The Free Motion Quilting Project: Tips for Writing a Quilt Pattern

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Tips for Writing a Quilt Pattern

Guess what I'm doing today? Yep, writing!

free motion quilting | Leah Day

This is my normal writing mode - curled up on the computer with papers spread all over the place (and all over the floor). I like to write in my guest bedroom rather than the office because I seem to focus better when I'm in a room all by myself. Also the natural light in this room is the best in the house, so that probably has something to do with it!

What am I writing? Today I'm working on the Building Blocks Quilt Pattern, which is going to come in somewhere around 65 pages, so I guess I should call it a book rather than a pattern! The rough draft and all the fabric calculations are done, so now I'm just organizing and formatting everything to look good in the final pattern.

Since this is what I'm really doing today, I figured I'd share some tips about writing quilt patterns and the software I use to make cool graphics like these.

free motion quilting | Leah Day

This isn't rocket science, but it is a skill that requires some practice and investing in the right software is key.

I guess that should be my first tip - use good software. I used to be stubborn about this and used the Microsoft Works program that came on my computer for free. It was free and it more or less did the job, but it was very limiting. I struggled to place photos and graphics because every time I changed something on page 1, it would alter everything in the whole document.

That program might have been free, but it cost me in other ways: endless headaches and lots of wasted time fiddling with documents that could have been much more easily formatted if I'd invested in the right software to begin with.

Even worse, Works was discontinued a few years ago and suddenly the new computer I bought didn't have it installed. I couldn't open any of my saved documents!

It's taken a few years, and lots of money in compatibility software in order to fix this issue, and it could all have been solved from the beginning if I'd used a paid, upgradable program instead.

So easy solution - if you want to write get some software that will grow with you. These days I'm using Microsoft Word for rough drafts of all my books and patterns, and then if I do the final formatting I use Microsoft Publisher. These aren't super expensive programs, but do cost something (not free), but it's a worthy investment if you're looking to write professionally.

As for the graphic designs, the free Paint program on your computer is not going to cut it! I use Serif Draw Plus for all my graphic design work.

The more common program to use for this work is Adobe Illustrator, and yes, this does cause me some issues when I work with other graphic designers. I really should be using Illustrator, but I find it way too complicated and fiddly (not to mention ridiculously expensive).

Which brings me to my next tip - Learn how to use your software!

Yes, every program has a learning curve and it will take time to learn how to format the text, place photos, align, wrap the text, and so on. Draw plus had a smaller learning curve than Illustrator, but even still it took more than 6 months for me to really get the hang of this program.

The way I look at learning curves these days is like this: the first pattern you write will likely take you 3 times longer than you expect. The first drawing you make will take hours, or even days to complete.

Mostly this length of time will be spent learning how to use the program and figuring out how to get what you want. It will be time consuming and sometimes frustrating and tedious. Stick with it!

So the first thing you try will be time consuming. The second time you'll get a little faster. The third time you'll be even faster. Just like with quilting - each time you repeat these steps you will get more comfortable and confident and the process will get faster.

By the time you're writing your 10th pattern, or creating your 100th graphic image, you will fly through the process because you will have already been there and done that before.

Today I know I can finish the Building Blocks pattern by Friday. 2 years ago this would have taken me another month to complete, 4 years ago I couldn't have created even half of this myself. It's simply a skill to learn and develop over time.

And when it comes to developing skills, here's my last tip: dedicate time to learn. Josh and I recently started allotting 2 hours a week to training so he can learn video editing and graphic design. Before we never really set a dedicated time, and so these skills have never been given proper time and attention to develop.

Thinking more about my issues with Adobe Illustrator, I know I could master this program if I took a class on it. Not only would this enable me to buy the program at the discounted student rate, it would also help me bypass the time consuming, tedious learning phase.

So dedicate a set amount of time to just click around and learn and play each week, or take a class to get the basics under your belt. If you want to write patterns or books, this investment of time and money will most definitely pay off down the road.

Now it's back to Publisher for me as I finish up the formatting for the Building Blocks Quilt Pattern. If all goes well this pattern should be available next week!

Let's go quilt (or write),



  1. Love to hear about the "kitchen" used to prepare all your work. My desk looks like yours, papers everywhere.

  2. very interesting. when you write a blog post do you write in Word and then copy over?

  3. Hi Peggy B - No, I usually don't write blog posts in Word simply because the formatting probably won't transfer when it's copied to the blog platform. It's far easier to just write a blog post within the blogger engine and add formatting wherever you need it as you go.



  4. Your reasoning is precisely why I am so committed to doing your FMQ and other assignments. I also take techie classes on-line. Currently I am improving my Photoshop Elements skills through an Ed2Go class.

    I was wondering if you would write a blog on the process you go through to create, edit and post one of your videos. Actually, the topic might take several posts.

  5. Thanks so much for this encouraging post! I'm now at the point where it's time to get serious about writing and publishing and I feel like not learning these tools has been holding me back.

    I took a quick browse through my software and realized I actually have most of these programs! I like your idea of setting aside the dedicated time each week for learning. ;-)

  6. I use Draw Plus too and love it. I never got the hang of Illustrator. With Draw Plus and Photoshop, I have all I need.


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