Friday, April 29, 2011

quilt designing

Part of Leslie's e-mail stated she wanted to learn ". . .from choosing the right material to choosing the right pattern. . ." Ah, the quilt design process. I don't know a quilter that doesn't have some insecurity or trepidation with this part of quilting. This is where nothing is cut and dried like 1/4-inch seam allowances and even that can be subject to interpretation. How do you choose the right fabric or pattern? Well the answers are 'it depends' or with another question 'What do you want to make?'

Let's say we got a dozen quilters together and we were going to explore the 1,000 or so quilt blocks the Kansas City Star published from 1928 to 1961. We decided that we would start with the 9-patch block, one of the simplest block patterns out there. We would have a dozen different quilts, with and without borders, with and without sashing, with and without cornerstones, some blending color from one corner to the other. Each one unique, different, and all are beautiful. If the concept was with fabrics instead of blocks. The same thing happens, same fabrics but a dozen very different quilts. You could even pin it down to fabrics and blocks, and still get a dozen different quilts. 'It depends' on your vision or interpretation of the givens.

A lady I took a quilt class from showed us a quilt she had made with the quilt block the Mexican Star and a half-dozen fabrics. She had nine blocks each one featuring a different fabric combination. She liked them all and came to the realization none was the answer to her quilt question and all were 'right'. She kept the quilt hanging on her wall in her quilt studio to remind her there is no perfect combination of fabric and block. Just choices!

With all this said what can you do to narrow down your chooses? Quilt design software is real handy for auditioning all the possibilities without cutting a piece of fabric. Pick a block and play with it; add sashing, add cornerstones, add borders, everything in different widths, mix and match. Then add color, the possibilities are endless. Find a design you like and make it. If you are like me as I build the quilt I will have moments of inspiration and change something. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn't. For the ideas that don't work out lay the fabric aside you can use it latter in some other quilt.

Here are two quilt design programs:
Jinny Breyer Studio has one that is free and some neat tips.
Edit: I played around in this program it is only good for the blocks she has posted.
I have Electric Quilt 6 and it is a fun program to play around in. I need to use it more so when I have an idea I can get out of the program what I see in my minds-eye.
Of course 1/4-inch graph paper, mechanical pencil, pink pearl eraser and a ruler are what I revert to when I get frustrated with my lack of skills in EQ6:>)

I am a very concrete person when I make a quilt. I will know whom I am making it for. I will know their favorite colors and a size. Or someone handed me some quilt blocks and I need to set the quilt together. I use the color scheme of the blocks to pick out the fabrics for the rest of the quilt. I just don't walk into my sewing room and say today I'm going to make a quilt. Even when I make a quilt for Project Linus I know the quilt is for a child and the sizes they find most useful.

Quilt Blocks

Look for quilt blocks in the beginning that have no curves and no complicated seam lines or structure. If you stick to squares and right-triangles you built confidence. In fact, I would bet 50 to 75% of all quilt blocks are make with those two geometric shapes. If you find a quilt block you like, like Attic Window look around and see if someone has simplified the block for straight seams. They probably have!

Let me go back to Kansas City Star Blocks for a comment. Eve Ross (one of the Haysville Library quilter) warned me to make a sample block before I cut all my pieces for a quilt because some of the pattern pieces were out of proportion. Latter I cut out an entire quilt's worth of Apple Core blocks using a Kansas City Star pattern. The pattern was a 1/4 of an inch off! I then remembered what Eve had said. Ouch! Lesson learned. The take away here is before you cut a quilts worth of fabric, make one sample block to see if the block will go together as planned. This goes for any pattern that prints templates!

Places to find blocks. There are tons of books out there. Thumb through them and see how many of the blocks appeal and if the instructions make sense to you. Two useful books are 'The Quilter's Catalog' by Meg Cox, not many block patterns but everything else to do with quilting and 'All-in-one Quilter's Reference Tool' by Hargrave, Craig, Anderson, and Aneloski this one is all the charts you need. Design programs will have a ton of block patterns, not to mention the internet.

The quilter's Cache is probably my favorite of free quilt block sites.
There is Free Quilt Patterns, About. com, Block Central, and tons more just type in your search engine 'free quilt patterns'.

Battings and Quilting

How fluffy do you want your quilt? How heavy is the top and backing? How are you going to quilt it? How close together do you want the quilting? All part of the design process.

If you were going to machine quilt your quilt in your home sewing machine I would recommend using traditional loft batting. I love a quilt done with high loft batting. It really shows all of the quilting pattern and is extra warm. However, it is a pain in the home sewing machine. It is too tight in the throat of the machine and puckers badly. With hand quilting I get all the definition I am looking for. I also get low loft batting when I want a lighter (less warm) quilt.

Polyester, wool, or cotton batting? For a very traditional look get cotton and don't preshrink it. For a baby quilt or something you know that is going to be washed frequently I would get polyester. I don't recommend the 80/20 batting if you have respiratory problems. I thought it was too dusty. There are some battings out there that look like a blanket that are very easy to work with and you can space your quilting up to 8-inches apart. I have never worked with wool batting so I have no recommendation on it except that my experiences sewing with wool leads me to believe that a lot of fiber would be in the air. I have read about bamboo blend battings but haven't tried any but I any very curious.

I have mentioned machine quilting in your home machine and hand quilting there is another option that is, taking you quilt to have it machine quilted. I've seen some really nice work with long-arm quilting. I don't have the financial resources to indulge very often, so currently I am doing most of my quilting in my home machine. I love to hand quilt but it is time consuming so that is a consideration. Here is another consideration you can quilt-as-go or quilt the whole top at one time. My preferred method of machine quilting is quilt-as-go using the 'Crazy Short-Cut method'. (Yes, it works with traditionally pieced blocks.) I have used the other quilt-as- go methods and thought it was fiddly. I can see where this method would be very good if I was hand quilting in a RV, baseball games and such. (By the way Rose Smith and Marguerita McManus has some other wonderful videos.)

Quilts that don't need batting are Cathedral Windows. These quilts are very heavy; in fact, I have seen recommendations not to make the cathedral windows any larger than the top mattress because of the weight. Use a very wide border to get the drop you want and quilt the drop. Crazy quilt is another one that traditionally doesn't get batting because of the way it is constructed. Anything done in denim or heavy fabrics wouldn't get batting.


Okay, here I am going to open a can of worms. 100% cotton is the fabric of choice. I would agree with that, but here is where I deviate. Your fabric doesn't have to come from a quilt shop. You do want to understand the difference between fabrics from a quilt shop and Wally-world type places. The differences are the quality of fabric (thread count) and the amount of dye. Which brings us back to the questions what is the purpose of the quilt and how will it be cared for? If you are making an heirloom quilt with your grandmother's embroidered blocks the quilt shop is where I go to get the range of colors I need to match the embroidered blocks. But if I'm making a quilt for the kids to cover-up with to watch TV and spill beverages on. I want something I can throw in the washing machine and dryer without panicking.

Silk and wool are used at times in quilts. The most popular way is in crazy quilts.

Okay, I have blathered on about the subject of quilt design but haven't shown you anything. So tomorrow (cause this post is long enough) I will show you how to put something on paper so you can go fabric shopping or stash diving.

Have a good day!



  1. I just have to say that I am loving all of the tips and suggestions! :) Keep 'em coming.

  2. Thank-you! I'm having fun.

    Thanks for stopping by.


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