Wednesday, February 24, 2016

PWS- How to Write a Quilt Pattern - Round table Topic 7 - Illustrations and Text

Topic VII - Illustrations and Text - Round Table Discussion

On Monday I covered Topic VII, the illustrations and text of the pattern.  I went through each section of the quilt pattern and discussed what each one typically held as well as how I wrote the sample pattern, Ninja Bears,

Tomorrow (Thursday, Feb 25th), Amy from 13 Spools will be posting on writing patterns for paper pieced designs including a video of how she makes her patterns!

In what order do you draft the pattern (do you start with the text, graphics, math, etc)?

Soma of Whims and Fancies
- My pattern drafting always starts with a drawing, which I then turn into a pattern and finally write the pattern file.

Yvonne of Quilting Jetgirl - I pretty much always start with the quilt math, then I make the graphics, and I fill in with writing the text along the way. Sitting down and writing the text is the hardest part for me, so if I break up the writing as I do the other steps it helps me maintain momentum. Breaking up the writing also allows me more time for editing / reviewing what I have written.

Also, I tend to do the quilt math first because it is fun. I do the graphics second because I find that if I can visually represent a step it is much easier for me to then describe the step in writing.

I want to echo what Anne and Christa point out about altering a pattern design. Sometimes cutting instructions end up with poorly utilized yardage, and for those designs I try to grow or shrink a block or design to work better.

Anne of Springleaf Studios
- Once the design is finalized, I do all the math and even tweak the design if it makes the yardage work better. I usually work out yardage and cutting simultaneously. The next step is usually a combination of illustrations and block directions. The final text, including the Design Lesson and Design Exploration text is the last thing I do. I agree with Yvonne that having the visuals is helpful for the writing.

Also it amazes me how many different ways you can describe something. Being consistent and concise are important. I think it's helpful to have a system not only for the whole process, but also to give yourself some writing guidelines in terms of format so you can be consistent from one pattern to the next.

When it comes to calculating yardage, I'm fine with the basic math part, but I am curious to know whether anyone factors in a little extra yardage for cutting mistakes and/or a percentage for shrinkage? I once read somewhere that the designer should assume a 40" WOF and include a 5% shrinkage rate. Does anyone do this? Another question; what do you do if you can get four pieces out of the WOF if it's actually 42" of useable width but not if you only assume 40"? Would you only count on getting three pieces and calculate more yardage or adjust the pattern to work with 40"? It gets messy when you start over thinking all these things which is what I tend to do.

Christa of Christa Quilts
- I start with the design and then make a lot of notes. I usually do a piece count for myself as a double check. I figure out the math that is needed first, such as how many squares I can cut from a strip of fabric, etc. If the math is weird, for example, if I need exactly 41” from a WOF strip of fabric, then I will try to alter the pattern so that pieces can be cut efficiently from 40” of fabric or less. Also, I try not to use non-standard finished sizes if that can be avoided.

Once the math makes sense, then I will write out the cutting instructions. From that, I will calculate how much yardage of each fabric is needed and create a materials list. Then I finish writing the text of the pattern with notes to myself such as “draw graphic of 4” finished half-square triangle” or “show exploded block diagram.”

Once the pattern text is completely written, I will draw the rough illustrations.

Then I make the quilt and do the photography. I only use photography for the cover picture and quilting details. All of the step-by-step instructions are done with illustrations. When the quilt is finished and the pattern parts are ready (photos, rough illustrations, text), I hand that off to the graphic designer to create the first pattern draft. We then go back and forth several times until I’m happy with the final layout and design, and I’ve double checked all the math and spelling.

Lorna of Sew Fresh Quilts
- Because my typical pattern is one that uses the Stitch and Flip method, once I have finalized the design, I usually start drafting the pattern by working on the graphics, breaking each block down into the pieces needed to construct the block.

From there I work out the instructions for the construction of the blocks. And then total how many pieces are needed for the blocks. Once I know how many pieces are needed, this leads to the cutting instructions. Then I use the cutting instructions to figure out how much yardage is required. If you look at how a pattern is laid out, writing the pattern is much like starting from the end and working your way back to the beginning.

Amy of 13 Spools - I draw out my pattern, then figure out the cutting directions. I write out the cutting directions by hand, and loosely write out the piecing directions by hand. If I know I’m going to write a pattern, I consciously consider myself the “first pattern tester” and write corrections & notes as I go. Then I just kind of do the rest all at once. Or whatever strikes my fancy at the moment.

Come back tomorrow for Amy's post about writing patterns for paper pieced designs including a video of how she makes her patterns!


  1. I am going to try to answer Anne's questions here in the comments, Cheryl. I hope you don't mind and it works so everyone can see my thoughts. When doing quilt math, I like to assume 40" as my WOF and once I calculate all my yardage, I add 10% to allow for miscuts and round up to the nearest 1/8th of a yard. I have never considered shrinkage. And I will on rare occasion use 42" for my WOF but make sure I clearly note my assumptions so that someone won't find themselves in a pinch.

  2. Christa mentioned trying not to use non-standard finished sizes, and I consider that a great thing to do. I will abandon a pattern if I'm told to cut 1 7/8" or that a block should be trimmed to 9 5/6" or something equally random. Most rulers are set up to efficiently cut quarter, half, and whole inch sizes. And most of us prefer to cut those sizes!

  3. This is a related - but random - question which I hope is ok to ask here (delete if necesasary!). I read the term 'quilt industry pattern writing standards' in a newsletter of a designer recently. Interested, I googled the term but nothing came up. Do you know IF there are some pattern writing standards.... or was this just a coined phrase to sound official?

  4. About calculating yardage requirements, my book publisher's guidelines said to assume a 40" WOF and add 5% to what was required. I then rounded up to the next 1/8 yard. I use EQ7 so I was able to compare my estimate with theirs and they were generally pretty close. When in doubt, round up.


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