Designing a Quilt

Turning Idea into Quilt

Patterns and quilts I design are always unique and often portray the beauty of nature, whether it is scenes or flowers. 85% of my work involves combined techniques of traditional patchwork, modern day appliqué and artistic quilting. The question is; how do I get from point A, the idea, to point B, the finished quilt?

My designs usually start out by seeing a particular scene or flower, or a suggestion/idea from a friend. In either case, I will take photo shots of the subject matter, at all angles if possible, to make the drawing process easier. Really, I cannot draw that well, I never went to art school - what I do is copy what I see or even trace it. This is why it is so important to take my own photos and lots of them. Take shots at all angles. For example lets use our sunflower as a subject. Photos need to be taken face on, to the right and left of the flower, below and above. Take group photos of 3 or 4 flowers together, shots of droopy flowers when they have their head hung. Even take close ups of the center and petals to see how they are formed. Oh and don't forget to take photos of the leaves - several of them and at different angles. You can see I end up with a mass of photos.

By the way, capturing these images on digital camera is the way to go. I store all my design photo shots on disk so if ever I'm looking for a new idea, I just access the disk rather than sift through a pile of photographs stored in a box. This way you can print only what you actually need when it is time to design.

Once I have the photos, I start thinking of arrangement. For our flower example, I already know that an odd number of flowers looks more balanced than an even amount - something I picked up from my flower arranging days. I check group photos to get an idea of ways the flowers should look. Now we all know sunflowers face the sun, so it would look a little peculiar if I had one looking the other way! I also know that the main focus flowers, should be pointing in towards the center of the quilt so it takes ones eyes into the quilt rather than away from it if it were facing out. I look at bud and leaf formation and how the flower is positioned in comparison to the leaves, nestled within them or stretching above, smaller or larger.

I select a number of individual flowers, some leaves and perhaps a bud or two, then print them out and arrange them on my page, moving them around until I am happy with the layout. Sometimes I will enlarge a flower if I want it to appear closer or make it smaller to push it away from me further into the distance. Now, I either draw or trace the flowers and leaves onto my page, just the outline of each petal. If sections are too small, I sometimes incorporate them into one piece. When I have finished drawing, I use a black marker to define the edges. Usually at this time, I put my design away for a day or two without looking at it, then when I get it out again, make sure I am happy with it. Sometimes I will ask a friend if it looks good or what may look wrong in their eyes. I make any necessary changes.

So you can see, the actual design process can be quite long, days in fact, to research the subject matter and get appropriate photos. Sometimes it can even mean a trip away if there is a particular subject you want to quilt. I once did an 8-hour hike, around one of New Zealand's beautiful lakes, just to get shots at every angle. I coaxed a couple of friends to come with me, they weren't so impressed by the long walk and particularly the icy cold water we had to wade through at the top of the lake, so I never did tell them that I used one of the photos I'd taken in the first five minutes of our walk.

Once you have the applique design idea, it is time to start thinking about the background design. As much of the design concentrates on the applique, it's a good idea to keep the background simple, perhaps squares and triangles. As you can see in many of my designs, I use a color wash effect. This can be a combination of squares and triangles, sometimes, classic blocks such as nine patch or log cabin. Of course, the more detailed it becomes, the more complicated the design becomes to create. The easiest way to start is to simply draw grids in your background. You can leave it as squares or draw diagonals through the center to become triangles