The Free Motion Quilting Project: Playing with Designs

Friday, May 18, 2012

Playing with Designs

One of my favorite things to do is graphic design.  Unfortunately I rarely have the time or excuse to play with designing on the computer because this tends to get out of hand and I end up spending solid days glued to the computer, obsessively clicking lines and drawing shapes.

But the last few days I've had a wonderful excuse to play with a sun design I've been wanting to draw for the inside cover of the new book of 365 designs.  I always try to include a special image in the front cover which captures the idea of the book, or at least showcases some of the designs.

Here's the inside covers for From Daisy to Paisley and From Feathers to Flames:

With each new design, I get a bit better at it.  Learning how the program works, its quirks and malfunctions, and how to draw with a pen tablet was really the hardest part.  Now it's just a matter of taking what is in my head and getting it into the computer in a useable form.

As for programs, I know the industry standard is Adobe Illustrator for graphic illustrations like this.  Unfortunately I just don't have the patience, time, or cash to spend on such a complicated and expensive program.

Instead I use Serif Draw Plus, which is similar in nature, but stripped down and much more simple to use.  It also helps that it's much cheaper than Adobe software, but still produces nice images that can be exported to any dpi (dots per inch) so the resulting image looks good whether it's printed online or in a book. 

So this week I've been fiddling around with a sun design for the inside cover of the 365 book.  I wanted an image that would capture several designs from the book, but also be slightly reminiscent of Release Your Light, a quilt image I used at the heading of many early videos for the project.

After a bit of fiddling, I came up with this:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
It looked great on the screen, but once printed, I realized several rays of the sun would be cut off.  Hmm...not my cup of tea.

Back to the drawing board!  A bit of fiddling, grouping, copying and pasting later and here's the final sun:

free motion quilting | Leah Day
I'm extremely pleased with this version, especially because it fits perfectly on the page and none of the rays are getting their arms cut off.

Looking at this image, I couldn't help but feel like it's a bit of a waste to only use it on the inside cover to this book.  It would look so good on a quilt, especially with the feathers running along each ray.

It just so happened that I've been re-thinking the design for Power of Life, a goddess quilt I started working on this spring around James's birthday.

free motion quilting | Leah Day
The top part around the goddess just seemed too empty - too blank and open and not at all the huge visual impact that I wanted to happen for that area of the quilt.

The addition of this sun, a bit of tweaking for everything to layer properly and not make a mess and viola!

free motion quilting | Leah Day
I'm MUCH more happy with this version and very excited to give it a go.  I may still fiddle with the background as it still feels a little boring, but overall this design is in much better shape now.

Now you might be wondering how to get started with graphic design, so here's some basic tips:

1. Start on paper.  I start all of my drawings in some form on a regular piece of drawing paper and fiddle with them there first, then scan them into the computer, then use that image as a base for the graphic design.

Why?  Personally I find it easier to work with something to start because otherwise I have trouble getting the scale and sizes of shapes right without some frame of reference.

2. Invest in the right tools.  Just like with free motion quilting, piecing, or applique, you're going to need some specific tools for graphic designing including software and a drawing tablet.  I use a Bamboo tablet which works quite well, though it does have a learning curve because you have to draw on the tablet, but look at the computer screen to see what you're drawing.

3. Use predrawn shapes.  Most of these illustration type programs have sets of predrawn shapes.  For example, my sun is actually a variation of a cog shape.  I didn't have to work out all those vectors and angles myself - the program did it for me.  I was able to fiddle with the number of rays, how big the center circle was, how wide the total shape ended up, etc.  This is SO much faster than trying to sort these angles out by hand, though it is possible if you have no other alternative.

4. Play, play, play.  Don't ask your kid to come learn the program for you.  YOU must learn it and the only way to do that is by playing with it a bit every day until it starts to make sense.

Two years ago, I would not have been able to create this sun image.  I wouldn't have had a clue how to get started.  Last year, I know I could have created it, but it would have taken 3 days to make because I didn't know the shortcuts of the program.  Give yourself time and be patient as you learn this new skill.

Now that Power of Life is designed, I'd really like to go pull fabric and get started constructing this quilt top.  But wait!  What if I hand dyed all the fabric first?!  LOL!

Time to shut up and go quilt,



  1. Leahy mouth dropped open just seeing your designs. You are one of my favorite designers because of how sown to earth you are. The goodess quilt is breathtaking i wish sometimes that i was a good friend that was able to visit often to learn all I could from you! You have been blessed with a wonderful gift!

  2. Stunning drawings! The computer becomes a very powerful tool in the drawing, with a lot of happy mistakes in my case. Thanks for the post!

  3. Wow, what a difference with the sun above/around your goddess! Like the missing, crucial piece of a puzzle, it just finishes it perfectly.

  4. you did a great job! I´m so looking forward to your new book, it is a must have!
    Liebe Grüße

  5. Nice work Leah :) Thanks for sharing your tips on how to do graphic design too~ You are such a multi-talented young woman! Leah, you are always so helpful and encouraging! It is so kind the way you share what you have learned or what you know and help others learn and try new things. Hope you have a great weekend dear, looking forward to more quilt alongs with you.

  6. I'm looking forward to this book, and especially love the sun design. I am a fan of the CBS Sunday Morning suns that are shown during the program. Thanks, also, for the reference to the graphic design program. I, too, can't afford the Adobe Illustrator for the little time that I would use it. Any idea when your book will be published?

  7. That's awesome Leah! I've been dying to know what programs you used for your designs.

    I've been trying for several years to design on the computer and have been so frustrated with canned quilt design software because it is so limited. Yet Adobe Illustrator seemed too complex.

    It's great to know there's another program alternative out there. Thanks for the designing tips - I'd love to see more!!

  8. Lovely! Boy, for someone with no formal artistic schooling, you sure are talented!

  9. Hi Leah,
    You're so creative. I love all your designs. Will the background of your book design's be white or will you have some background color?

    They all make a powerful statement.
    All the best.

  10. Thanks for this. I am trying to create a logo for my blog and this just may help. I don't know if I am saying this righ, but does that program create vector graphics?

  11. Love, love, love what the sun did to your Power of Life goddess. Dramatic change. Know it will be beautiful.


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