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How I Design My Art Quilts

Updated: Nov 16, 2023


I find inspiration for my art quilts in the world around me. It is a very rewarding experience and I have learnt to have fun with it. I teach in person classes and nowadays with the advancements in technology, I have students and followers from all over the world. I often get asked about my design process and I thought I’ll share some of the steps that I follow when I design.

I start by gathering inspiration. I do this all the time, whether it is for the idea that I am working on or just inspiration in general. This means that I have stacks of photos in a folder labelled Images and Ideas. Sometimes it might be an interesting texture and at other times, the pattern on a Persian carpet. Or a beautiful bird or landscape or simply just a feather. Roof tiles, interesting patterns that oil makes on a puddle of water, the wing of a moth….the list is endless! Inspiration is all around us!

START WITH A GOOD IMAGE (Photo of birds with permission from Johann Harmse)


To translate an image into a design depends on the tools you have at your disposal and the technique you plan to use. If I am doing a pictorial artwork, I normally start with a sketch or a photo that I resize so that it will be the correct size in scale of what I want to create.


I work the ‘old fashioned’ way to enlarge my sketch…that means, pencils, long ruler and paper and lots of measurements. It is a matter of measuring in, let’s say inches, drawing a grid of inches over my photo or drawing and then, on a large piece of paper, drawing a bigger grid in, for instance 2 inch squares. Each one inch square represents a two inch square on the bigger grid. This bigger grid depends on the size that I want my final picture to be. Once the bigger grid is drawn, I can then successfully re-draw the original picture. It is a bit of a roundabout way of doing things but it works for me. Perhaps you can try it too!



Once enlarged, I transfer the image onto the background fabric and if my design needs tweaking, now is the time!


I never do a test run of the final work as I feel that the artwork is done. I don’t ever do a smaller work to ‘see if it will work’. If I work on a pictorial, I work on the background fabric and I do the auditioning of fabrics as the work progresses. The same goes for when I am busy with an abstract artwork. I will not first do a smaller ‘mock-up’ of what I am planning to do. I work directly on my final piece.



Everyone has their own design process. I would like to hear from you how you design. I love hearing what challenges you are faced with in your design/creative journey. Please share them with me in the comments.



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Your process is very well outlined, and would be easy to follow for someone to make an art quilt with a pictorial/representational inspired design. Indeed I think many new art quiltmakers want to make pictures in fabric and thread. But there are other styles, made by artists from a host of different kinds of inspiration, and I think it would be good to follow up with at least some recognition of this. I'm a juried artist member of SAQA, Studio Art Quilt Associates, and among their many education and support programs for members is a program of matching members who want mentoring in some aspect of their art with someone like myself who volunteers to steer and guide self-paced developmen…

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