Anatomy of a quilt design

I am not an artist. I have no formal art training and never considered myself to be one of those right-brain creative types. I love reading interviews of quilt designers and their explanations about how they create—what inspires and stimulates them—from nature, to childhood memories, to the shops they frequent, to the vacations they take, to the toys they played with, to the things they read and even their home furnishings. You learn about how they keep sketchbooks and a camera handy at all times or that they have a special collection in their home that kindles ideas. They have that inner “thing” that eventually culminates in a wonderful design.

In no way do I relate to any of that; I lack that inner “thing.” I just want my design to look good, use up my stash, and be doable.

So it felt weird to be asked to design a quilt back in 2010 when I worked at a local quilt shop, but after that first one came another and another. I have no idea how or why—no deep and meaningful explanations like the designers in the magazines point to—they just happened. Now my EQ7 file is stuffed with electronic sketches, and I wonder about my personal design experience often; I mean, who knew?

One of those ideas is for a spring quilt which got its start when I visited Rhonda in January. We spent a lot of time paging through some quilt books her aunt found for her at a yard sale for one dollar apiece. A project in one of the books featured this cool block:


It consists of a 10″ center square surrounded by 16 flying geese units and eight half-square triangles. It’s a whopper at 20″ square.

I seriously considered this block, as the flowers in my focus fabric are large and would probably look good framed in this way. I scanned all the fabrics, colored the block with them



and plugged the block into a layout:


Epic failure—no explanation needed.

Maybe it needs sashing.


Better, but not enough for me to like it. How about on-point?


The blocks don’t look right.

A smaller quilt with fewer blocks might be the answer, but I had plenty of fabric and wanted to use as much as possible. I turned to my new (used) block book purchased during my Houston trip,

1001 Patchwork Designs book

found this block


and plugged it into a layout:


Okay, this is better, but it needs an interesting border:


The border’s looking good. What if I added sashing and cornerstones?


Ick. However, I like the additional green. What if I put green in the border?


I like it, but don’t have enough green fabric.

What about using green only in the border corners?


Great, I still don’t have enough green and now I don’t have enough of the small floral.

I changed the setting from 4 x 4 to 3 x 3 and put pink roses in the border’s corner squares.


Now all I saw were unnecessary seams, which I hate. I realized that those seams could be eliminated if the top was pieced in diagonal rows, with the flower blocks being constructed as square-in-a-square blocks and alternating them with 4-patches, eliminating the need to work with whole lot of triangles, like this:


And that’s my brutish, unrefined approach to design creation—mashing it around digitally until something pleasing emerges that also fits with my stash. Although, I confess to seeking and finding additional green to use in the corners. Don’t you hate it when you’re a half yard short?



Filed under designing, Electric Quilt

3 responses to “Anatomy of a quilt design

  1. Rhonda

    Well done! I have to admit, I was not a big fan of the block when you found it but as I can now see was due to the fabric choices in the photo.

    Anyway…I love the final quilt but I really like the original block. I think I will make one original large block as a table topper (one side pink, one side yellow).  Thanks for making us see things in a different light/fabric.

  2. Mary Daum

    Thank you! I, too, am creatively challenged — I know what I like, but I can’t invent it myself. It is helpful (and validating!) to hear from someone who is also still rising to the challenge.

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