Find Your Inner Designer – Part 1

Some of my readers have asked about how I design quilts, so I’ve decided to do a monthly series of posts to lead you to design your own original quilts. I know there are several courses and lectures out there on “principles” of modern quilt design, but this series is about a practical approach.  So here is Part 1: Start by tweaking a design you already like.

Start with a traditional-style pattern you want to make.  By traditional-style, I mean one with multiple similar blocks, probably arranged in a grid.  Here’s my example, which really is more of a modern design because the blocks are improvisationally cut, but it has the blocks in a grid

modern pieced quilt

I saw this quilt at the house where we have retreats

Now experiment, tweaking this pattern (or a similar one) 3 different ways:

1. Change the size of the blocks. A quilt made up of 20 blocks each 10″x 10″ will look quite different from a quilt of the same size made up of 80 blocks 5″ x 5″.

You can go up or down in size, but change the size of the blocks. If the math gives you trouble, either get help from a friend who LOVED algebra in high school, or use a computer program like Electric Quilt to re-draw the blocks in the size you want and give you instructions for cutting them. If you want to make the blocks very small, consider paper piecing: Just draw your paper base and you don’t need any math because the pieces you use to construct the block on the paper base aren’t cut exactly to size.

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2. Change the size of just one (or a few) block(s):

modern quilt design

Substitute one large block for 4 of the small ones!

Either replace one block with 4 little blocks 1/4 the size of the usual, or replace 4 regular blocks with one big one. Either tweak makes the overall quilt design more interesting.

Pieced quilt

Substitute 4 little blocks for one large one–or for several large ones!

3. Add (or subtract) a little: Instead of making the usual grid of blocks, add a strip or a row of blocks to each row to make some of the grid offset. I like to put the insert at a different place in each row.

modern quilt design

Insets make the blocks move out of line in some places, adding interest

Another option is to remove the sashing and/or border(s) from a quilt, or to insert an extra border.

You don’t have to sew any of your designs unless you want to; just draw them out on graph paper (or your computer program), and color them if you like. The drawing counts as a design! And don’t worry that modifying somebody else’s design isn’t “original”. You have to start somewhere, just like the designer of your pattern did!

Now, go try some of this! I like to make baby quilts to try out new designs or techniques—not too much commitment in time and materials, but I learn a lot. And watch for the next post in this series; I’m going to do a design post the first Sunday of each month for a while.

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12 thoughts on “Find Your Inner Designer – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Your Inner Designer, Part 2: Many block arrangements | Zippy Quilts

  2. I design my own projects and learned by modifying traditional blocks and layouts. But your post makes a lot more what-if suggestions than I’ve seen in one place for quite a while. Thanks for spurring some creative thinking!

  3. Pingback: Your Inner Designer 5: A Program to Make Your Own Palette! | Zippy Quilts

  4. Pingback: Your Inner Designer 6: Copy Somebody Good! | Zippy Quilts

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