Quilt Design Process: From Idea to Finished Quilt

Mar 19, 2023

Taking inspiration from the world around you and incorporating that into your own artwork is a really rewarding and fun experience. 

I teach quilters from all around the world design and creativity, and get asked a lot about my design process, so I thought I'd walk you through my typical process! This process will work for you, no matter if you're making an appliqué quilt, a pieces quilt, whole cloth, whatever!

Step 1: Gather Inspiration

My process always starts with the inspiration. This might be a color palette, a shape, a texture, or pattern.

I find my inspiration all over: in nature, in architecture, rugs, tile, other forms of art. One key to creating a unique quilt is to gather your inspiration from OUTSIDE the quilt world. Bring a shape, color palette, texture, etc from outside the quilt world, combine that with a quilt technique, and you have something new!

I have a special folder on my phone of photos I've taken to use as inspiration. Some of these photos are of lovely color palettes, some are specific shapes that I will trace and make into appliqué designs, some are textures that might make interesting fabric designs. Even if I don't know how or if I'll use it, if I see something lovely & inspiring, I'll snap a photo. Sometimes I'm just trying to capture the feeling or impression of something.

So stay open to inspiration -- it can be found all around you!


Step 2: Turn Inspiration into Image

Now that we have a bank of inspiring images, it's time to translate that into a design! There are countless ways to do this step, and what you choose will depend on your preferences, what tools you have at your disposal, and the quilt technique you plan to use. 

Since my quilts are mostly appliqué -- I will start with a photo or sketch and trace it on my tablet using the (free) Adobe Fresco app. I then send the design to my computer where I will resize it, so I can print it at scale. 

Other excellent tools are simple tracing, sketch, or graph paper, or professional design software like EQ8 (I've never used this, but I know many quilters love it) or Adobe Illustrator (I do use this all the time). There are lots of different software out there, both free and not, so do a little googling and find what will work best for you. 


Step 3: Make a Template

If your design requires a template like mine do, you can get your design onto your computer to resize so you can print it at the scale you need. If you drew your design on paper, simply scan it. If you used an app, send it over to your computer.

You can resize your image by hitting "print" and enlarging or reducing the scale. This works for smaller designs. If you need to "pageate" your design (have it print on multiple sheets of paper that you then tape together), you can do this using a professional design software like Adobe Illustrator or EQ8 OR use a free online tool like https://www.blockposters.com/ to resize your design. 

Print your template, and tape together, if needed. 


Step 4: Make the Quilt (Consider an "experiment" version)

Now it is time to make your quilt!! Especially if this is the first time with this type of design or technique, I'd recommend making an "experiment" version first. By this, I mean a smaller, scaled down version or single block first. That way, if you want to change something or it doesn't work in the way you wanted, you haven't "wasted" a bunch of time or materials on a big quilt. (I put wasted in quotes because I see every part of the creative process as valuable, even the parts that flop. They have taught you something!)


Step 5: Tweak Design, if needed

After experimenting, you may want to tweak and remake the design. Perhaps try a different color or print palette, maybe change up the scale or your finishing option. 

Know this -- there is no right or wrong way to make or design a quilt. 

Find the tools and flow that work for you!

Now, I'd love to hear from you! What does your design process look like? What questions about design or my process do you have? Leave a comment under one of my recent Instagram or Facebook (@shannonebrinkley on both) posts and let me know! (While you're there, be sure to follow me so we can stay connected and share more!)

Want to learn more about how to develop your own quilt-making style and make quilts that look like YOU? Special enrollment for the Meander Quilt Guild is currently open! In Meander, we learn all about design, creativity, color, explore lots of different quilt techniques and styles, and focus on developing our own unique quilt-making style. We'd love to have you join this creative, international community! Learn more and join us, here!

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