Monday, August 3, 2015

My Top 5 'Musts" for Quilt Patterns

Where would we be without quilt patterns?

We love our quilt patterns, don't we?  (We won't talk about how small a percentage of the stash this is.)

 I like to create my own designs, to be sure, and usually I don't write patterns for those quilts, but I also like to make quilts that others design and make available in patterns.  For a couple of years I've been mainly focused on writing and publishing patterns for my own designs, but over the past few weeks I've had occasion to use others' patterns quite a bit.   In the process, I've been reminded of the characteristics I most appreciate in a pattern--characteristics that I try to build into my patterns--and I want to share those, and invite you to share what YOU like to see in quilt patterns.  (All right, that's a little self-serving, because I'm always looking for ways to make my patterns better, but that is ultimately for YOUR benefit, as I try to improve them for you!)

Remember, these are MY preferences; yours may be completely different!

1. Error-checked

This is at the top of my list.   Mistakes happen, no question. But I appreciate designers/pattern writers who double-check their measurements and construction procedures and, even better, have another pair of eyes (preferably, another quilter's) check them.  (If they're anything like I am, they can look at the same error 15 times and never see the error.  Another person can spot it in an instant!)  Minimizing errors before publication is a much-appreciated step!  

It's also nice when designers publish corrections on their websites, though I confess I usually (with one exception) don't check before I start a pattern.   But, if I'm making a pattern, and something doesn't seem right, I will often check out the website.  

My sister is my technical editor, bless her.  She's a quilter, but she was a computer programmer and systems designer in her professional life, and she's very good with the details, as well as spotting any potentially confusing instructions. Though she doesn't ever say it exactly in that way, there have definitely been some "Huh, Karen?" moments in my pattern-writing career.  Thanks, Mary Kay!  I can't promise that we'll never let a mistake get past us, but we certainly try hard to prevent them.

My sister's, and my, notes on a pattern draft

My process for pattern-writing is to design the quilt visually (usually in EQ, but not always), work out fabric requirements, then write the pattern before I make the blocks and quilt.  Then I follow those instructions as I construct the blocks and quilt, even if I can do it without the instructions.  I catch many errors that way, and am able to find better ways to phrase instructions, to make them more clear.  I take many, many notes as I go, then go back to the computer and make the changes, then send them to Mary Kay for her comments and corrections.

2. Clear text instructions

I'm mostly a kinesthetic learner, but I worked in a profession generally dominated by text-based learners, so I learned (!) to pay attention to text.   My favorite patterns have clear, unambiguous written instructions, especially for those who are text-based learners.   When I'm writing instructions I try to write them such that illustrations are, technically, unnecessary in figuring out the construction.

The font should be a clear, straightforward style--Times New Roman, Calibri, whatever--but NOT a fun or fancy font that is difficult to read.   I prefer a serif font when reading a book but, oddly, a san serif when reading patterns.  Go figure.

Funky fonts are all right for titles, but I'll take Calibri for instructions

Fabric requirements and cutting instructions should match.  :-)   I know this would seem to be a given, but I've worked with patterns that tell me to cut a piece for something, but doesn't tell me from which fabric I should be cutting it.

Text is important on its own, but it should also act as a support to the illustrations, for those who are visual learners.  Which leads us to illustrations...

3. Illustrations

A lot of quilters seem to be visual learners, so illustrations are important.  Because of my professional background, I find myself trying to figure out the text instructions first, then look at the illustrations.  I'm more visual than text, however, so I do rely on the illustrations to help me figure out those steps that I just can't wrap my brain around.

I invited some friends to critique one of my patterns, and one of the questions I asked was whether they preferred photos or diagrams and, though they said it could depend, mostly they thought diagrams were better.  In printed patterns, at least,  I usually prefer diagrams--if they're done well.  If photos are used I find them easier to follow if they're large, clear and in color, without a lot of extraneous distractions in the frame.  I think I like diagrams because they are less likely to have those distracting elements that photos can often have.

It's also useful to have the illustrations WITH the relevant text instructions, so I don't have to fumble for a sheet where the photos or illustrations have been gathered into one sheet.

4. Format

This is pretty subjective, of course.  You can usually tell, when you open the pattern package and take out the instruction sheets, whether or not you're going to want to dive into the pattern, can't you?  Whatever it is about the layout and format, it either invites you in or sends you screaming into the night.

 My preference is for good-sized illustrations, with enough white space that my eyes can easily differentiate between steps, and maybe take a rest now and then, from the block of text.  It doesn't have to waster paper with extra-wide margins, but my eyes are happier with some white space--it seems to help my brain to organize what it's seeing.

I like color diagrams, with relevant text, and enough white space to differentiate steps.

Color illustrations help me, though it isn't always necessary. Atkinson Designs, probably my favorite designer in terms of pattern format and clarity of instructions, have b&w illustrations and they work just fine for me.   If it is clear enough that I can tell the difference between fabrics, and between right and wrong sides, then b&w is fine with me.  

5. Pressing instructions

This may not be on everyone's list of Top 5 Musts, but it's one of the first things I look at in a pattern. (In some cases, it determine whether or not I buy the pattern.)   A block (and a quilt) go together so much better if I know, as I go along, how I should press the seams.  (Those who press seams open probably don't care, though!)   I can guess how to press seams, from looking at where and how blocks intersect, but it's hard to picture it in my head, or even work it out on pencil and paper.   If a designer tells me how to press so that the blocks fit together, with seams butting up against each other, well, I'm a happy camper (quilter).  If it doesn't matter which way I press, I'd like to know that, too, so I'm not wondering.

I've learned over the years that it's best if I make test blocks before I start sewing the actual sample quilt. (Did I mention that it's hard for me to work that out in my head, or on paper?)  Sometimes I have it figured correctly when I do the first draft of a pattern, and sometimes I don't.  I make enough test blocks to work out the pressing scheme, not matter how many different blocks there might be, or how many combinations of rotations of those blocks against each other.

Test blocks, and working out pressing scheme for a new pattern

My test blocks are never much in the way of "lookers" but they are essential to getting the pressing scheme correct, and that's pretty important to me.

(A really smart person would probably choose a color scheme and always make the test blocks from those colors/fabrics, so as to have blocks for a sample quilt some day but, alas, I am apparently not that person!)

YOUR Top 5?

So, those are my Top 5 Musts.  Do you agree?  What are yours?

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Mini-Quilt Swap

Quilt swaps are always a lot of fun, and a good way to connect with other quilters, so I'm pleased to be participating in Cut Up and Quilt's Mini-Swap.  I have received info about the quilter for whom I'll be making a quilt, and I'm rarin' to go!  The creative pairings are a secret, so I'll try not to give away too much, so she doesn't recognize her preferences, should she or friends happen to read this post.  :-)

She likes modern designs, which suits my style just fine.  I started sketching some ideas for designs for the mini quilt, which is to be somewhere between 8" x 8" and 24" x 24".   I love technology, but I somehow seem to need to start with pencil and paper, at least to get ideas to come out from hiding in my brain..

Computer 'sketching" comes next, and here I can start to get a better idea of proportions.  It's easier to move pieces around to compare compositions and layouts.  (I use Word.  I know, I know, but I have used it so much that I'm most comfortable with it.  I have the Adobe Creative Suite, which has wonderful tools but, since Word is so comfortable for me, I can focus on the design aspects instead of how to use the tools.)

The first one didn't appear in my sketchbook but as I started drawing, copying, and pasting the black bars, the squares just sort of popped into my head and I tossed one in, just to see how it would look.  I liked it, so a couple more were tossed into the mix.   If I make the quilt (whether for the Mini-Swap, or for a later project) the number of bars and squares, might well change, as may the number of bars and the relative positions.

My brain thinks bars and circles are good foils for each other (if you followed my design challenge last year you might recall that) and I wanted to continue with some bead and bar layouts.  This has been rolling around for while, inspired by the little nubbly bits on the fabric of my shower curtain.  Ideas come from the mundane as well as the profound, right?  (Well, I'm not especially profound, frankly, so most of mine come from the mundane.)

I like most of them, but will have to live with them for awhile to make a decision.

A few designs in the sketchbook haven't made it to the computer drawing board yet.  One must spread out the fun, don't you think?

Another design that has been caroming around in my head might figure into this, as well.

It's great fun to be challenged to design a quilt for someone else.  The shipping deadline isn't until November and there may very well be more ideas ahead--stay tuned, and I'll post new ones as they arise.   I wonder if the final mini-quilt will look at all like any of them.  :-)


Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Quilt Design Comes to Fruition!

Sometimes quilt designs actually become quilts!  :-)  This is probably more true for other quilters than for me, but I'm happy to say that "Between Two Rivers" is finished, and I promised that I would share some of how it came to be, the decisions I made, and the steps along the way.

A few months ago I embarked on a 12 week challenge to design quilts based on....well, whatever.  One of the challenges was issued by my friend Ann, who presented me with the theme of "different paths."   Here are some of the designs I produced:

And here's the final design.  In the end I decided to call it "Between Two Rivers," which is the meaning of 'Iowa."   Yes, the Missouri and Mississippi Rivers, which bound Iowa on two sides, run north and south, rather than east and west.  I'm chalking it up to artistic license.

I began by auditioning fabrics for the "fields."  Some of the greens made it, some didn't.   Iowa has two primary field crops: corn and beans, so two greens would probably have been sufficient, but other crops ARE grown, and where's the fun of just two fabrics?

Then it was a question of deciding on lengths, widths and proportions of the fields.  That was just a lot of trial and error, and deciding what I liked.

It seemed to me that the fields/quilt needed some "pop" and a deep rich brown--for the rich Iowa soil--would be just the ticket.  Narrow strips were all it needed, on just one side of each field.

Laying out the curves of the rivers was next.  That was not as easy as you might think; lots of trial and error, again. 

I hand-appliqued the rivers, because I like hand applique and I thought it would be better.   I think, were I to do this quilt again, I would machine applique the rivers; there's a bit of a wave--literal--where the rivers cross the quilt and some of that may be due to extra 'give' in the curves as I appliqued.   (Bless those quilters at a recent trunk show who looked at me, all innocence, and said, "Rivers SHOULD have some wave to them.")

Next was the quilting, and the quilt was set aside for awhile as I worked out how I wanted to quilt it.   Decision time. 

The river quilting was easy, and fun; with blue thread I just moved along in curves across the width of the rivers, sometimes crossing, sometimes running (sort of) parallel.   I did the rivers first, to stabilize the quilt before doing the rest of the quilting.

The fields are quilted in lines,as if plow lines.  Most of them are 1/4" apart (talk about a challenge), though a couple are 1/2" apart.  Some are vertical, some are horizontal, some are diagonal, and one has curved lines.  The thread is the same color of green, on all the fields.

Straight lines are much easier on a domestic machine (at least, for me) but the quilt is quite large and I'm just not good at managing bulk when quilting on a domestic machine.  The biggest challenge in quilting on Molly, the longarm, is getting long, straight lines, because she doesn't have a channel lock, or means to do circles or diagonals.  That means using rulers.

Using rulers means using a platform extended, so there's enough support for a ruler as you press on it to hold it in place.

I tried a few different rulers.  I thought the ruler to which I'd attached some non-slip dots would be best, but it turned out that those were a hindrance, as sliding the ruler as I quilted the lines was crucial.   The ruler I used didn't have a 1/4" line on it, so blue painter's tape acted as the guide for the 1/2" lines.  (The edge of Molly's hopper foot is 1/4" from the needle, so running the foot along a ruler automatically makes a line 1/4" from the ruler's edge.)  Note the seam ripper.  It got good use.

It took some time to get the hang of the best method for me.  I had to slide the ruler as I moved along, and I slid it when I was only about halfway along the length; any more than that and I lost control of the ruler.  Once I found the rhythm it worked pretty well.

The curves were a whole other story.  I started them out by using a circle ruler, with lines scribed on perpendicular diameters to make it easy to place the circles so they are concentric.   That works fabulously well--for circle sizes for which you have a ruler.  :-)   I didn't have very many sizes. I don't think anyone makes circles in that many sizes.

So, I tried several methods to do nice, even curves.  I never did find anything that worked as well I would have liked.  I tried drawing the curves and following them 'free-hand" but I'm not very good at doing that, even when following panto patterns with a laser light.  Then I tried using a straight ruler to keep me from slipping, curving the ruler along the previous quilting line.  That worked better, but still not as well as I wished.   Consequently, I'm pretty sure that no self-respecting farmer would plow his fields/contours this unevenly.   Maybe next time.

The background was done much the same as the rivers.  It was quilted as I rolled the quilt, using white thread, so you see the texture, not the thread.

In the end, I really like the quilt.  I think it will probably be washed, so it will have that charming "crinkled" look.  For now, I'm enjoying it on the wall behind Molly.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Getting Creative with Quilt Patterns

You may not think you're a designer, or even very creative--and I'm betting you're wrong about that!  Quilters always put their own spin on the quilts they make, whether it's switching out colors or fabrics or tweaking a pattern a bit.

Monday is Design day at the Spinster, though I admit that I've been a little behind on that.   A lot of prep is on my agenda for the day but I wanted to still do a little bit of creative thinking on DD.  I've had some ideas for tweaking the "Cornered" pattern and I think it will be a decent example of how some simple changes in an existing pattern can make it creatively your own.

When I first designed Cornered, I pictured it as a quilt of solids, mostly in the pastel ranges.  I still like the idea, actually, and one fine day I'm going to make it.

When I saw Moda's "Calypso" collection, though, I fell in love with it.  (It was a cold, gloomy day, which didn't hurt; I needed some cheer.)  The pattern uses 10" squares and 2-1/2" strips so I
came home from Cut Up and Quilt with both.

I put together a block.  My left eyeball started to twitch.  Back to the drawing board.

I thought about using a solid to set off the print fabric, without competing with it.  But, to use the print strips (not enough of that gorgeous fabric), or the 10" squares. (But why waste those colorful strips?)  In short, I still wanted to use both the squares and the strips--the fabric was so wonderful.

The solution was to swap out solids and prints, with half the blocks having a solid background and print strips, and the other half having print background and solid strips.   The most obvious option was to alternate the types of blocks, and that might still be a reasonable design but I decided on more of a medallion effect.

I like the way the strips in the center weave in and out, don't you?  This was the pattern sample.

Because I like the way the strips weave in and out on the solid background, and because I have a couple bins full of scrap/leftover 2-1/2" strips in my stash, I thought it might be interesting to do a scrap version.  I made 4 blocks today, and that's not enough to see the weaving effect.  I'm not sure yet how I feel about it, but I'll keep moving along with it, and see where it takes me with more scraps.

I'm using muslin as the background, but you could certainly use neutral scraps.  At least, *I* could use scraps, coming out of the bins of neutral scraps.  :-)

How would you adapt the pattern for yourself?

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Always Retreat! (Quilt retreat, that is)

I'm back to the blog; sorry for the sabbatical.  Family priorities were center stage for awhile, and now I'm getting back to updating the blog and website.

This weekend I'm retreating with friends, catching up on some projects.  We're at Stitchin' Tree Quilts and we're finding it a pretty ideal space.  Teresa has done a great job with all the details, and it's helping me to know what to look for in a retreat center--or to plan for in the quilting/fiber art studio and center I want to set up.  Some day.  :-)

 The story behind Jeanette standing by the sign isn't as interesting as it might be; she's just waiting to flag down a fellow quilter who hasn't been here before.  All he truck drivers waved, though.

The kitchen is fully equipped, so we don't have to bring paper towels or pans or crock pots--any of those things that fill up the car.  That means we can load more fabric and projects.  (Because, of course, we never bring more than enough projects, anyway, right?)

We have plenty of elbow room to work, with more tables, if we want them.  There are "big board" ironing boards.   There's a big (BIG) design wall.  They updated the electricity in the converted farm house so there are enough outlets.  We have a Wi Fi connection, (Yes, we're still all pretty much connected, if we want to be.)

Of course, the beds in the bedrooms all have quilts on them, so we feel right at home.

The retreat center is attached to the quilt shop because, though we load up the car with fabric and projects and notions and books and patterns, we never have everything we need.  You know what I mean.   Our friend Karen just went shopping for more batiks (no big hardship for her, it must be said) because she miscut something.  She definitely seemed more upset about making the mistake than having to shop for more batiks.

Next time I'll post photos of what we're working on; I'm in the midst of some pretty talented quilters, and I think you'd like to see what they're making.

So, I'm gathering ideas (while thoroughly enjoying what she's done here--I'm grateful for the wonderful space) for the future.  What is/would be your favorite things for a retreat center?  What do you most like about the places YOU retreat?