The full design stage happens partially in parallel with the last portions of modeling, but extends past that stage also. When I do a full design, I sit down with my block/picture models and some more graph paper, and usually a movie or TV shows or something, so I have a little distraction and someplace to refocus my eyes.
I usually, based on the blocks I’ve chosen, draw a large rectangle on the graph paper, assigning each little square one inch. Most of my quilts hover in the 36 X 48 region. This, too, is a little unusual. Crib mattresses are generally 26 X 48 or somewhere in that area. But I usually think of my quilts as being floor quilts for tummy time, so I just do what size I like, and I like 36ish X 48ish. Again, this depends on block size and whether I’m doing sashing or anything like that (meaning extra strips or blocks of non-patchworked fabric separating blocks).
Once I have a large rectangle, or part of the rectangle (sometimes leaving dimensions up in the air until I get the blocks worked in), I work on where the blocks will go, how many there will be, and what the best arrangement is, as well as deciding whether extra space is needed. For a block that is almost all patchworked for the featured part, extra space is helpful. For a block that is mostly background and a smaller shape, extra space is unnecessary. There is a lot of erasing in this stage, as I jigsaw puzzle the pieces in. Often it comes together right away. Just as often, it takes days and many moments of re-thinking what I’ve done, revising the design. Sometimes I just outline the blocks, especially if it’s a complicated quilt with many blocks, as with the circus quilt. Sometimes I’ll draw the design on each block in, as with the turtle quilt or the violet quilt. In any case, things sometimes have to move around a lot until everything fits in just so. A mechanical pencil is very crucial to this whole process—one with a good eraser. Sometimes, if a quilt is regular in its geometrics, I will do the main lines over in pen, since pencil tends to smear (especially the way I write).
I should note here that I use a mechanical pencil for just about everything in the quilting process—I used to get in trouble in elementary school for using a dull pencil, and of course as I just mentioned I tend to smear a lot when I write. In the design process, I do have to force myself to write lightly at first, so I can erase if needed. But when I’m more sure of my design, I go ahead and draw things in darkly, so that’s sort of a sign or measure of my certainty about what I’m doing. If I’ve jumped the gun, I won’t erase—I will start over with a new piece of graph paper.
I usually have some idea of what I want to do on the edge of the quilt at that point, so if I’m using a border or something special I’ll go ahead and draw that in, too. The circus quilt, for instance, has a scalloped edge, as does the pearl quilt. The lady quilt has a proper border, and the alphabet appliqué quilt has piping. It’s important to draw in something like a scallop, so you can make sure the border won’t overlap your design, and you can space in any background fabric needed.
As an additional note, my favorite graph paper right now has five squares/inch on one side and four squares/inch on the other. I generally need to use the five-square side for the full design, but I can work out other designs on the back, as if I’m doing a medallion block on the back or something. It’s also helpful for doing the individual blocks, depending on the dimensions and need for more subtle angles.
This is the design for my present project. I did birds on the top and violets on the bottom. This is for the second child of a particular family, and I did something I normally didn't do--I did a pattern that was similar to the one for the first child. The first quilt was fireflies and stars. The arrangement of the elements is similar, or at least inspired by the other. The quilts will be very different, but there will be a unity between them that I enjoy. Best Part: I love seeing the full design coming together. It is usually at this point that I feel all is right with the world…usually. Sometimes I’m still uncertain, but at least when this stage is finished I feel like I’ve really created something. It’s like an architect’s blueprints, I imagine. Someday I might frame them. Worst Part: When things don’t fit, I get antsy and obsessive. Next: Stage Two! Fabric Choice