feel Christmas ought to encourage.

    • Thank you for taking time to look back at my previous posts. Whether we are Christians or not I’m sure we instinctively know we need times of rest and relaxation. Also, there is no substitute for giving time to the people we love – snatches of planned ‘quality time’ are just not enough. We need to show and be shown that other activities can be dropped i.e. switching off the TV to give our attention to someone. God has given us all a good blue print to follow to make this possible and I’m sure you are right to recognise Christmas Day as an opportunity to focus on family and friends the same as taking one day each week (it doesn’t have to be Sunday) to break from normal activities and relax with family is a very good thing.


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