Designing Modern

At our guild's February sew day I gave a brief talk on designing modern quilts.  There is some great information out there on designing modern quilts especially for Modern Quilt Guild members but here's my quick take on the subject. 

This is the first quilt I ever made and this is also the first quilt I designed back in 2011.

My First Design.jpg
First Quilt Design

I hadn't ever designed a quilt before so I thought to myself my mothers kitchen tile is nice and it's mainly squares, sure I can do that and that's what I did.  I've been designing quilts ever since.  Here are some of my tips.

  • Inventory Your Equipment:  Designing quilts, modern or traditional, doesn't have have to fancy.  A pad of graph paper ruler and pencil will do but you can also use different software programs.  I design most of my quilts in Photoshop but I've heard others mention using Illustrator, CAD and EQ7.  Which ever route you chose it's best to make sure you have the right tools to begin.
  • Inventory Your Skills:  This is key to avoiding frustration when it comes time to make your design.  If you've never pieced a curve it's probably not a good idea to design a drunkard's path quilt.  This doesn't mean you should limit yourself.  By inventorying your skills this will also show you where to expand your skills.  I often use patterns or tutorials to learn new skills before using them as a design element.
  • Inventory Your Likes and Dislikes:  Of course people tend to design what they like without thinking about it but it's good to know a little more definitively what you like and don't like.  The chances you'll complete a quilt that you designed that requires paper piecing and you don't like paper piecing aren't very good.

Those were my tips that can be applied at all quilt design but here are some of the tricks to turn your design modern.

  • Use an Alternative Grid or Ditch the Grid:  It's always a good idea to start your design on a grid but by off setting that grid or units in the grid will add a modern element.
  • Improv Piece:  Make your favorite block but don't measure out the units instead improv the piecing to give it a more organic feel.
  • Play With Scale:  Using one large block as the entire quilt is a way to change the scale.  Conversely making micro blocks that create a secondary design will look fresh and new
  • Splice It:  By cutting across blocks and adding narrow strips of fabric will refresh an old block.  Cutting through a block and sewing it back together slightly askew will have a similar feel.
  • Minimalist: Simplified designs with high impact scream modern.  These usually use contrasting colors that play off each other.
  • Negative Space:  There are two types of negative space.  The first is using large areas of open space in a design.  The second is the area around the positive space.   I'm sure most people have seen the picture or two lamps that can also look like a couple kissing, that's a perfect example of positive and negative space.

Those are some of the tricks to take a design from traditional or contemporary to modern.  For myself I tend to implement and alternative grid, minimalist design, and both types of negative space in my designs.  Below is a design I made for the #30daysofquiltdesign challenge on Instagram that illustrates all four of those techniques.

 DESIGN NO 8 copy.jpg

I actually made this quilt top but never completed it because I wasn't in love with the blue I picked but fully intend to remake this quilt this year.  If that design looks familiar I used the same concept to design my Michael Miller fabric challenge quilt that hung at Quiltcon.


 As you can see it's an offset grid and I used the negative instead of positive space of a drunkard's path unit.

My final thought is don't be afraid to throw out designs.  I probably design 10-20 quilts for ever one I make.  That doesn't mean I spend hours and hours making up designs and then hit the delete key but I do start with a basic idea of what I want to do then play with it.  Sometimes the basic idea never turns into anything and other times after a dozen different layouts it finally works.  Here's a great example of a design I like and I've played with alot over the last 2 years but it's just not to the place where I'm excited about it.  Obviously I like it enough not to delete it but it's not a quilt either.

graphic inspiration copy.jpg


I hope this has been informational and encouraging.  I don't typically do blog posts like this but since I can't show the quilt I just finished I thought I'd pass this on...

Oh, I do have a quilt to share.  I finished my Riley Blake fabric challenge quilt.  It's not due until May but I had some free time a a design so I got it done.

Riley Blake fabric challenge: Going Up

This was originally a larger quilt but when I folded the top in half at the end of the day I liked it way more so I chopped it almost in half and rotated it 90 degrees.  I'm pleased with the looks of this mini and hope it does well in the challenge.









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