Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Tutorial: Lay Out a Quilt With Your Computer

When I was getting ready to assemble my big ol' stack of flying geese blocks for my Arrowhead Flying Geese Quilt, I faced a bit of a quandary. I didn't have a design yet, so I knew I would have to do a lot of playing around as I was laying everything out. The prospect of doing that with hundreds and hundreds of loose blocks was pretty daunting. It would take a long time, be very tedious, and would take a ton of space. I didn't really have a place to do it.

So I used my computer! This is a great way to lay out a quilt top if you are pressed for space, don't have a design wall, or if your design wall is too small. If you have a program like Illustrator, you can use that, but a program like Microsoft Word works just as well, as long as it has basic graphics capabilities.

You can do a computer layout after all the blocks are made, like I did. Or you can just sew up one of each block you think you want in your quilt, scan them, then do the layout. By doing that you'll have a blueprint and know exactly how many of each block you'll need to make your quilt top. Because I was making mine from scraps, it made more sense to finish all the blocks first so I knew how much of each I had to work with.

So here's what you do!

The first step is to scan or photograph one of each of your block designs. For scanning, I just used the Image Capture utility app that came on my computer. When scanning, I visually cropped away the seam allowance around the edge of the block so I was looking at the finished version. [ie, the points of the triangle go right to the edges.] Since this is just a mockup you can use a low resolution setting.

If you don't have a scanner, you can take pictures of your blocks. Just make sure that you take them in a well lit area so the color is accurate, and take them from directly above so that the shape of the block is not distorted. Then import them into your normal photo application [like iPhoto] and crop them in the same way.

Once you have all your blocks scanned or photographed, now it's time to design your quilt!  [I'll do the screen caps in Word since probably more people have that than Illustrator.]

First, open a new blank document. Then open a Finder window, find your block images and drag and drop them all into the Word doc. It should look something like this:

To make them draggable and not "stuck" to the page, you'll have to change the layout of each image. Double click the image, click on "Layout," and select "In Front of Text." Repeat for all the blocks. They start to stack up on each other, so I usually move them around a little so I can see them all.

Now resize them if they are too big. Select them all by Shift+clicking on each. Then in the Formatting Palette, set the height for each at something smaller. I did 0.5". This number will depend on how big your blocks are, but just find a measurement that makes your blocks a more manageable size. Make sure you have "Lock aspect ratio" checked so that the width changes proportionally.

[Note: If you can't see the Formatting Palette, you may need to click on "View" at the top, then check "Formatting Palette."]

Since I was designing after all the blocks were finished, I had a fixed number of each design to work with. So for each one, I selected it, then copied and pasted until I had the same number I had in real life. [I'm a big fan of the Command+C and Command+V shortcuts!] I did the same for all until I had little "piles" of blocks. Then I was careful not to delete or paste any more so that the number stayed consistent.

If you're designing your quilt before all the blocks are made, then you have more leeway in the number of blocks you have. You can copy and paste or delete as needed, then figure out how many blocks to make once the quilt is designed.

Now the fun part! Drag around and organize the blocks like you're laying them out in real life.

Here are some tips to make this part a little easier:

- Once you have a set of blocks together, group them so you can move them as one unit. Select them all. In the Formatting Palette, under "Size, Rotation and Ordering," click Grouping>Group. [In Illustrator, just hit Command+G.] This was very helpful for all my columns of flying geese.

- If you need to rotate your blocks, select them then click Rotate in the same menu. [In Illustrator, Ctrl+click>Transform>Rotate.]

- If you feel like you are running out of page space, make your paper size bigger. Go to File>Page Setup and click the drop down menu for Paper Size. Choose Manage Custom Sizes then make up your own bigger paper size. It can be whatever you want because you aren't going to print it on that size paper, so make it as big as you want!


I used Illustrator for my layout. Here's a picture of the finished design:

Once you're done, how you finish is up to you. I saved it as a PDF, emailed it to myself then saved it to my phone so I always had it with me. If you'd like you can print it on regularly sized paper so you have a reference. Either way all the guesswork will be taken out of the assembly process, and you'll know exactly what to sew to what.

Hopefully this was helpful! Since I work on a Mac and it's been a long time since I've done something like this on a PC, I'm not able to offer many tips in that department. I know a different version of Word will look pretty different too, but all the same tools are still there. If anyone has any comments, tips, or ideas on how to do this on a PC, with a different program, or a different version of Word, please leave a comment! And definitely leave any questions too!!

And now for your next challenge: figure out where to pin baste your giant beast of a quilt.


  1. Such a clever idea! I'm going to have to do this on my next quilt!

  2. Brilliant! I've never quilted anything, but I have an itch to start. Been researching blocks and didn't even think about how to lay it out yet. Thanks!!

  3. I have been searching for a way to layout the design, that I have in my head, Before I start cutting. Seeing how it looks or if I need to make changes. These Programs are some that I ALREADY own!
    Thank You So Much!

  4. I so appreciate your detailed instructions! I'm pinning this right now so I'll have it handy when I'm ready.

  5. wow, brilliant must try this. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Great Article Devon!

    I just released ‘Quilter’, an iOS app to help layout/design/ and calculate yard requirements for quilts. Check it out if you will and give me some feedback!


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