When I think I have a final design which looks right and expresses what I want it to, I sit on it for a bit. I want to be sure that the design addresses the principles and elements of design. I want my quilts to be good quilts, but even more importantly I want them to be good art. There are currently several things I am specifically looking for in my finished designs. I want to see contrast of tone and scale, for the sake of an interesting quilt.
I also want to see various layers of interest, so that the viewer’s eye is caught from a distance and the viewer is drawn to take a closer look. I then want the viewer to be rewarded by a layer of interest that can only be appreciated up close (for example, detailed or textured quilting).
As an aside, I’d like to say at this point, that although I have already learnt so much in my quiltmaking journey, and had work accepted into many exhibitions and publications, with each new artwork I feel rather exposed when I first share it with others. I see the weaknesses, glaring or subtle. I have doubts about the quality of my work, and tell myself that those earlier pieces were probably just flukes. I questions whether my work should be more abstract or more representation or whether anyone even cares. To some extent, doubts like this are probably healthy, as they force me to aim higher with each new artwork. They force me to pay closer attention to the principles of design, and also to be true to the aim and subject of each piece.
Some quilts don’t make it to completion, because after a bit, I really just don’t like them. And a bunch that have made it to completion are now sitting on my ‘to burn’ pile. (Yes, that is a point of much debate according to my husband and friends, but they can debate all they like – I figure that decision is mine !). One of the reasons I find the design phase the difficult stage is because I like to work systematically. I like to breakdown my quiltmaking into manageable tasks, with specific daily aims for what I’d like to achieve, but of course there is no rushing this design phase. My quilts are all machine pieced and machine quilted, sometimes with screenprinting before or during the piecing. The nature of the work is therefore such that each artwork is almost completely designed before I get started with cutting out the fabric, leaving only a little room for adapting and developing the design down the track through screen printing or embroidery/quilting.
I usually colour a small image of the final design with coloured pencils as a guide for selecting fabrics later. More recently I have been taking a photo of a clear line drawing of the finished design and colouring it in using computer aided painting tools. This is much quicker than colouring with pencils, and more importantly, allows me to easily change colours around and try different colour schemes with a few clicks of the mouse. Or if I’m being lazy, I just wing it and decide on the colours as I go. (That gets a bit hair-raising on a larger artwork!).
When I am happy with the design it is developed by computer or by hand into a pattern that can be pieced. This involves drawing in seam lines to make the quilt piecing managable. (For example, the only way to neatly piece a pointy gum leaf is to continue a seamline through the point of the leaf).
Many of my early eucalyptus quilts where drawn up on the computer using a computer aided drawing program, with the advantage that they could easily be scaled or otherwise changed. After that, my quilts depicting children were hand drawn, and scaled using the photocopier. I’ve since discovered that there are apps that let you enlarge a drawing to the exact size you want it to be, and then print it over as many A4 papers as necessary. So my designs now get enlarged that way. I scan my final drawing and print it out to the correct size, on multiple sheets of A4 paper. The full-scale design is patched together with sticky tape (sometimes there are as many as 80 sheets of paper), but this beats hours (and small change) I used to spend at the library photocopier trying to enlarge the image to exactly the right size.
So at this point in the process, I have a full size pattern for my artwork, depicting where all the seamlines will be in the finished quilt (or in other words, showing each colour ‘block’ or shape) as well as a small-scale colour plan.
The full-scale drawing is traced onto the ‘sticky’ side of iron-on interfacing. This interfacing becomes my working pattern. I add notch markings to all the seam lines. These are important for matching the pieces exactly together, down the track.
At this point, I’m ready to start cutting out the pieces for the new artwork.