Creating a Quilt: Part 1 – Inspiration and Ideation

The Brooklyn Quilters Guild 2020 quilt show is coming up, and I finally came up with an idea for the quilt I want to make for it. My friend Shannon Reed (@knittingchick on Instagram and @sreed151 on Twitter) suggested I use this as an opportunity to post my process from the very beginning to the very end of the quilt’s journey. I thought that was such a great idea, so here we go! Thanks, Shannon!

When I’m trying to think up a completely new quilt, the first thing I do is look for inspiration. Sometimes the inspiration is given to me by a prompt for a quilt challenge or contest. Sometimes — VERY rarely — the idea just pops into my head fully formed and my finished product looks exactly like what I pictured in my head from the very beginning. This happens very rarely for me. In fact, it’s maybe happened one time so far. Generally, I’m a big fan of prompts and parameters.

In this case, however, my inspiration came in a roundabout way and I just allowed my brain to take that curvy path to what I think will be a pretty cool quilt. I’ve been looking at all the beautiful quilt blocks people have been posting on Instagram for the Tula Pink #100blocksin100days challenge inspired by her City Sampler book, which happens around this time every year. And then I was chatting on my Facebook page with Johnny Barfuss (@johnnybarfuss on Instagram) who had suggested I take a look at Elizabeth Hartman‘s book Patchwork City, and I mentioned I had been thinking about designing my own blocks. Like all good quilters, Johnny was very encouraging. So I started doodling some blocks in my sketchbook without any ultimate goal in mind.

When I looked into Elizabeth Hartman’s book, I read how her blocks were inspired by objects and places in her daily life, and — boom! — that was when inspiration struck. Eureka! I realized I could combine this desire to design some new blocks with my desire to create an original quilt for the upcoming quilt show. I would sketch out a bunch of images that pop in my head when I think specifically of Brooklyn. Then I would make those into a series of blocks and create a Dear Brooklyn sampler quilt, as an homage to the Dear Jane quilts that I ogle every time I go to a quilt show.

My first step was listing all of the ideas I could think of for my quilt blocks. At this point I wasn’t thinking about what would make a good block and what would be impossible. I just let the ideas flow and kept the list going. This is the beginning of the ideation phase (just in case that’s a new concept for you). In the design world, the ideation phase generally involves a whiteboard and hundreds of Post-its. My version involves my smartphone’s Google Keep app and a sketchbook.

Once I had a good-sized list, I started sketching the ideas out. My sketches varied between abstract and realistic because I hadn’t decided yet what direction I ultimately wanted to take my quilt. I think it’s important at this very early stage of the creative process that you don’t put too many limitations on yourself. Editing will come later and is necessary for the final product, but right now just allow yourself to create anything and everything that comes to mind. You never know — one of those absurd, impossible ideas might end up being what works the best.

I started looking over the several sketches I had drawn and decided I wanted my quilt blocks to lean more towards abstraction versus realism. In fact, right now I’m thinking I want them to be so abstract that someone looking at my quilt won’t even necessarily know the reference material for each of the blocks. So I started making thumbnail sketches of the more realistic blocks, focusing on a small section of the overall sketch. As the creator of the quilt, I want to be able to look at the blocks and know exactly what inspired them, so I don’t necessarily want the blocks to be super abstract. But on the other hand, I’m not so concerned that anyone else looking at the quilt will be able to instantly see the source material for each block. In other words, I’ll know that block with a series of curves was inspired by a cockroach, but a random viewer of my quilt would probably never guess that’s how the block came about.

And that’s where I’m at so far. I still have a lot of sketching to do for most of my ideas. The next phase will be playing with scraps of fabric to see how the blocks work in reality and not just on paper, so you can look forward to seeing how that turns out in the next post about this process. I’d love to hear about how you find inspiration in your quilting and other craft projects. Do you prefer parameters when you’re creating? Or are you someone who can some up with ideas completely out of the blue? Please share in the comments section below, and let’s get a conversation started. Happy quilting!

Published by Andrew Ve Hansen

I live in Brooklyn with my husband. I'm obsessed with all things quilting! Some of my other interests include taking advantage of all of the culinary delights this city has to offer, hanging out with my friends, board games and tabletop RPGs, reading, watching movies and tons of TV, crafting, and going to the theater (especially musicals).

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6 Comments

  1. Interesting to see your progress in design and will follow with interest. I definetly agree it starts with no limit crazy sketching to hone down on an idea that will work. Usually I start with an idea, try To draw it and when i start drawing creativity is unleashed and the really good ideas start coming

    1. Thank you so much for sharing how you start your process! I have never been much of a drawer, but now that I’ve been creating my own designs my sketchbook has become a bit of a constant companion. You never know when inspiration will strike!!

  2. I am new to quilting, and haven’t even created a full-sized quilt yet. But I am very focused on making new designs and not re-creating someone else’s quilt. Of the two ideas that I am actively working on, one came from studying nature and will incorporate realistic paintings of leaves. The other is inspired by the architecture of the Gateway arch. It will be an abstraction based on photographs. I’m excited to discover which approach brings me the most joy.

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