Saturday, March 26, 2011

Is Designing Quilts Easy?

It’s a fair question. Is designing quilts easy? A lot of people think it is anything but easy. They are convinced it’s something they could never do.

After all, it means taking the initiative; trying new things; being creative. You need to understand concepts like value, balance, contrast, unity, color harmony, and visual rhythm. Not only understand them but also to use them effectively. Then there are the technical aspects of turning a design into an actual quilt. It’s easier just to follow a pattern.

On the other hand…..

The first quilter who sewed the first quilt did not follow a pattern. She did not know a lot of design theory either. Instead she asked a simple question: “What if...?” “What if I sew scrap pieces of fabric together ?” Her reasons were practical; she could not afford to waste the little fabric that she had.

After she sewed her quilt she asked a second question: “Does it work; do I like it?” I don’t know her answer. But today there are millions of quilters around the world, so somebody liked it.

Quilts have changed a lot since that first quilt because countless quilters asked one more question: “Why?” “Why do I like this quilt?” “Why do I not like that one?” Asking “Why?” taught them what they now know about value, balance, contrast, color harmony and all the rest. Asking “Why?” is key to discovering design principals.

If you want to learn to design, not only quilts but anything, the place to start is with three simple questions, “What if…?” “Do I like it?” and “Why?” Everything else flows from them. Everything else you can pick up when you need it as you go along.

I learned to quilt sharing my wife’s old sewing machine. When I knew I was hooked, I bought her a new one. With the new machine came lessons. We both took the lessons. She learned a lot. I learned almost nothing. The lessons were mostly about things I wasn’t ready for yet.

Six months later my wife convinced me to go with her and take a class on precision piecing. My sewing improved dramatically almost overnight. This time I was ready. This time I was learning things I wanted to know.

It is the same when you are learning to design. If you have no design experience, design concepts are hard to relate to. Design for a while and learning the concepts becomes much easier.

So how can you design if you don’t know design concepts? Where do you start? You do what the first quilters did. You start by asking three simple questions over and over. “What if…?” “Do I like it?” and “Why?

These are questions everybody asks all the time. Go to any quilt show and you’ll hear: “This would be nice in pink and peach.” (The result of asking, “What if I changed the colors?” ) “Mabel, you have got to see this; it is gorgeous.” (The result of asking, “Do I like it?”) “That’s way too busy” (The result of asking, “Why don’t I like it?”). People are so good at asking these question that they do it subconsciously and never know they asked them.

Learning to design quilts is a lot like learning to sew quilts. It gets easier with practice. And, when you first start, it’s a lot easier to learn if someone shows you how it’s done.

My book, Designing Quilts is Easy!, is about showing you how it’s done. You watch as I design six different quilts step by step. You listen to my answers as I ask “What if ..?” “Do I like it?” and “Why?” over and over. As a result, you learn how the design process works and how simple it can be. In addition, you discover that it is something you can do.

Is designing quilts easy? Like anything else it’s easy when you know how. But even more importantly it is fun. There is nothing like the feeling of accomplishment you get when you can say, “I not only sewed this quilt, but I designed it too!”


  1. What program do you use to draw all these imagines you put up for us to drool over??

  2. Ann Marie

    I draw and design using Paint. I want to learn to use Illustrator, but finding the time seems to be a problem.

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