By: Anna Branch
I have been a quilter for over forty years. The first couple of decades I spent most of my time dressmaking and, occasionally, made something for my bed or a gift. Then, the quilting bug took hold and there hasn’t been a day since when I haven’t been working on, thinking about or planning a quilt. It wasn’t long before I was changing patterns and then designing my own. The purchase of Electric Quilt (EQ) freed me from the mechanical aspects of designing and I was soon creating more patterns than I would be able to ever use.
Three years ago, I retired and, at the urging of my friends, began to seriously think about selling my work. I am certainly not a big name designer but do I sell enough to help pay for my addiction’s demand to be fed more and more fabric.
If you have been thinking about becoming a pattern designer, here are a few tips which I hope will help you on your way to success. This is just a brief general guideline but I have included steps which will help you find more information.
- Make Quilts. Aspiring writers are told to read books. Designers need to quilt so they are familiar with both the practical steps and the emotion that results in a successful project.
- Study the Work of Other Designers. You have probably been quilting for some time and have a collection of patterns. Pick out a few of your favourites and read them through carefully. What makes the design work? Are the steps easy to follow? Did you have to re-read some of the instructions? Repeat the process with patterns you dislike. Why aren’t they a favourite? Go to quilt shows; real or virtual and see what is trending. This is also probably a good time to decide if you are going to focus on one type of quilting i.e. appliqué or cover everything.
- Talk to other quilters and ask them what they like, dislike about patterns.
- Keep a Journal. I cannot express enough the importance of making notes. You will develop your own system so I am not going to make suggestions, just make sure you have a special note book that is used specifically for this purpose.
- Purchase, if possible, a Computerized Program. I use EQ for my designing but there are other programs available. A program lets you change colours, make and move blocks, add borders, change border types, and a myriad of other things. It will also tell you how many blocks, strips etc. you will need as well as fabric amounts.
- Don’t Rely on Your Program. This may sound like a contradiction but you need to double check the math. I have trained my husband to understand how to do this as he is the family math whiz. Accurate instructions are crucial. Let me say that again. Accurate instructions are crucial. Have you ever followed a cooking recipe and the result was a disaster because the instructions said tablespoons instead of teaspoons. Inaccurate quilting instructions won’t make anyone sick but they will derail any future in designing.
- Test Your Design. I have a wonderful group of ladies who are willing to use their own fabric and time to make my patterns. They tell me if it works, what needs a clearer explanation and whether or not they like it. You need people who will be honest in their opinions. Expert quilters aren’t necessary. Not everyone who buys your patterns will have achieved that status so it is important that beginners are also included. Don’t forget to acknowledge your testers especially if your patterns are going to be included in a book.
- Marketing. Decide how you are going to market your patterns. Are you going to sell to quilt stores or on line? Are you going to do your own marketing or use a distributor? Are you going to sell through other web sites or your own? There are pros and cons to all of those choices so you need to take time to decide what will work best for you. You may add other options later but setting the ground work now will make it easier. Do get a web site or, at least, a blog to help promote your work.
- Network. If possible, join a quilt guild, especially a national one, or group. You need support and a reminder of why you are doing this. Join on line groups that are specifically for designers. Both Yahoo and Google list their groups by categories so it is easy to find one that will meet your needs. Quilters are very generous with support and advice and they can save you a lot of time and money. Remember to give back. You may not be as advanced as some of them but you have an opinion. Share it. Your voice is valuable and unique.
- Have Fun. If you find that designing is no longer enjoyable, take a break. This might be a good time to go on a retreat – just as a participant or visit a pioneer village museum and look at antique quilts. If you can’t do any of these things, go for a walk; preferably in the country. You cannot be creative if your mind is tired and stagnant.
Thanks so much to Anna for these great tips. If you have any additional tips to add, please share them in the comments below.
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