Monday, February 22, 2016

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

Part VII – Pattern Illustrations and Text

Today we are going to discuss the illustrations and text within a quilt pattern. I will be giving some guidelines and advice, but how you actually write the pattern and develop your voice and style will come with time and practice.

At the bottom of this post, after we go through all of the parts of Ninja Bears, you can download the entire pattern!


A. Illustrations versus Photographs

You can use illustrations, photographs, or a combination of both in patterns. It tends to be more common to have illustrations in patterns and photographs in tutorials. I am not completely sure why this is, it could be because people find photographs quicker and easier to take. I personally prefer to use illustrations in both patterns and tutorials for a variety of reasons.

Firstly, I am a night quilter which is not conducive to taking great, no flash, natural light pictures. Secondly, I sometimes change my mind on what I would like to show in the pattern, and if you are relying on photographs you might have to sew up another block just for a picture and take a lot of in-process photos. Thirdly, I find it more difficult to label a picture and have the labels be easily read. For all of these reasons, I prefer creating illustrations for my patterns. I am comfortable enough with Corel Draw that I can create all of my illustrations pretty quickly.

Photographs may be very handy for more difficult to draw steps, like showing curved piecing and 3D sewing steps (like handbags, clothes).

B. What Illustrations to Include?
1. Cutting
 – If there is a way of efficiently cutting the desired pieces out of a fabric cut you may wish to show it in an illustration. For example, my newest pattern Outlined Plus shows how to cut the pieces for one section of the block from a fabric scrap:

2. Block Piecing – This is where the majority of the illustrations will be, showing how all of the pieces within the block are assembled together. To figure out the piecing instructions and illustrations I start with the finished block (here is the finished block for the sample quilt pattern Ninja Bears):

I next “unstitch” the block one step at a time which for this block would be to separate the pieces into rows first.

I “unstitch” again to break the rows into their individual pieces.

Looking at the individual pieces for the block, there are 4 HST (half square triangles) in the block so I will include my standard illustrations for creating HST units (from my pattern piece library discussed here in Topic IV):

Obviously, the more complex the block (or larger number of different blocks), the more illustrations there will be in this section. I will also label some of the illustrations with the piece size and/or letter depending on the pieces and whether or not which piece is which is clear from the instructions.

Illustrations can include arrows showing which pieces are sewn to which pieces and also show pressing arrows or the actual folded seams to illustrate pressing directions if desired. Here is one example of an illustration from my On a “Jelly” Roll pattern showing the pressing directions of the seams:

3. Quilt Top Assembly – Patterns will usually contain one or more illustrations showing how the blocks go together into the quilt top. Very commonly, the illustration will show most of the quilt already pieced together with the second to top row spaced from the row below it and the top row broken into individual blocks. (The quilt top below is so simple I opted to just show one row unstitched.) Borders can be added to this illustration or may be shown in a separate illustration.

4. Optional Pictures – Some optional pictures include:
  • How the backing is pieced together
  • Color page of the quilt design
  • Picture illustrating a tip or bonus part of the pattern
  • Templates

Pattern Text

The pattern is typically broken up into 6 sections and I will be going into detail for each of these sections:
  • introduction / notes
  • material requirements
  • cutting
  • block assembly
  • quilt top assembly
  • finishing

A. Introduction / Notes

This section may be at the top of the first page of the pattern instructions and/or may be on the back cover of the quilt pattern (if it is in a printed format). I use this section to describe the pattern itself, where the block came from, different options within the pattern, etc. I also include any pattern notes here such as assumptions about the quilt pattern we discussed in the General Pattern Writing section, abbreviations, and assumed WOF.

Here is the introduction and notes section of Ninja Bears:

B. Material Requirements

We discussed all about the fabric requirements and how they were calculated in the Quilt Math topic in this series. This section can contain a listing of the material requirements or a chart with the information. Some of the information in the table is optional, for example, the batting size requirements are listed by some pattern designers and not included by others.

C. Cutting

All of the math and cutting calculated using the Quilt Math part of the Blog Series so now the cutting and piece numbers need to be placed into written form. Each pattern designer writes this section differently and uses slightly different terminology and language.

I typically write my cutting instructions by first stating the number of strips of a certain thickness x WOF need to be cut and then how to sub-cut the strips to the desired piece sizes for the pattern.

Optional (but really beneficial): It is very helpful to the pattern reader if you note where the pieces are going to go in the quilt top in the cutting section. This makes it easier for quilters switch out different fabrics for different areas of the quilt top. For example, in Ninja Bears, a quilter might want to have the background in the block one color but have the border a separate color. Instead of having to look through the piecing instructions to determine which fabric pieces are used where, the cutting instructions will clearly indicate their placement.

Ninja Bears’ cutting instructions read:
D. Block Assembly

The block assembly portion of the pattern contains the text (and supporting illustrations) to create the block(s) within the quilt top.

The first part of the block assembly portion of Ninja Bears is creating the HST. I was able to cut and paste my standard HST instructions (from my instructions pattern piece library in Topic IV) and just change the color in the illustrations and the numbers listed in the instructions.

Next, are instructions on how to sew all of the pieces of the block together. The block piecing instructions for Ninja Bears are short due to it being a relatively simple block.

I like to include a list of the different pieces that go into a quilt block; I have received feedback that this is helpful to quilters to organize their fabrics.

Make sure to note in the pattern any hints or tips. In Ninja Bears, it is very important to make sure that the HST’s in each star are facing the same direction.

It is very helpful for the quilter to give sizes of the intermediate pieced sections or units (where it makes sense) so that quilters know that there blocks are on the right track through the piecing of the block. (This is obviously more important for a more complicated block than Ninja Bears)

Whenever you list a size of a block, make sure you are clear whether it is the unfinished or finished size of the block to avoid any confusion.

Here are the block piecing instructions for Ninja Bears:

E. Quilt Top Assembly 

This is the section of the quilt pattern that explains how to piece the blocks together into the quilt top including whether the blocks need to be rotated relative to adjacent blocks, instructions for any sashing, and instructions for any borders.

How much detail to give in this section depends on the assumed knowledge of the quilter using the pattern. You might simply say to add the borders or might go into depth on how to measure the correct length for the borders and go into depth on how to attach them, this is just your personal style.

Here are the quilt top assembly instructions for Ninja Bears:
F. Finishing

I think that this section of the pattern is one of the most widely varied from pattern writer to pattern writer. Some patterns will go into great detail about how to form the backing, how to quilt the quilt, and/or how to bind the quilt. You will find other patterns that simply say to layer the quilt top, batting, backing and quilt as desired and then bind.

I think that my patterns fall in the middle of the road, I try to give all of the details related to the specific quilt, like how to form the backing and how to make the binding, but I do not include instructions that would be common for all quilt making like how to baste the quilt and how sew on the binding.

Here are Ninja Bears’ finishing instructions:

Ninja Bears – Pattern Now Available

Now that we have fully developed Ninja Bears as a pattern, I have uploaded it and made it available as a free downloadable pattern via Craftsy. Hop over to Craftsy right here and download the completed pattern.
Thanks for downloading Ninja Bears, if you use it to make a quilt, you can use the hashtag #NinjaBearsQuilt on social media. 

On Wednesday, the guest designers are going to be answering some questions about writing patterns and on Thursday, Amy from 13 Spools will be posting about writing paper pieced patterns.

Next week we will be focusing on pattern testing and will have a super announcement!


  1. Another great post in the series. Your illustrations are quite good. Are there any alternatives to Corel Draw you would recommend?

  2. I do gravitate towards photos for a blog post tutorial and illustrations in a pattern - it is funny how that choice is automatically made!

  3. This was so helpful to me! I just made another top using the design I want to make into a pattern, I'm becoming a little more comfortable with the idea of doing it with each Pattern Writing Post!

  4. I have been writing patterns for a while but illustrating them with hand-drawn diagrams or photographs. I have recently taken the plunge into Inkscape. I have found this series to be very helpful. Thank you so much!

  5. This comment has been removed by the author.

  6. Hi Cheryl: I am really enjoying this series. I was wondering if it could be made into a little ebook that we could purchase just to have it all together in one place for future reference.

  7. This has been the greatest series Cheryl. Thank you for all your hard work on this, it's been invaluable to me.

  8. I recommend Powerpoint for illustrations. It is quickly catching up with Adobe Illustrator in its capabilities.


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