How to design a quilt – 3 easy ways (+ sale)

Posted by on May 19, 2014, in quilting & sewing, ,

Following a quilt pattern provides a comfortable sense of security. You’ve got a clear idea where you’re headed and instructions on how to get there. Designing your own quilt, on the other hand, leads to unknown territory. Mapping out an original quilt design can be exhilarating—and for some of us, a little scary.

Is there a middle ground between following a pattern and designing solo? We surveyed the Martingale bookshelves and found three easy, guidance-filled approaches to designing your own quilt.

1. Design your own quilt pattern using a flexible blueprint

Hailed as a timeless classic, Judy Hopkins’s Design Your Own Quilts offers a flexible framework of 12 grid-based layouts, with a total of 49 layout variations to choose from. You build your quilt as you go, from focal point to background blocks to optional borders, letting each design choice guide the next. "An original result is virtually guaranteed," Judy says. "Two quiltmakers working from the same set of basic rules will produce two entirely different quilts."

From Design Your Own Quilts by Judy Hopkins
It’s easy to create a unique quilt when you start with the blueprint layouts in Design Your Own Quilts. "Martha Washington Star" (left) is based on Blueprint 1. "Blueprints" (right) is based on Blueprint 2.

In addition to grid layouts and block ideas, Judy offers a wealth of design tips. Like this one on successfully using bright fabrics in multicolored quilts:

Choosing quilt colors - intense hues in scrappy quilts

Learn more about Design Your Own Quilts here

2. Design your quilt with 1 simple shape that yields more than 50 pattern options

Quilts on the Double makes it easy to design your own quilt pattern. Just start with 2 super-simple strip sets. Cut them into triangles. Then choose from more than 50 layout options. Even better, the leftovers often leave you with enough pieces to make a second quilt! Plus, if you’re wowed by one of the 23 gorgeous quilts shown in the book, step-by-step instructions for making them are included.

Red white and blue quilts from Quilts on the Double
Quilts on the Double design options: Starting with the same strip-unit duo and many identical fabrics yields two quilts with distinctly different looks.

Learn more about Quilts on the Double here

3. Tackle a quilt challenge

When you’re ready to move past patterns and are instead looking for ideas and inspiration, seek out Quilt Challenge. Sharyn Craig and Pamela Mostek include challenge themes to get you started, plus inspiring photos of 58 quilts resulting from the authors’ own quilt challenges. You’ll find indispensable tips on setting up a quilt challenge with one or more friends (or you can enjoy challenges solo if you prefer).

Batiks plus vintage style fabrics - from Quilt Challenge by Sharyn Craig and Pam Mostek
What do you get when you combine batiks with vintage-look fabrics? A fabulous quilt challenge!

Learn more about Quilt Challenge: “What If” Ideas for Color and Design here

What’s your preference? Follow a pattern or design your own quilt? Tell us in the comments!

25 Comments (leave a comment)

  • I usually like to design my own, or at least to tweak or put my stamp on any pattern that I follow. In the 2 yrs I’ve been quilting, I have completed 11 quilts — one was from a pattern, though I used 3 color-ways instead of 4, so did a little tweaking; one was a tutorial I followed; and 2 were made from BOM blocks, though I only completed 3 of 12 months, and so designed my own original settings for the 2 quilts, and one was a book-guided "design your own". The other 6 quilts have all been completely original design. I imagine I’ll keep that ratio going….

    The Reader on May 19, 2014
  • I much prefer using a pattern. I have designed two quilts. One is a simple two block quilt and the other was a very complex puzzle quilt. It will probably always be my favorite quilt. It has so much design to it. It was also my greatest challenge.

    —Diane on May 19, 2014
  • All of the above.

    —Quilting Tangent on May 19, 2014
  • I usually follow a pattern unless I found some special fabric which does not fit a set pattern. With that said, I would love to learn more on designing my own quilts.

    —Linda Christianson on May 19, 2014
  • My stash inspires me but it also nags at me to use it. That usually means my own design, but I do like an occasional simple pattern to remind me how quickly a quilt actually can go together. Of course then that leads to leftovers and a compulsion to DO something with them and that means more ‘design-as-I-go’ quilts, table runners, pillows.

    —Karen Falvey on May 19, 2014
  • I have to admit that following a pattern works well for my experience level and confidence. I’ve only designed 2 quilts so far — a sampler and a baby quilt — and the results were great but I still like to be in my comfort zone with a pattern!

    Susan Mulvihill on May 19, 2014
  • I like to have a pattern to guide me for measurements but I always do something a little different to call it my own. I’m still in the very beginnings of quilt making so I haven’t barged out on my own yet to do a design from scratch except when I signed up for the Jelly Roll Quilt contest. I knew I had no chance to win but it took me out of my comfort zone and forced me to be creative. It came out beautiful and was a nice surprise.

    —Barbara Dolan on May 19, 2014
  • I prefer to follow a pattern. I haven’t gained the confidence to design my own although I hope someday to do so.

    —Barbara Reifsnider on May 19, 2014
  • What I really love is to do a sampler quilt, using blocks from books, magazines, and software. My first complete quilt was a set of seasonal birdhouses, with seasonal flower and sky fabrics for the backgrounds of the four blocks. The hardest part? Finding a rainy-sky print for Seattle autumn! With a few years of experience, I can now capture screen shots, bring them into (MS)Word, and resize and combine blocks. "Design Your Own Quilts" would take me another step on my quilting journey, combining blocks in new ways to bring out the special fabrics and blocks I love so much.

    —Lynne on May 19, 2014
  • If I need a quick quilt, a pattern is the way to go. If I just want to explore possibilities I’ll design my own .

    —Robin M on May 19, 2014
  • I enjoy both – I know fence sitter! – Lol!

    I love to recreatate a quilt designed by someone with real vision. I also love that they’ve taken all the difficulty out of the process; ironing out all the issues and giving you a step-by-step guide.
    But, I also love getting an idea and working out how to take that gorgeous block and turn it into a quilt that fits the dimensions I need. Do I add an extra block to the width and have no borders? Should I add sashing to get the extra width I need? Would putting the block on point and adding setting triangles give it a bit of a twist? Or, how about downloading a hexagon graph paper page from the internet and designing my own pattern for an EPP project???!!!

    —Kayt Deans on May 19, 2014
  • My first few quilts were of my own design and I loved the freedom. I have moved on to trying blocks from the civil war and from the 30’s. I am finding that there is freedom in working with established blocks as well. I guess I am trying to say that I love it all.

    —Tina on May 19, 2014
  • I always change patterns when I’m sewing garments, using them as a guideline, instead of something written in stone. This past year I have discovered quilt blocks as an addition to my long hippie dresses, sewing them into long ribbons that I add to the dresses, sometimes as a border between different fabrics or spiraling up from the hem to the shoulder. I recently picked up two wonderful fat quarter bundles, one in black and white prints and the other in jewel toned batiks. Experimenting with disappearing 9 patch blocks I suddenly saw a quilt in my mind’s eye, very modern in concept. Spending hours looking at images of quilts I find that the modern quilts are the most appealing to my psyche. Wish me luck making my first actual quilt. I can’t imagine following a pattern for anything and this will be no different.

    —Brendi on May 20, 2014
  • I really like taking a block and resizing it in various ways ie elongating, adding/deleting a section with a focal piece making the block for use as a border.


    —Naomi on May 20, 2014
  • I usually start with a pattern, then add/alter to put my own character into the quilt. I am not quite game enough to start from scratch and design my own. I wish I had the confidence to do this. Hopefully one of the above books will help me overcome this.

    —Joy Vale, Lara on May 23, 2014
  • I truly wish you would stop with the eBooks. Please give the option of buying a regular book I can hold and read and look at.

    Hi Dorothy, thanks for your comment. Our eBooks allow us to offer customers many books that aren’t available anywhere else. We publish new "regular" printed books every month, and they’re available for purchase at your local quilt shop and on our website. We do offer occasional sales on print books as well–watch the blog and our On Sale page for our latest sales. –Jenny

    —Dorothy Van Pelt on May 23, 2014
  • I start with an idea then find a pattern that I can remodel.

    —Margaret Zupfer on May 23, 2014
  • BOTH! For me, what starts off as a traditional pattern; I add, subtract, and using my creativity, I change the pattern to my liking.

    I was running a high 105 degree fever, was in and out of consciousness and was rushed to the hospital via ambulance, where I stayed for 7 days before being transferred to a rehab facility for 13 days. I was on complete bed rest and not allowed to do anything other than eat, sleep, watch TV, read, and do some exercises. Hand sewing was not an option. I am not one to let adversity get in my way, so I took out paper and pencil and designed two quilts. One is in the process of being made, the other is on stand-by. Watch out, Bonnie Hunter, here I come.

    Keep smiling,

    Lynnita Shipman on May 23, 2014
  • The very first quilt I made was designed by me. Being a novice I didn’t know anything about pressing seams so they will nest together, but I still like this quilt. I enjoy working from a pattern, but will often put my own spin on it, making it truly unique and an expression of my personality.

    —Donna Myers on May 23, 2014
  • I have designed the quilts I have made so far. I like knowing that the quilt project is one of a kind. Planning & scheming on an idea for a quilt is fun for me.

    —Pam on May 23, 2014
  • I do both, though I frequestly change size and/or colors from printed instructions. I also design my own, starting with an idea for a medallion center and working outward from there. MOST of the time I’m happy with the results.

    —Joanne on May 23, 2014
  • I like to start with a pattern, then make changes to suit me.

    —Susan on May 24, 2014
  • Designing my own quilts is the way for me to be the most creative. I take blocks (sometimes traditional, sometimes original) and tweak them into new shapes and set them into quilt designs with other blocks using EQ7 to bring things together. Usually works out fine.

    —Linda Towers on May 24, 2014
  • I usually follow a pattern but sometimes I change part of it or add my own design element. These look like great books! Thanks for sharing.

    Carol Kussart on May 25, 2014
  • I usually follow a pattern, sometimes tweaking it a litlle, but when I create my own design, I’m extra proud of the quilt.

    —Theresa on May 25, 2014

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