Section IV – General Pattern Guidelines
When you have the quilt design, including the block sizes and quilt size(s), set, you next need to start putting the instructions into words.
As you write and edit, and write and edit some more, you will start to develop your pattern writing “voice”. This is not something that can be forced, but will naturally evolve over time. Here are some ideas to start thinking about as you begin drafting your pattern.
When drafting a pattern, you need to decide who is your audience; is your pattern for a new quilter that needs more explanation for each step or a more advanced quilter that may not need as much detail? This decision will affect how much explanation, tips, and illustrations you will need to include in the pattern.
B. Basic Instructions
Most patterns do not contain instructions for basic quilting techniques (such as basting, quilting, and binding) but will contain detailed instructions for less common techniques such as curved piecing or binding corners that are not 90 degrees if the pattern utilizes them.
If you like, you could add YouTube videos or tutorials on your blog that show how to do basic quilting techniques and reference them in your patterns. If you start putting too many basic instructions into your patterns, they risk becoming more like books than individual patterns.
C. Assumptions / Pattern Notes
In the beginning of your quilt pattern, I suggest that you write any assumptions and/or standards you have about the pattern or materials. The following are some of the assumptions I put in the Notes section at the beginning of each of my patterns:
- Seam allowance to sew with (for example ¼” or scant ¼”).
- The assumed width of fabric.
- Any abbreviations that you are going to use in the pattern (such as WOF = width of fabric).
- Assumed number of fabric pieces per pre-cut packs or bundles. (Ex. Each charm pack is assumed to contain 42 pieces.)
- Any specialty tools (such as specialty rulers or notions) that are needed or helpful for the pattern.
- Size of templates (need to copy and/or enlarge the templates).
Your first pattern will most likely be pretty difficult and fairly time consuming to write (I know that it was for me). However, once you have a few quilt patterns written, you will you will find that you will be able to re-use many pieces of your previous patterns. Creating a pattern piece library of typical construction techniques, such as directions to make half square triangles (HST), flying geese, sashing, etc., will save you time and make subsequent patterns much quicker to draft.
E. Term Consistency
For my day job, I write patent applications and in patents the terminology is very important. If you refer to a particular layer as a fabric, you must be very careful to always refer to the layer as a fabric (versus a textile, textile layer, fabric layer, etc.) or else you might not be granted patent or a court might not uphold your patent.
I bring this philosophy to quilt pattern writing. I suggest that you pick certain terms for the parts of your quilt top and use them consistently throughout the pattern. For example, if your pattern has instructions to create sub-blocks and then combine the sub-blocks into a block, make sure whenever you refer to the sub-blocks they are sub-blocks, and not components, not pieces, and not intermediates throughout the entire pattern.
You will also have to decide how to write and format your numbers. Will you use fractions or decimals and how will you format them: 2 ½” or 2 1/2” or 2.5”? All are correct, but you should pick one, stick with it and use that labeling method throughout the pattern in the fabric requirements, pattern instructions, and any dimension labels in the illustrations.
In addition to general terms, you should also try to keeping the action and verb terminology consistent as well. Are the actions in past, present, or future tense? Do all of your sentences start with a noun or an action verb? Keeping the action and sentence structure consistent will made your pattern clearer and easier to read.
F. Naming Conventions
Another thing you will have to decide for your patterns is how you are going to name your fabrics. Will they be Fabric A, Fabric B, Fabric C or Light, Medium, Dark, or Focal, Print, and Background, or will you use the names of the colors from the cover quilt. There is no right answer and your naming convention will probably vary by pattern so use the names that fit best for that pattern. The most important thing is to pick a naming convention and use it consistently throughout the pattern.
Will you be putting pressing instructions into the pattern? This is totally optional and personal preference, but can help out the quilter especially if some seams can be made to mesh or if there is a good way of pressing to reduce bulk. You will have to decide whether to not have any at all, have blanket instructions for the quilt, “For this quilt, I recommend pressing all seams open” (or something to that effect), or have pressing instructions included with each step.
These are just some of the general pattern writing tips to start thinking about as you begin to lay out your pattern. In the following weeks we are going to go into much more detail about the quilt math, illustrations, and pattern text. This Wednesday, the guest designers will be joining the series for a round table discussion on their thoughts and tips for general pattern writing.