If you're a gonzo quilter, you're probably already aware of all the cool technology out there to help you design and sew intricate quilts. But if you're a weekend warrior like me who enjoys quilting but hasn't yet sold her soul to the hobby, you may become frustrated when you're trying to formulate design ideas. Collecting all those pretty fabric fat quarters is the easy part. You have piles of those colorful cloths at your disposal. Now what?
In this article, I give you a bunch of tips and tricks for using Microsoft Word to help create quilt designs. You probably already have Word on your computer. You can use Word to create fun quilt designs and eliminate layout frustrations. And you don't have to spend a small fortune on specialized sewing or quilting software either! If you're a crafty person, you also might want to check out my other Sewing with Word article, which shows you how to scan photos onto fabric.
Depending on your version of Word, some of these techniques may vary a bit. Everything I discuss should be available to you no matter what flavor of Word you're using, but the specific commands may be slightly different. In this article, I use Word 2003 commands, since they are the most common. For Word 2007 users, these features exist in the program; you just may have to dig around a bit to find them and they may work slightly differently. If you are struggling to find the commands, check out the tips in my free video tutorial on Office 2007.
Scan Your Fabrics
When you're designing quilts, you create a custom-designed quilt top by sewing together pieces of fabric in various colors and shapes. Then you "sandwich" the quilt top, batting (padding) in the middle, and backing fabric. Quilting (sewing) the layers together with fancy stitches holds the quilt together. Coming up with the designs for the quilt top can be a challenge, but by using Word, you can visualize what the quilt top will look like before you cut into any expensive fabric.
If you have a scanner, you're half way there. If you don't, you can fake it by using standard color fills as stand-ins for your fabrics. For this article, I used my scanner to scan a few sample fabrics. When you are scanning, you don't have to scan the entire page. Just crop out a square about 2 inches on the screen display so you end up with little samples of each fabric. (Most scanning software lets you draw out a small scan area by clicking and dragging.)
Once you have scanned your fabric samples, you can insert them as backgrounds of various AutoShapes in Word. First show the Drawing Toolbar by choosing View|Toolbars|Drawing. On the Drawing toolbar, you find the AutoShape button. Click to select a shape and then click and drag to draw the shape on your Word document. While the shape is still selected, right click it to display a shortcut menu. From that menu, choose Format AutoShape. On the Color and Lines tab, click the Color dropdown and choose Fill Effects, as shown below.
When you click Fill Effects another dialog box appears. Choose the Picture tab and click the Select Picture button. Now browse the folders on your computer to find where you stored your fabric swatches (pictures). Choose one of your swatches to insert into the shape.
As you can see, I now have a star shape that is filled with one of my fabrics.
You can add your fabrics to any AutoShape. Just insert a picture to make it the background of the shape. And yes, you can also add a background to a TextBox, but a TextBox is meant for text, so there are margins to consider and other options that are more than you need. Plus, using the shapes is more fun! You can easily rotate shapes too. When you select a shape, notice the green dot, which is the Rotate tool. Just click and hold it to spin your shape as needed.
Move Your Shapes Around
Other Word tricks let you move shapes around and adjust the way they appear on the screen. If you right click a shape, you can choose to move the image in front or behind other shapes. Using these various moves, you can fill in all the spaces to see how your design is coming together.
Create a Drawing Grid
Word gives you several other useful tools for quilt design work. On the Drawing toolbar, take a look at the Draw menu, which has Nudge, Align and Distribute, Rotate or Flip commands. Also take note of the Grid, which can be particularly useful for measurements.
Set the Grid as needed and display it on the screen. You may also want to use the Snap Grid setting to make snapping images into place easier. However, if you need to nudge something so it isn't snapped to the grid, you don't need to turn it off and then back on. Instead, just hold down the Alt key as you move the graphic. The Alt key temporarily turns off the grid, so you can move the shape anywhere you want.
Create a row of blocks. After you've created it, select each block in the row by holding down the Ctrl key and clicking each one. Then right-click the selected group and choose Group to keep your selected shapes together so you can move them as if they were just one shape. The Group command is handy when you need to manipulate many items at once. For example, you can press Ctrl + C to copy your grouped row of blocks. Then press Ctrl + V to paste a new row on the page. You can then flip or rotate your row to assemble the design. This part is fun as you get creative and watch your design come together!
As you look at your design, suppose the red isn't working for you. It's easy to quickly experiment with other swatches. Select both rows using the Ctrl key, right click and choose Ungroup. Make sure you are holding down the Ctrl key and click all the red blocks to select them. Now right click and go through the Fill Effects|Picture process again to change all of your selected blocks to use a different fabric swatch. In seconds, you can see the new look.
Even though I have a felt design board, I find this computerized method a lot faster/easier than picking up all those small pieces of fabric and putting down different ones.
Create Swatches for Strips
If you plan to work with long strips, but the swatches you scanned are small squares, at some point, you'll notice that Word warps your fabric patterns because the small square is trying to fit into a long strip. If you plan to use strips in your quilt and seeing the fabric pattern is important, you will want to scan longer pieces of fabric so the design on the fabric shows up better. Notice the two images below. The left one has a square swatch inserted as the picture. With the right one, I inserted a picture that was initially scanned as a long, thin image. Alternatively, if you're just concerned with seeing how the colors match up, you may not care if the fabric design warps!
Another fun AutoShape feature is that many of them allow you to modify their shape. When you select an AutoShape you have drawn, you'll notice that many of them will not only have the green rotation button, but also display a yellow diamond handle. That handle tells you that that shape can be changed. Below I drew a triangle, but if I grab the yellow handle, it allows me to pull the angle to the side to create a right triangle. This type of triangle is a common shape in quilting.
From there, I can copy/paste another right triangle, spin it around and match it up to create a square. By adding one fabric design into each shape, I can create a very common layout.
Have Fun Spinning and Flipping
Once I have one of these blocks, I can group it, then copy/paste many of them on the page. With a little spinning and flipping, I can experiment to see what kind of cool designs I can make with this simple block. Note that in the image below, I've made the outlines of some shapes bolder so you can see the right triangles in the design. As you can see, with a little spinning
a stripe pattern begins to emerge. Flip things around and I get a totally different pattern. I can easily create these patterns in my quilt just by sewing a bunch of triangles together.
And you thought Word was just for writing documents!
Play around with the AutoShapes to see what type of patterns you can create. You may be amazed at the intricate designs you can assemble that actually will be easy to sew. Plus, you won't have to take over the house with piles of fabric swatches all over the place as you play around with your designs.