Monday, August 18, 2014

If at first you don't succeed, design, design again!

Over the past couple of weeks I have been reviewing some of the knitting classes from Craftsy in which I am enrolled.  (I'm too embarrassed to tell you how many Craftsy classes, on all topics, have my name on the roster!)   My interest of late has been primarily in the design classes, specifically designing knitted lace shawls, cowls, and scarves; many design principles and ideas apply across all disciplines, after all.  One comment that I kept hearing over and over was, "And how do I do this?  I knit and rip, knit and rip......I knit swatches with different bead colors..."

One of the things that is being reinforced for me as I try to get better at design is that there isn't a straight path from idea to design/pattern.  (Well, seldom is there a straight path.)  At least, that is true for me, and it seems to be for some others, too--others who are much more gifted designers than I, so I don't feel so badly.  :-)

Sometimes I have something very specific in my head for a design, but it's also rather fun to start with just a vague idea for a quilt design:  "How about something around 2" squares?" and just start drawing lines and plugging in colors.  (Admittedly, this is much more fun when you have an easy way to draw those lines and change them, so a computer design program is nice.   For many of my quilt designs I use Electric Quilt, and for the rest I use Word or Illustrator.    Once you learn how to use them--and the learning curve for Illustrator is still on an upward slope for me, I admit--you can focus on design elements, rather than spending time erasing and re-drawing on paper.)

This morning I sat down with EQ, having nothing more in mind than the aforementioned "a quilt design/something around 2" squares.   I drew a 2" grid in EQ, with an odd number of squares.  There's no particular reason that it should be odd, other than I thought a central 'spine" of some sort might be interesting; often, odd numbers of things are more interesting to the eye.

Then I just started coloring in squares.  I usually start with just a couple of colors and a background, unless I have something specific in mind, because it gives me contrast (one of those design principles) without having to worry about how multiple colors are working with each other; getting a design I like is enough to focus on for the time being!   I chose red and blue because, frankly, they were the first two colors up in the EQ palette I was using.

I won't bore you with describing all the combinations I tried; suffice it to say that there were many, probably 50 or more.  And then some more.  I cut some of the squares in half, diagonally, then tried some more cut in half.  i cut them the other way, then deleted some of them.  I traded the colors in some squares, then traded them back again and changed others.  Each time I made a design change in the block,  I plugged the block into a quilt, rotating blocks and trying different configurations.   Placed in the quilt, I could see where I might want to change a color, or split a square, or un-split it.  Then, it was back to the block, then back to the quilt, then back to the block.

Did I mention that the path to a quilt design isn't very straight?

Along the way I created some designs I liked well enough, some that I didn't like at all, and some that made me wonder, 'What was the point of THAT change?"

You've probably found this to be true when you're looking at quilt designs, or choosing patterns, or looking through a catalog:  you know when a quilt is right, when it is something that you like.  And the same was true for this design process--and almost always, for me:  when you hit upon the right design, you know it.  After two or three hours of futzing with the block, I arrived at a design I like.   I changed the colors to a holiday vibe and, with any luck, I'll be able to show you the finished quilt design in late Fall or early winter.

The moral of today's designing quilts story is to just keep playing--the design road is seldom straight, or a quick trip, but it is always fun!  (If you're in the vicinity of Cut Up and Quilt, join me for an EQ class in October; you'll learn the basics of the software so you can, design, too!)

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Yes, YOU Are Creative, Too!

"How do you come up with your designs? My brain just doesn't work that way."   I hear that question more and more these days.  Honestly, it makes me kind of giggle; I don't feel like any more of a designer than anyone else!  Mostly, I just play, drawing on ideas that just jump out at me when I "leave space" for it, as Weeks Ringle says.   I believe that everyone is creative, perhaps in a different way than the person next to you, but able to create designs--once you are open to the possibility.

So, how DO I come up with quilt designs? 

Quilt designs from prompts and challenges 
Writers often get their creative juices flowing with published "prompts," which pose characters/settings/situations.  Similarly, sometimes my design ideas come from prompts or challenges that I set myself, as in the 12-week challenge I just finished.  I had ideas for several of the weeks of the challenge, but then started to ask family and friends for "prompts"  when I started to feel the well dry up.  They did very well (thanks, everyone!) and I discovered that challenges set by others works pretty well for me.

Quilt designs from details all around you
 Sometimes ideas are in the world before my eyes, as with the "Elemental" design based on an antique door hinge at my hairdresser's shop, or a light fixture in the rest room at my dentist's office, or the ceiling at a convention center.   Stay tuned for a quilt series around architectural and decor elements.

I think you can train yourself, or maybe it's condition yourself, to notice those things.  I find myself doing it more often, practicing, since I've become aware of it.  Sometimes I practice it when I have to wait somewhere.  Recently I had occasion to spend some considerable time waiting at a clinic and I challenged myself to find five design ideas in what I saw around me.  (The magazine rack was a very interesting design, that might be interpreted in a quilt one day.)

Quilt designs from constraints
Sometimes they come, interestingly, from constraints posed to me.   Most often (for me) that has been in the form of the precuts or a specific fabric, as in quilts I've designed for Cut Up and Quilt for various occasions:   shop hops, bus trips, and the like.

"Going Up" was designed around three constraints, or maybe I should call them considerations: 5" squares of solid colors, easy to piece, and modern (because the shop has quite a modern flair.)

Going Up!

"Hair Raising" needed to use some extra kits of 18 fat eights of Halloween fabric, and have a bit of a scary edge to it.  (Someday I want to do this in icy blues.)

Hair Raising

"Hop, Skip, and a Jump" focused on fabric designed just for the All Iowa Shop Hop, with accents of solid brights.   The nature of the shop hop fabric was such that I wanted it to be used in large pieces.  Again, I thought it should be easy to piece, so the bright colors were in long strips and the corner triangles were of a size such that corners and points didn't have to match.

Hop, Skip, and a Jump

The ten (well, in the end, eleven) quilts in the "Ten for Ten" series all came from a "limitation" of using 10" squares.  In that series there was a great deal of "What if..." going on:  what if I cut here after I sew that?  Or what if I sewed it THIS way, instead?   In other words, there was much of trial and error.  I have a stack of iterations of Underwater Basketweaving that could cover Alaska.   I'm working now on a series "Jelly Plus," designing quilts that use a jelly roll and some other precut.  "Jumble Sale" started it out, and the newest one is "Zipped," which will be published this weekend.

Underwater Basketweaving

Quilt designs in series
I'm sure everyone is different creatively, and you must find what works best for  you.  For me, for example, designing in series gets my creative cogs turning.  Perhaps it gives me a structure for trying many new ideas, without having to find completely new concepts for each quilt.  Perhaps it's just that my mind wants to categorize and organize ideas.  (I was a librarian for more than 40 years, after all.)  Whatever the reason, it works well for me.  I have the attention span of a two year old, however, so the series necessarily have limits, and then I want to be on to something else.  You may get bored with series, or find that one series can last you a very long time.

"Zipped"  is not only a Jelly Plus but the start of a series of quilts based on fasteners.  I liked zipped and I decided to go more general for more ideas.  What is a zipper?  It's a fastener.  What other fasteners are there?  My brain is  mulling designs with names such as "Clipped" and "Snapped" and "Stapled."

I've already started a "Retro Modern" series, and ideas for more in that series are chasing each other around in my head.

Quilt design ideas from "failed" designs
Confession time:  I have a lot of bad ideas, and designs that are just flat out ugly.   I could let that discourage me, but each less-than-useful idea is one design I don't have to bother to make.  Sometimes it's just sheer volume and perseverance that create the best designs; seldom is a first iteration a success.  My design book and my libraries in Electric Quilt are filled with designs that will never see fabric BUT they may spark another thought or idea, that leads to a better one.

And, an aside:  Don't hesitate to listen to what a quilt or design tells you.  Fellow quilters, you know what I mean!   I don't like to sew on borders, and when Spaghetti Straps told me it wanted four of them, I cried.  But I did them, because the quilt was the better for it.

Spaghetti Straps

"Paper Chains," a design that will soon be published is different than originally planned.  The block remained the same but the layout changed after I pieced all the blocks and put them up on the design wall.  I liked it well enough, but then the "What if...." muse in my brain started whispering to me--and then she started shouting at me.  (You have a muse, too, you just have to listen for her.)  The name changed because the fabric/precuts I ended up with were not what I went to the shop to buy.  :-)

Paper Chains (in progress)

In short, don't sell yourself short:  you ARE creative, if you let yourself just play.  Let ideas percolate.  Don't worry about whether someone else is going to like your design, just do it.    I have complete faith and confidence in your creativity!