The Design Process

Design and art are a continual learning process. The longer I quilt the more I learn (obviously).  Lately, I’ve been trying to document my design process. I have always sort of known how my process works, but I’ve never really tried to document it – you know, how I get from conception to the finished product – on paper. Easy for someone else to understand. Something tangible for me to use to show and explain how I got there.

I have several hard cover, blank page books in my house. Most of them are pasted full of magazine clippings, how-to articles, quilts photos, recipes, you name it. I call these books my inspiration books. When I need a little inspiration I flip through my books. Some of these books have drawings in them, other quilt related sketches and design ideas. Unfortunately I typically have one drawing for any particular quilt and then I don’t document how I get from point a to point b to the finished quilt. I know how I got there but nothing is in writing. And that’s fine. Until I try to remember how or why I did something. My designs have always just come to me. I generally start with a vague idea in mind and the quilt evolves from there. No pattern, no real end product in mind. I might get inspiration from a quilt I see, some fabric or any other number of things  – the way the road curves, a rug, a photograph, a piece of art, a magazine cover – you get the idea – and often I incorporate the elements from different quilts into a quilt of my own.

I recently decided that I need to start drawing/sketching my ideas in one book so I could see how I get from beginning to end. Follow the process. Leave it as my legacy. It’s been interesting. It’s also helped get the quilt related “clutter” out of my head. Once it’s on paper I don’t really have to remember the various components I’m considering and my brain feels free.  Plus I can reference my little black book at any time. I keep it on my kitchen counter, along with the black fine point Sharpie pen, so I can just “get it out” whenever needed.

I decided that I wanted to make an English paper pieced hexagon quilt before Q man was born. I googled, looked at blogs, and other quilts to get some ideas. I spent endless hours searching and researching and I found this quilt. I immediately fell in love with it – how the colors played into each other and the quilt moved. And I LOVE Japanese quilts and fabrics!

This quilt was made by an 83 year old Japanese woman. Impressive! *

I went through my stash and pulled out all my grey, black, cream, slate and taupe fabric. I didn’t have a lot so that meant a trip to my favorite quilt shop. I spent a few hours there and ended up with about 40 fabrics in the color range I wanted. After washing and pressing the fabrics I cut a snip of each and arranged them, light to dark, on a piece of paper so I wouldn’t forget the order. I cut a million little paper hexagons and what seemed like another million little fabric hexagons. Finally! I could start my work.

I basted almost all the hexagons I’d cut and wanted to start making the parts. Each circle had a center with the next “darker” fabric in the middle.  I was happy that my sheet listing the fabrics was a good idea even though I didn’t know it at the time. My plan was to have the quilt move from one side to the other going from light to dark. Basically, I’d follow the same general design as the quilt above but instead of using blocks I’d use hexagons and they’d flow into each other which seemed reasonable since the colors moved from light to dark.

I had close to thirty of the circles made when a friend and I laid them out at the shop for the first time. I didn’t love it and I couldn’t figure out why. Sarah, the owner of Intown Quilters and lover of all quilts bright and wild not muted and neutral, noted that it was really drab. And it was. But that wasn’t what was really bothering me because I liked the colors, or so I thought.  I was getting frustrated but kept on making circles. I made a few more and laid them out on my living room floor one evening. I asked husband what he thought and he said “it looks like a bunch of little flowers”. That’s it! That’s what’s bothering me. I didn’t want all the flowers. I wanted the quilt to flow from color to color or blend and the flowers caused too much contrast. Back to the drawing board. Sort of.

I decided to add a hexagon to two sides of my circles, giving them a top and a bottom,  and making them into diamonds. After adding pieces to several more circles I once again laid the parts I had on the floor. I still didn’t love it and now I definitely didn’t like the blues and blacks.  I did, however, like the neutrals and how they played off one another when I took out all the other colors.  I liked how there wasn’t a lot of contrast between the pieces and knew that I’d really be happy with the quilt if I incorporated some very subtle pinks and purples and let all the pieces blend together.   This is when I admitted to myself that I didn’t want to make a drab grey, cream and taupe quilt.

I’ve now decided that I’m going to randomly piece the hexagons and let all the pieces blend together.  Kind of an English paper pieced scrap quilt if that sort of thing even exists.  I’m thinking once the center is finished I’ll use the diamonds along the border. But that, too, may change.

* these photos were taken by Jennifer from – just making sure I give credit where credit is due –

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