How to Design an Original Quilt Pattern by Hand
With so many quilt patterns available these days, many people no longer design their own quilts. It's easy to go out and buy one of the hundreds of brightly colored books or glossy magazines filled with inspiring pictures and patterns. Quilt shops and shows offer up individual patterns for sale with step by step instructions to make it easy to create a quilt.
Patterns are a great quilting resource and I have made many quilts using someone else's pattern, but I would much rather use my own design and it's much easier than you may think.
Whether you are brand new to quilting or a seasoned veteran, these tips and tools will help you design your own original work of art.
What is a Quilt Pattern?
A quilt pattern is an original decorative layout or design for fabrics. It serves as a template to follow when constructing a quilt.
Designing a quilt is like drawing a picture. Just use your imagination or get inspiration from things you see. I keep a notebook with me at all times so I can jot down an idea or draw a quick sketch before the idea slips away. Once you have something in mind it's time to design your pattern. While this hub focuses on designing a contemporary quilt pattern, a quilt pattern can be anything you want it to be and falls into one of two very basic categories:
- Traditional - Pattern based on traditional or historic designs
- Contemporary - Pattern based on modern designs
The supplies you'll need to get started are graph paper, pencils, a ruler and an eraser. You'll also need colored pencils, crayons or markers once the initial design is finished.
Step by step photo instructionsClick thumbnail to view full-size
Step by step instructions for designing an original quilt
For this demonstration the inspiration was the brick wall on my fireplace.
- Find your inspiration and take a picture or draw a quick sketch.
- Think about what size quilt you want to make. For this demonstration I'm doing a wall hanging measuring 25" by 30".
- Determine what size the graph squares will represent. For this demonstration, 1 square = 1".
- Draw the outside border of the quilt design, 25 squares by 30 squares. (Step 1 in photos)
- I would like each brick to be 3" by 5" so I draw the first brick on the graph paper, 3 squares wide by 5 squares long. (Step 2 in photos)
- Using the photo as my guide I continue to draw bricks until the quilt border drawn is full. (Step 3 in photos)
- Take a look at the design. This example looks a little flat to me. I have also seen it before so I'm going add some more design elements. Have fun adding more design elements. You may have to redo it several times before you settle on something you like. (Step 4 in photos)
- Adding some diagonal lines added more dimension to the design. It's time to add color to the quilt. Make copies of the completed black and white drawing and keep the original. Don't add color to the original so you can go back and make more copies if you can't find the look you want. Keep in mind during this step that each shape outlined represents a piece of fabric. The more shapes, the more difficult putting the quilt together will be.
- This design has been colored three different ways. Note how color placement can dramatically effect the design or look of the quilt. (Versions 1, 2 and 3 in photos)
- Choose which one you like best and you're done. It's that easy to design your original quilt pattern!
This is just one of an infinite number of designs you can come up with.
Designing quilt patterns: by hand or by computer
While this hub demonstrates how to design a quilt by hand, The Electric Quilt Company™ and other companies sell quilt design software that makes designing quilts quick and easy.
It's a personal decision whether or not to design by hand or by computer. Designing by hand is a more tactile process some prefer. With computer software, the process is faster and the designs and colors can be changed just by the click of a button.
Examples of original quilt designs
The following three quilts are examples of contemporary quilts that I designed by hand. The photos show the sketches and sewn project.
The vivid colors, loud noises, an anything goes atmosphere and palm trees swaying on my honeymoon in Key West were the inspirations for my "Key West" Quilt. When I got home I got out my graph paper and started the design. I prefer to work with geometrical shapes, not rounded ones which is why I use graph paper. In the picture below there are 3 drawings. The pencil drawing on the left in the picture below is the first version which had softer edges. I then fidgeted around with it to fit in the squares on the graph paper so I could make it more geometrical (Center drawing). Finally, I fit the palm tree and the border on the paper and colored it in to see a finished product (Right drawing). The result is "Key West" which I proudly hang in my home.
"The Shape of Things to Come"
Fabric was the inspiration for this quilt. I normally don't work with solid fabrics, but I had a collection of them that were waiting to be used. I was also trying my hand at various design and structure techniques. This quilt was not designed on graph paper. It was drawn to scale on drawing paper. I then used tracing paper to trace the shapes and sewed them together using a "paper piecing" method. I really like the way it turned out with an almost art deco look to it. This project is still a work in progress and has not been quilted yet.
Inspired by the the fabric piecing technique known as "paper piecing", I wanted a challenge to do a more intricate quilt design. This one is still under construction with only the quilt blocks being done. Using the design techniques described in this hub, the drawing on the left is what I hope my completed quilt will look like and the one on the right is what one quilt block looks like.
Design your own original quilt
Designing an original quilt by hand is fun and rewarding. I hope that this hub has inspired you to design your own masterpiece. It's easier than you think.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2012 Claudia Mitchell