Sewing With Certainty – Designing Quilts

I’m interrupting my regularly scheduled post for today to bring you a a few of my thoughts on designing quilts. Jessica from Quilty Habit is currently featuring this topic on her Sewing With Certainty series, so I thought I’d jump in with a few words of my own. :–)

Sewing with CertaintyFirst off, I love designing quilts. I’ll either tweak a commercial pattern (like my Baby French Roses Quilt), or design something original if the mood strikes. Next to machine quilting, I think designing is one of my favorite parts of making a quilt because the possibilities are endless. However, that’s also one of the downsides to designing – sometimes there are too many possibilities that it’s hard to stay focused!

French Rose BudsBaby French Roses Changing up the color placement and tweaking the borders was a fun way to make it my own.


I’ve recently learned that in quilt-making, good design usually trumps good workmanship. Yes, it’s the best of both worlds to have both in a quilt. However, if the resurgence in popularity of modern Gee’s Bend style quilts are any indication, these amazing quilts gained their fame because of their bold and graphic design, not because of their craftsmanship. I will take a well designed quilt over a perfectly stitched one any day! :-)

Gee's Bend Quilt

Gee’s Bend Quilt, picture courtesy of WhyQuiltsMatter.org

So where do you start when designing? How about with the basics? Say you want to make a quilt from squares. Start off with a any size square you like (charm packs and layer cakes are a great place to start since they are already precut). Set them side by side in a 6×7 grid and you can make a simple quilt that looks like this:

Charm Pack Quilt

Christa’s Quick and Easy Charm Pack Quilt

This is a quick, easy and fun design that took almost no thought and effort to put together.  So how do you jump off from there into making a truly exciting design? Well, what if you took the same idea of using squares, and threw in a bit of negative space? Then perhaps you could come up with something like this:

Charm Pack Quilt

“Busy Hands” quilt construction, using Bungle Jungle precuts

This is very neat and orderly, but play around the spacing and orientation of your blocks to create a totally different and modern look:

Alternate Layout

Alternate Arrangement – I didn’t use this one but I think I need to make a similar quilt sometime!

Let’s get back to our simple squares again and go off in a different direction. Try using larger squares connected with sashing and cornerstones:

Design Sketch

EQ7 design sketch by Christa Watson

Now, what if you limited your color palette to just one or two colors and put sashing around each and every block? Notice how much of a graphic punch is added when the focal point (the color) really contrasts from the background as in Sea of Squares:

Sea of Squares

Sea of Squares by Christa Watson

One last thing to try: take your squares, surround half of them with solid frames, and resize the rest to match. Ditch the cornerstones and remove few of the blocks to create more negative space. Isn’t this a fantastic modern design?:

Love Squared

Love Squared, picture by Lindsey Weight and shared with permission

The beautiful quilt above was designed and made by my talented friend Lindsey from Inspiring Creations – and no – she didn’t design it based on my examples. I actually started with her design and worked backwards while writing this post. I pulled examples of my own quilts to illustrate how I would go about designing a quilt like this. Click here for her free quilt pattern!

Now I invite you to play around with other shapes and see what you can come up with. Next on my agenda: playing with HST’s (half-square triangles)!

Colorful Chevrons20140107_hst_220141017_hst_1


So many design possibilities… “sew” little time!

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20 Responses to Sewing With Certainty – Designing Quilts

  1. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into your design process, Christa. I’ve recently started some designing myself, and I’ve really enjoyed it! And I could not agree more- a beautifully designed quilt definitely trumps a perfectly sewn one.

    Thanks a bunch for linking up to Needle and Thread Thursday!
    :) Kelly @ My Quilt Infatuation

  2. msmidge says:

    What i love most about quilting is that the possibilities are LITERALLY endless!

  3. Jennifer @ Glinda Quilts says:

    Great post – have a low volume charm swap quilt to design and this has given me some new ideas – particularly leaning towards Love Squared – thanks :)

  4. This is one of my favorite posts to come out of SWC! THANK YOU! I love how you showed us so many different ways :)

  5. wendy says:

    What a great post! I’ve made a quilt with simple squares, but I hadn’t thought of the other designs you mentioned.

  6. Leigh Anne says:

    Great post! It definitely is fun to break away and do your own thing. So many possibilities is right!

  7. Di says:

    I like your blog , it shows me that I can change the direction of my quilts ! Thank you for your new ideas!

  8. Great post! Thanks for sharing the free pattern link also, it’s awesome!!

  9. Lindsey says:

    Thanks for the shout out Christa! I find it really gratifying to design and quilt and see it come together in real life!! Thanks again! :)

  10. Alice says:

    I agree with you Christa. I am getting better with my construction. The only thing I differ on is negative space. I just do not like it, but then I prefer simple quilting over fussy patterns too. I am going to try stitch in the ditch and straight line quilting next. The
    Asian screen (second one) that I am making for another granddaughter will be professionally done, but after that I am going to give quilting a try.

  11. I saw Lindsey’s design the other day and love it! And now you and Lorna are motivating me to add E7 back to my wishlist : )

  12. Lis Ostiguy says:

    I really like your approach to making unique quilts. As much as I admire the beautiful patterns available, I also prefer to come up with my own design. I am usually inspired by the fabric and the reason for the quilt to come up with a design. Next it is a sketch and calculations before starting work with the fabric. No EQ yet for me. I do like good workmanship but a little imperfection adds to the beauty of a finished human work.

  13. Julie Tayor says:

    I agree. Designing is the most fun part of quilting. And as for good design over perfect construction? Thank goodness i agree with you on that too, or I’d never finish anything! No one ever notices the little points that aren’t quite pointy enough. but they’ll appreciate the design every time they look at it.

  14. Vicki says:

    Christa, I love your tutorials. They are easy to understand and VERY helpful. I too enjoy designing my own quilts.

  15. Vera says:

    I usually create hybrids. I like too many things so I combine. Works the best for me :-)

  16. What a relief to know that a good design trumps perfect construction…. There may be hope for me yet! Thanks for sharing your thoughts on quilt design, Christa. I have to check out your link to the modern Gee’s Bend style quilts and study up!

  17. Darlene says:

    Good read Christa! I enjoyed it, as I do all of your blog postings:)
    I bought EQ7, loaded it onto the computer, (some months ago), and have not learned enough to use it. That is near the top of my 2014 list of things I want to do. I am really loving the modern quilt styles, and one day will be able to quilt beautifully in all that negative space.

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