How to design a quilt – simple, inspiring lessons

Quilt details from Design, Create, and Quilt

I’m not a quilt designer, but I want to be one when I grow up. To achieve my goal, I grab every book I can find on how to design a quilt. But I’m often disappointed. I want help, via simple terminology and strategies, on how to design quilts. Many books I find on design use big words and highfalutin concepts that scare me, so I go back to my dreamland where someday I can call myself a designer. Then I read Rose Hughes’s new book, Design, Create, and Quilt. Woo-hoo! Finally, someone understands exactly what I need to know to design a quilt!

Design, Create, and QuiltIn her new book, Rose goes back to design-a-quilt basics: line, shape, texture, color, space, and composition. For each subject, she provides simple quilt lessons designed to help build or reinforce your understanding of design elements and increase your sense of what does and doesn’t work—which encourages you to listen to your inner voice.

Does your creativity need a reboot? In this excerpt from Design, Create, and Quilt, Rose discusses her creative journey. Get inspired by her story; then, in the slideshow below, see the kinds of quilts you can make using her guidance.


Replenishing Your Creativity
an excerpt from Design, Create, and Quilt by Rose Hughes

Rose HughesIn my 20th year of quilting, I started to reflect on what it means to me to be a quilter. Looking back over this long period of time, one expects to have seen some changes, and I’m tickled to be able to say that I have been a witness to and a part of many quilterly changes.

Is there really anything new happening now? Personally, I say yes, and I believe that the quilters of a hundred years ago or more might chuckle at being called “traditional.” Quilters who came before us were just like us. We all take the materials and tools that are available in our own time and relish the magic of turning pieces of fabric into art. We turn fabric into things of beauty that may keep us warm or decorate our homes. We turn fabric into quilts. Quilters, no matter what we call ourselves, all have certain things in common, but at the very top of the list is our love of fabric and the use of needles, thread, and batting to create.

Quilted folders inspired by Design, Create, and Quilt
I asked some of my quilting friends to design small pieces based on the lessons in my book—and look at the impressive results! From left to right: (top row) Jake Finch, Joanell Connolly, Rose Hughes, and Sam Hunter; (bottom row) Karen Gray, Jeanette Kelly, and Vicki Tymczyszyn.

My own quilting journey began once I saw my first quilt, touched the fabrics, and ran my hand along the lines of stitching. Love at first sight. I had no choice but to pick up a needle and try my hand at creating this magic for myself. I was lucky to catch the quilting bug when I did. For one thing, rotary cutters were already being used. Also, I lived close enough to San Francisco that I had access to an amazing source of inspiration: a collection of Amish quilts that was on display in the offices of the clothing manufacturer Esprit during the 1990s. I visited this collection many times, amazed to see firsthand how the Amish quilters used their fabrics and how the simplicity and graphic quality of their designs mixed with the perfection of their tiny quilting stitches. This and so much more fed my desire to work with solid-colored fabrics and to learn to push the needle in and out to create my own tiny quilting stitches. I was hooked, and the love of the Amish geometric patterns and use of solid fabrics kept me happily stitching for some time.

Examples of straight stitches
Think of the fun you can have with these simple stitching effects, all made from the humble straight stitch.

Then, as many of you already know, I really wanted to add some twisting, swerving, bending curves. It ushered in a move away from stitching quilts for utilitarian reasons, but I would never leave my fabric, needles, thread, and batting behind! This desire took my quilting journey into whole new areas. Now, 20 years later, with all the twists and turns my own work has taken, I believe I’ve never really traveled far from that love of the graphic quality the designs presented and the use of the quilting stitch for its quality of simple definition, texture, and utility.

By the Light of the Moon quilt
“By the Light of the Moon” is close to my heart and always hangs above the fireplace in my studio. It was made to commemorate my tenth wedding anniversary with my husband, David. It’s also one of the first times I used the construction method I now call Fast-Piece Appliqué to create simple curves.

In the middle of a huge project in my corporate life, I was introduced to the writings of Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estés. In her book, The Creative Fire: Myths and Stories on the Cycles of Creativity, she shares her concept of the cyclical nature of creativity and provides examples from mythology. The underlying lesson of these tales is that things run in cycles.

Rose's sketchbook
Pages from my old sketchbook where I played with these ideas of creative cycles.

One of the things I took away from mythological tales about creativity is that everything is somehow connected—connected and recycled. Old becomes new once again.

In my book, you’ll find that there’s a section for each of the basic design elements: line, shape, texture, color, space, and composition. In each section, one of these elements has guided the projects, big or small. Since I believe that the doors, windows, and keyholes of your mind should always be open to discovery, you’ll find the design element defined, along with a few short designing exercises. Try the exercises before diving into the projects.

Using paint chips to create color schemesHere’s one of more than 50 ideas from the book to jump-start your creativity: head out to the paint store and spend some time wandering through the paint aisle. Select a few sample paint chips, and when you get home, create various color schemes to make your own color samples.

Besides being inspired by the individual design elements, the projects are built around the idea of mixing Fast-Piece Appliqué (see video tutorial below) with traditional and modern methods of quilt construction and ideas.

I’m constantly looking for new quilting ideas, forever replenishing and resetting my own creative cycle back to the beginning, to start all over again. I hope this book will help guide you toward that same feeling. It provides many, many opportunities to replenish and keep your own creative cycle rolling along. You never know when that little bit of new information flowing in may percolate and burst forth, presenting itself as a huge new creative opportunity.


Thanks, Rose, for sharing your creative experience.

With Design, Create, and Quilt, you can use your newly learned design skills for any type of project, using any sewing or quilting technique in your repertoire. In addition to her quilt-design lessons, Rose provides instructions for 10 projects. Each comes complete with template patterns and showcases a different design element.

You’ll find Rose’s fun and easy Fast-Piece Appliqué technique in her book as well. For a sneak peek, check out her step-by-step video tutorial.

Who knew it could be so easy to sew curves into your designs? Amazing!

As soon as I read through Rose’s quilt lessons, I was immediately inspired to give one of her exercises a try. Here’s the result:

Karen's doodles

The exercise was easy, fun, and the complete opposite of intimidating. Who knows…you just might see a version of these little doodles in my next quilt!


Are you ready to design a quilt all your own? If not, what’s holding you back? Share your story in the comments and you could win a copy of the Design, Create, and Quilt eBook! We’ll choose a winner one week from today and let you know by email if you’ve won.

If you purchase Rose’s book today you can instantly download the eBook for free.

Comments are closed for this post.

Thanks to all who entered the drawing! The randomly chosen winner is Jacquelin, who writes:

“En más de una ocasión he intentado diseñar una colcha. No lo he conseguido. En algún momento me atasco, no sé continuar, me aburro y lo dejo. Creo que me falta una estructura a seguir, unos pasos para avanzar y plasmar mis ideas. Gracias.” (Translation: On more than one occasion I tried to design a quilt. I did not succeed. Sometime I jam, don’t continue, I get bored and leave. I believe that a structure I need to follow a few steps to move forward and capture my ideas. Thank you.)

Jacquelin, we’ll email you about your free eBook. Congratulations!

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