Step By Step: How I Make A Quilt Pattern

How-To-Make-A-Quilt-Pattern

Alright ya’ll. This is the post where I dish all of my little tips and secrets about how I write a quilt pattern from beginning to end. This is not necessarily the best or the right way to do it, but it’s the way I do it. As I learn and grow, this process will most likely change, and as it does I’ll try to update this post, but currently, this is it.

A quick disclaimer: I am a graphic designer by trade, and thus use Adobe Creative Cloud. If you are unfamiliar with Adobe CC, parts of this step-by-step guide will be confusing. Rather than counting yourself out, consider downloading a free 30 day trial and testing out the software. It helps me immensely in every aspect of writing and publishing a pattern. It may be the perfect tool for you too.

An Outline Of The Process

In my blog post about my Lake Michigan In Denim Quilt, I briefly outline my design process. In a nutshell, I break designing down into three equal parts: Research, Planning and Execution. For the sake of organization, I’m going to use those three points to outline my steps.

Research

There are two kinds of research. One is something you do unintentionally every day. Probably every hour you are awake you are making decisions about what you like and don’t like, what you think looks good and what looks bad. I had an art teacher who called this an “artist’s layering of experiences.” It’s these layers that define our aesthetic and help us make design decisions. Most of this is occurring on a subconscious level.

The second kind of research is intentional fact finding and observation. In addition to basic daily observation, part of this step is researching other artists, designers, quilters, pattern writers, surface designers, textile artists, ANYONE who is making interesting things. Anything that has inspired you lately, dive in deeper. Notice the subtleties of WHY you like it. What are the elements that make it “beautiful?”

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This step is especially important when designing for a client. A little bit ago I wrote a pattern for a client who had a specific aesthetic in mind. She sent me a few images, but it was up to me to wrap my head around the concept enough that I could put my own personal spin on it. Below are the images that the client provided. She said that she was looking for an Aztec patchwork design.

I had never done anything like that before, so I knew research was going to be vital.

Aztec-Design-Inspiration

I mostly Googled variations of the keywords “Aztec Pattern” and “Tribal Design.” I spent at least 45 minutes to an hour familiarizing myself with this style.

Planning​

Now that I was confident I knew what shapes, colors and patterns fell under the chosen aesthetic, it was time for me to plan out the quilt. I always do this in Adobe Illustrator. I never sketch designs out on paper. I find that starting on the computer alleviates a lot of the early mess ups and frustrations. If I make a mistake, I just hit Command + Z. If I like a quilt block, then within seconds I can copy, paste and repeat it. If I’m not sure about a color, I can quickly scroll through 10 different color options until I find the perfect combination.

Some people find paper and colored pencils relaxing. I’m not one of those people.​

For each quilt that I actually make, I most likely designed 3 to 5 completely different variations of that quilt. That’s not including color and scale changes, that’s 3 to 5 completely different quilt designs. I’ve found that my first design is usually not my best. Sometimes it is, but that’s always a surprise when it happens. Usually around sketch 3 and 4 I start hitting the mark and getting excited about how the composition is coming together.

Below are three completely different designs I submitted to my client. In addition to the three I dubbed as my best, I also designed 2 others that failed to make the cut.​

Since writing this post, I have written a FREE pattern based on the Aztec Warrior quilt and released the Mayan Mosaic pattern in my shop!​

Aztec-Warrior Quilt
Mayan-Mosaic-Quilt
Xoco-Quilt

The client liked “Aztec Warrior” the best, so from there I tested multiple color schemes and presented the top three again.

Warrior-Quilt-Color-Options

From there, we chose to use color option 3.

Now quilty peeps, this is the not-so-fun part – figuring out the quilt math and fabric measurements. Sadly this part of the process is inevitable, and sometimes it’s not sooo bad, but...sigh...I’m not going to sugar coat it, it can be TOUGH. This specific design hurt my brain a little...OK a lot.

If you’re on snapchat, you saw all of the crazy nonsense that went into piecing this together. There were times when I ripped a single section apart four times. That was a low point. BUT the high points of pieces fitting together perfectly tooootally outweighed the low times.

I’m jumping ahead of myself. This is how a non-mathy quilter calculates her quilts….​

Execution​

True confession: occasionally when I’m on the verge of figuring out the math, but just not quite getting it...I use trial and error. I know I know...I’m not proud of it, but sometimes, it’s all my brain can handle. I just cut out what I think will work and then slice off a ¼” at a time or recut larger pieces. It ain't pretty, but it gets the job done.​

Because my client wanted to provide the fabric for this quilt, I needed to provide yardage estimates. So before calculating exact piece and block measurements, I figured out roughly how much of each fabric I would need by laying out and counting the shapes. Sometimes I even create an art board in Illustrator that is 42” x 36” (the size of a yard of quilting cotton) and place the shapes in that for a visual idea of what I need.​

I also use this online fabric calculator to help me figure out binding and backing requirements.​

Since the math is not exact at this point, I requested a little more fabric than I needed so I would have wiggle room for mistakes.​

Quilt-Diagram

Once I was ready to figure out exact math, I created an art board in Illustrator that was the size of my finished quilt. In this case, I knew that I wanted the center part of my quilt, the half square triangles, to be 3.5” finished blocks...because that’s easy and I like easy.

From there I concluded that the full width of this quilt would be 56” finished (16 half square triangles across at 3.5” = 56”). I created an art board that was 56” x 62” (the 62” was a total estimate. I knew the quilt was going to be slightly longer than it was wide.). I then proportionately stretched my vector quilt design to fit the art board’s width (since that was the measurement I knew to be correct) and realized that an art board of 56” x 65” was going to be more accurate. 

I could then click on each vector shape I had made and get a fairly accurate estimate of how large the finished size of the shape should be. Because this was a moderately complex pattern, as I figured out the math, I cut and sewed pieces together. I found this to be easier and also much more rewarding than trying to figure ALL of the math all at once and then cutting and sewing the pieces together.​

For most of my patterns, however, I do figure out the math before cutting and sewing anything. Based on the design, every pattern will need to be treated a little differently.​

Writing The Final Quilt Pattern​

If you are attempting to write your first pattern, it’s helpful to look at other patterns to see how they are laid out. I use Photoshop to edit all of my images and InDesign to layout the actual PDF pattern. Basic things you need to include are:​

  • A full picture/sketch of the finished quilt top
  • Fabric requirements
  • Cutting measurements
  • Step-by-step sewing instructions
  • Include illustrations or photos of potentially difficult steps

Optional things you may want to include:

  • Based on your audience you may want to walk through standard quilting supplies and the basics of basting and machine quilting
  • Different color options for your quilt
  • Video tutorials

Once you have all of your math figured out and your steps written down, have at least one and preferably two people read through the pattern. Sometimes things will make sense in your head and then make zero sense to others when read on paper. I also triple check my math and have a second person figure out the math using a different technique than I used.

Writing quilt patterns is challenging, so be patient and start slowly with a simple design. Here's the link to my FREE Warrior Quilt pattern. Enjoy! xo

Warrior Quilt

24 thoughts on “Step By Step: How I Make A Quilt Pattern

  1. Debbie Grosskopf says:

    Find quirky, interesting places for breakfast – foodie spots that locals love! Eat like a local! Eat……

  2. Caitlyn says:

    IDK if this will help or not… and probably it is cheating and not the way to do things…but, I like to design quilts in their actual size on AI, then I print out a scaled down version and go back through, click on each square and write down the size that Illustrator tells me it is – then I add seam allowance. I print out pieces with diagonals, measure, and then add seam allowance to those. Maybe I do more math along the way than I am aware of – mostly I just spend a lot of time in preview mode aligning things.

    My favorite thing to do on vacation is think about all the projects I left at home that I want to finish.

  3. Allison says:

    Hi Suzy. Thanks for sharing your process. Very interesting. I rushed right over from Instagram because I am in the process of writing a pattern, which I have not done before. I mean really done, as in re-make a quilt I have made before, take photographs along the way, and so forth. I’m stuck at whether or not to include detailed instructions as to how to cut and sew together binding (including joining the ends) and other details like basting the quilt. It’s a new and unknown process! I usually just kind of make things up, as far as planning quilts, as I go along, working with a basic idea for a pattern. Isn’t it all so fun? Enjoy seeing your quilts and your little dog is so cute.

  4. andrea (@andreacollects) says:

    Love this peek behind your process of a quilt. And really interesting that you always start with a drawing on your computer ant not by hand. so far I only made simple quilts with triangles and squares. Nothing where you need to be a genius in mathematics. But I have to say, I really love this design and will maybe try it someday (when I completed the other two I bought from you last week 🙂 )

  5. Evelyn says:

    Hi Suzy love the pattern, my favorite thing to do besides go on vacation and enjoyed my family is make quilts, I’m on the process of quilting my daughter quilt that took me over a year to finished, I was jumping from one project to another.I love all your designs and I would like to write one day one. Thank you for insparing us every day!

  6. Audrey says:

    Suzy, this is so much good information. Thank you for taking the time to explain your methods. I will remember this the next time I pay for a pattern. ????

  7. Lizzie says:

    So interesting to read! The more I read, the more I’d like to learn Illustrator and In Design. I love how this came out!

  8. Henny says:

    Super!! Thank you very much!!
    Which program do you use to write your patterns? I looked at the pdf. So profi!! And the drawings!!

  9. Katie says:

    I rely heavily on Offset Path (Object: Path: Offset Path) in Illustrator to calculate seam allowance. It is fast and I get to avoid math!

  10. Melanie Collette says:

    I totally do the chop-till-it-drops method if the math is too hard (triangles… kill me). For yardage requirements, I use the Robert Kaufman quilt calculator math for basic stuff, but I do have to re-do the math for background fabric most of the time since the app doesn’t take into account different sub-cuts. And then I send it to my much smarter quilt-math friend and she helps me even more 😉 Offset Path is a LIFESAVER for drawing templates too. I love to see how other people work, I always learn something new!

  11. Laurel says:

    Great post! I guess I’m curious about why you don’t use a program like EQ7 to design? It does the math for you, so when I do patterns I don’t have to do so much trial and error on piece sizes. I’m going to have to buy all three of your patterns shown here! I love them! 🙂

    • Suzy says:

      I’m not familiar with EQ7. Does it allow total flexibility or are there certain parameters? If it does the math for me, I most definitely need to look into it. That would be amaaaazing!

      • Samantha says:

        EQ7 is great!
        There are hundreds of blocks, colours, layouts, etc. You can add more through Block Base at a small cost.You can colour the quilt with solid colour or with fabrics. And you can get more fabrics online – some for free each month and lots more for a low cost. You can even scan in a fabric!!
        The program will export photos, fabric requirements, cutting instructions and more.

  12. Mary at Fleur de Lis Quilts says:

    Quilt math kills me. Actually any math kills me, but at least I’m willing to do quilt math. At least EQ7 does math, but there are other limitations. I’m interested in Illustrator and InDesign as a way of creating patterns. The problem is the cost of all these programs without knowing which one would work well. I’d like a program that allows me to draw “life size” pattern pieces that look professional. For now, I’m using EQ7 and very crude method that cobbles together two or three programs. It’s okay, but much too time consuming.

    • Suzy says:

      Illustrator allows you to create an artboard that is the exact size of the finished quilt, so every piece is to scale. I love it. There still is a lot of math involved, but it’s not so bad… 😉

  13. Lisa Beaupre says:

    I have been searching and searching for this type of site, and ALMOST gave up! Thank you for providing this most helpful information!

  14. Maria C says:

    Great advice Suzy. I have just sent my last child off to school and contemplating ‘what next’ I have sketched a couple of patterns and thinking it may be fun to turn the sketches into patterns. BTW…love your Instagram videos, look forward to watching them everyday

  15. Pingback: Stars Hollow Quilt - Suzy Quilts

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