Wednesday, February 10, 2016

PWS- How to Write a Quilt Pattern - Roundtable Topic 4 - General Pattern Writing

Topic IV - General Pattern Writing - Round Table Discussion

On Monday I covered Topic IV, I discussed some general pattern writing guidelines such as figuring out your audience, building a library of block instructions, and building consistency within the pattern. 

In this round table discussion, I picked the guest designers' brains on their thoughts on general pattern writing.

Tomorrow (Thursday, Feb 11th), Lorna from Sew Fresh Quilts will be posting on her perspective and evolution as a pattern designer.

Friday, (Feb 12th), Soma from Whims and Fancies will be posting about why she paper pieces.  

When writing patterns, what are some assumptions you make (about the skill level of the quilter, what materials are standard, etc)?

Amy of 13 Spools - Ugh, I’d like to assume everything! Lol. I always list patterns for “confident beginners” or something higher, because if someone has never once sat down at a sewing machine, well….they won’t know how to thread a needle or sew a quarter-inch seam or...anything.

I always assume that my quilters have the following: sewing machine, thread, needles, scissors, cutting mat, rotary cutter, iron, pencils, paper - all those basics, and a few I’m probably missing. A friend, a stiff drink, and a seam ripper might also be necessary, but I don’t mention those ;) Anything else, I try to include in the materials list.

Soma of Whims and Fancies - Other than custom pattern projects, I mainly write patterns for my own use, I typically don’t write them with selling in mind. I like to make it as easy as possible for anyone to sew from any given pattern. That includes myself.

Due to extra details, some patterns are more complex than others, but I have had beginners make wonderful, finished blocks from my complex patterns.

I also assume that the person making the block/quilt has some basic knowledge of quilting. To me, patterns are instructions to make something specific, they are not sewing instructions. I include pattern specific skills needed in the pattern listing section, so the buyer is aware of that ahead of time.  Like Amy says, I also list patterns for confident beginner or higher.

Yvonne of Quilting Jetgirl - I generally assume that the width of fabric is 40ʺ. I assume a quilter is capable of a consistent ¼ʺ seam allowance and knows what to do if I call for a scant ¼ʺ seam allowance. I assume basic fabric cutting capabilities/tools, but if a specific ruler (such as a square ruler) is really helpful or necessary for success, I will note that in the pattern. *Craftsy has a required tools section to fill in which is really great for letting buyers know if there are specific tools they will need.

Anne of Springleaf Studios - I still wonder about how I should approach this. My early inclination was to include everything but it quickly became apparent that I was writing a pattern not a book. Therefore some assumptions like a general understanding of basic quilting skills have to be made. I still try to include as much as is feasible given the space restraints of a pattern.

Christa of Christa Quilts - Like Anne, I had to figure out in the beginning what information I wanted to include. Ironically, writing a book helped me become a better pattern writer because I could clearly see the difference between the two formats. A book includes a lot more general information that applies to all of the patterns within the book. However, a pattern is a one-off and should be able to stand on its own.

That said, I gear my patterns towards comfortable beginners. I assume they know how to use a rotary cutter and understand basic quilting terminology. I include fabric requirements, batting requirements, backing requirements and any specialty tools that are needed. I assume the reader has basic rotary cutting equipment and a sewing machine.

Lorna of Sew Fresh Quilts - I am on the same page as Christa when it comes to assuming what a prospective client will already know about quilting. When writing patterns, I assume that the buyer of the pattern would have a general knowledge of how to make a quilt. If the construction of the blocks requires making units such as HST or Flying Geese, I will include the instructions of how to make them using my preferred method. Other than the materials needed in the construction of the quilt, such as fabric and batting, I don't list that they will need to have an acrylic ruler, rotary cutter, cutting mat, sewing machine, thread, iron, etc.

In addition to the instructions in the pattern, is there anything you typically include? (Extra tips, links to websites for basic quilting instructions, how long steps take, etc)

Yvonne of Quilting Jetgirl - I like to provide tips in the pattern along the way, especially when I have found myself making a mistake when doing a particular step. I referenced a website for a basic Y seam introduction when I did not want to spend time in my pattern dedicated to the topic and I also did not want to assume that the quilter had proficiency in that skill.

I usually include a coloring page, give detailed information on fabric selection, or even provide a worksheet to outline a thought process to help a quilter cultivate a story and meaning behind the quilt they are making. I have also included additional information like a secondary quilt pattern that can be made from scraps generated when piecing the quilt top.

Amy of 13 Spools - Not really - does that make me a bad quilt patterner?

Christa of Christa Quilts - Because I specialize in teaching others how to quilt on their home sewing machines, I will usually include machine quilting ideas with a closeup or two of the quilting I did in the pattern. I also include links to a few basic tutorials on my website like basting and binding.

I really like Lorna's suggestion of recommending links to an in-depth tutorial. That would save space in the pattern while helping those readers who need a little more hand-holding.

Anne of Springleaf Studios - Yes, I do include extras. In addition to tips throughout the instructions, I also include a mini Design Lesson to help the quilter understand the block and the overall quilt design, a Design Explorations section that shows examples of alternative ways the pattern can be used to create different versions, and a coloring page so the quilter can play with their own ideas. A couple of patterns also include directions for a pillow that is made from the block trimmings.

I like Yvonne and Christa's idea of offering links for additional tutorials or tips. I think these links should be helpful bonus information like binding or HST methods and not critical instructions you need in order to make the project. Providing links is easy with a digital pattern as the user can easily click over to the link. It does require more effort on the user's part though if it's a paper pattern. Just something to think about if you plan to offer both paper and digital patterns.

Lorna of Sew Fresh Quilts - Like Anne, I have also been known to offer alternative options for choosing a palette or layout and occasionally include a handy colouring page. If your quilt design uses a specific method such as Paper Piecing or Stitch and Flip, I would either include a short tutorial or recommend links to an in depth tutorial. "Quilt as desired" can be an annoyance to those who would appreciate more guidance. Offering suggestions for the quilting is a courtesy.

Soma of Whims and Fancies - I always sew from my finished patterns following the instructions that I have written down. If I come across any helpful tips as I sew the blocks, I add those tips to the pattern file. Along with those pattern specific tips, I also include basic helpful tips in all of my patterns.

Any tips on common pattern drafting errors to avoid?
Anne of Springleaf Studios - Double check and double check again. Thankfully I haven’t had any errors that I’m aware of yet. Having someone familiar with quilting proofread is not only enormously helpful but necessary. I wouldn’t publish a pattern without several rounds of proofreading by myself and at least one or two other people. This includes checking yardage and cutting figures as well as the overall clarity of the writing and illustrations.

I agree with what Yvonne says below, especially about simplifying the wording and being consistent. There are so many different ways to word something as simple as cutting directions. Find a concise method that works and stick with it. I tend to be wordy and am always trying to pair down what I need to say so it's clear and concise. That's where an editor can really help.

Christa of Christa Quilts - Double and triple check your math. I usually write up the pattern either before I make the quilt, or as I go, so I can pattern test my own patterns. I echo Yvonne's comments below. My husband is forever reminding me to use inch marks, not quotation marks, and vice versa in my writing!

Soma of Whims and Fancies - I have found that reviewing the patterns multiple times works well for me.

Yvonne of Quilting Jetgirl - I had the benefit of having a professional editor review my first quilt pattern and offer some advice. The things I learned are:
  • When noting inches in a pattern, do not use the curly que quotes from the keyboard (“) instead, use the Modifier Letter Double Prime symbol which can be found in Word by going to Insert > Symbol (ʺ) 
  • Simplify wording! Not everyone buying your pattern will have English as a first language. Use the easiest synonym and cut out unnecessary words. 
  • Start instructions with an action verb. Cut. Press. Sew. 
  • Be consistent. For example, choose whether you are going to use decimals or fractions and stick with that convention throughout the pattern. 
I agree that double checking is important, and I like to make sure I don't write and submit a pattern all in the same day. Coming back to review on different days at different times helps me catch mistakes when I am fresh. I also really like to write my pattern first and make test blocks from my directions. A lot of times I will write a bit, sew a bit, modify the pattern, and keep repeating until I am happy. I use #WriteProofTestRewrite on IG to document this approach.

Lorna of Sew Fresh Quilts - To reiterate the sentiments of Anne. Christa and Soma, the math is the most crucial element and must be checked and rechecked again. I always write up the pattern before I make the quilt and test my own pattern as I am constructing the quilt. I really like Yvonne 's answer below. She has brought to light some very important tips.


  1. LOL Amy, you are far, far from a "bad quilt patterner". I love that each one of us has a different style but that there really is so much common ground, too.

  2. All great insights and approaches to reach the same result.

  3. You guys are not only funny...but give great advice! I'm not sure that I would be turned off by the quotations marks being used as inch marks. (but I get it)! Damn you guys are good! I wouldn't mind a tip for 'here you will need a large glass of wine' before continuing tip!

    Kidding aside, thank you all for great tips and advice!

  4. I love reading all the thoughts of the designers. Different ideas and yet similar in so many ways.

    1. I totally agree, it has been so helpful for people to read yours and the other designers opinions and ways of approaching pattern writing. Thanks!


  5. It's interesting to see how everyone has a slightly different approach. Everyone spends a great deal of attention on making sure all the details are right and it is great that there are several ways to do this.

  6. Very helpful tips on pattern writing. I'm one for pictures or diagrams when I'm working out patterns.

  7. When "stacked up" round table style, it becomes very easy to understand what is important! Thank you for this, I am a bit late, but am working through all of these!

  8. So many great tips! I love the coloring page, the info on inch marks (I had no idea about the difference), and including quilting ideas. That latter one stands out because I know how many times people finish a top and are stumped how to quilt it, so it makes sense to offer some suggestions : )

  9. I'm a latecomer who found this series as I am writing my first pattern. (THANK YOU!!). As a former editor, I'm wondering if any of you have a checklist that you follow when you are proofing your quilts. I always find it helpful to go edit one thing at a time (check math, check conventions (inch marks, decimals, etc.), check spelling, etc.


Thanks so much for taking the time to leave a comment!