How to Design a Patchwork Quilt

By Cath Savage ; Updated September 15, 2017

Things Needed

  • Measuring tape
  • Large basket (optional)
  • Fabric
  • Colored pencils or markers
Patchwork---an assortment of fabrics.

Patchwork quilting is a rich and enduring art that can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. Traditional patchwork quilts were made from squares of leftover fabrics. Understanding a few basic elements is essential in creating your own patchwork quilt design.

Decide on the finished size of your project right from the start. Measure the bed or the space where you are going to put your patchwork quilt. The bigger and more complex your project is, the longer it will take to complete. Write your measurements down. How thick do you want your quilt to be---heavy and warm for the winter or light and cool for a summer room? Batting specially made for quilting is available in a wide range of sizes and types.

A tisket a tasket---fill up your basket.

Creating a color scheme is essential to any design plan. A traditional patchwork quilt is made of fabric squares in many colors, arranged to appeal. Try taking a large basket and filling it up with patchwork squares and swatches of fabric. Include a few small objects with interesting color or texture. Take the basket to your work table and evaluate your choices. Look for combinations of color that are pleasing and/or suited to your decorating scheme. Try arranging two or more colors or several shades of the same color together. Strive to establish a continuity of color that will carry throughout the completed quilt.

Use durable fabric.

Selecting same or similar kinds of fabrics is important to good design. Cotton, muslin and linen are the most durable. Is your quilt going to be used frequently? Avoid stretchy or lightweight fabrics.

Small squares or large?

Deciding on the size of your patches makes a difference in the amount of sewing that you will be doing. If you enjoy sewing, you might use small, 2 inch squares. Be sure to add an extra ¼ to ½ inch seam allowance to the sides of each patch when cutting them. Try embroidering some solid color, plain squares if you like to embroider. Do you even want the patches to be square? Traditional patchwork quilts include triangle and rectangular shapes, too.

Consider how you will quilt your project. A patchwork design is traditionally quilted (sewn) in a grid-type pattern following the edges of the squares or groups of squares. Block pattern designs, available in many books and online, are a form of stylized patchwork. Small pieces in many shapes are combined to make a larger square or block. Quilting templates and patterns are also available if you choose not to follow the grid pattern.

Establish a focal point.

Determine your focal point. Good patchwork quilt design includes a focal point. Think about the elements already discussed. Often, the focal point is a quilter’s favorite part of the process or her strongest skill. Do you enjoy sewing a lot of tiny pieces together? If so, use smaller squares. If you would like a more complex quilting pattern, you will need to buy or make a template for sketching the design on your top patchwork panel. If color matching is your focal point or your strongest skill, make your color scheme the focal point of your project.

Sketch your plan.

Sketch your patchwork quilt ideas on paper, and make a design plan. Sketch an outline of the completed quilt and plot measurements for the sides (with and without a seam allowance). If you plan to include a border, include those measurements in your drawing. On a separate sheet of paper, draw a grid scaled to the finished project to determine how many squares you need in each row and column to suit your measurements. Use color pencils or markers to plan an effective color design.

Decide what type of backing you want to use. For everyday use, a soft, comfortable fabric in a matching color may serve you well. For a more elaborate design, work two design plans and make a reversible quilt. The design is completely up to you.

Tip

Many free block patterns are available in books and online.

Use leftover fabrics, in good condition, if you like the color or pattern.

About the Author

Cath Savage is a returning freelance writer with a B.A. degree in organizational/intercultural communication from Arizona State University. She has written for Tempe Magazine, Arizona State University, the Phoenix Zoo, and McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co. Inc. Savage says she will 'write everything about anything' but really enjoys pieces about interesting people, places, cultures and workplace issues.