Behind the Scenes Look at Planning Quilting Designs

There isn’t one single way that I plan out what I’m going to quilt on a quilt. Sometimes I know as soon as I see a top what I want to do on it, and sometimes I have absolutely no plan at all even after it’s loaded… so I stand there and stare at it for awhile. Usually the reality is somewhere in between.

Today I thought I would give you a peek at one way I narrow down ideas to choose what ultimately will be the final quilting.

My good friend and frequent collaborator, Stephanie, made an awesome version of the Fly Away Quilt by Heather Jones Studio:

Photo credit: Stephanie

As you can see, there is a lot of negative space in this top. And since Stephanie used solids, the entire quilt is pretty much negative space. The quilting will really show.

The pattern itself is very modern, has really cool asymmetry, and has a clear flow to it. This was one of those tops that I saw and had some nebulous ideas in my mind, but also wanted to preview some of them before taking it to the actual quilt. Sometimes an idea that I have might be good in theory, but doesn’t really fit the top in reality. So, how do I do this?

I use AutoDesk Sketchbook. There’s a free version called “Sketchbook Express” that I use on my Mac.

So I start with the quilt top. I usually use an actual picture of the top, but in this case Heather had a handy digital picture of the pattern on her Instagram page, which I used (and she graciously gave me permission to show on my blog- thanks, Heather!). Like so:

This is my blank slate. On the right you will see a toolbar with layers. I sketch out ideas in a layer separate from the background, so I can toggle the layer on and off. I can copy things only in the layer I’m working in, without also copying the background layer as well. Super handy!

So here is that same screen, but with Layer 1 toggled “on” so you can see my sketching in progress. If I like that as a base to work from, I would move to Layer 2 and start sketching in more. Basically every time I have something settled, I move to a new layer so that I can play around without messing up what I’ve already done.

If I have a couple of competing ideas, the layers come in handy for that, too. I can switch back and forth between ideas and see what I think looks best.

Here you can see I’ve turned Layer 2 off so that I could work on the center square in Layer 3 without any distractions. Then when I’m ready, I can just turn Layer 2 back on:

I’m a visual person, so I like this method of planning because it lets me see how a design will translate to a quilt. I prefer to do it on the computer vs drawing with a pencil and paper because a) I’ve always been a digital doodler since I was a kid messing around on MS Paint and b) the layers function just makes it ridiculously convenient. Not to mention the amount of erasing I’d be doing with a pencil.

And that’s about as far as I would feel the need to go on Sketchbook. I don’t usually sketch everything out to the last detail, especially because it would be hard to do all the small filler designs. I like to get the basic framework planned out, and then from there I can figure it out as I’m quilting.

Now. I drew this all up, felt like it looked good, and then walked away from it to load up the quilt, wind bobbins, all of that. When I came back to it with fresh eyes, I decided to deviate from it a bit.

fullsizeoutput_259cObviously, that’s totally okay. You don’t have to be married to what you sketch out. I decided that what I had drawn was a little too symmetrical to go with the flow of this top. That was a game-time decision.

The benefit, though, is that I would not have arrived at what I’m quilting if I hadn’t gone through the trouble of sketching it out first, so it’s not time wasted, in my opinion. I’m still going to keep the simple geometric lines that I sketched on the coral HSTs, and I still kept the big, corner diamonds, and even though I changed up how I’m doing the triangles in the background grey, it was still an idea that evolved from the original sketch.

So there you have it. I don’t always plan quilting designs this way, but I do find it to be a valuable tool in my arsenal.


One thought on “Behind the Scenes Look at Planning Quilting Designs

  1. I love this post! I sometimes have a similar process, but have an ipad app where I can draw on the quilt with my finger. As you can imagine this is less than ideal.

    Someday I will get around to writing similar posts of my own. Someday..

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