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.

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.


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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