The Bumpy, Rocky, Twisty Road of Quilt-Pattern Design–Giveaway Today!

(Or, Attempting That HUGE Leap From Cute Sketch to Marketable Pattern)

Do you remember those paper-pieced holiday blocks I designed last December?

Three seasonal blocks in a row--I think it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Three seasonal blocks in a row–I think it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Giveaway-Green:RedWell, they’ve been a tremendous hit in our FREE Pattern collection and I’ve been jazzed to devise a few “quilty” ways to set the blocks. In fact, an upcoming issue of The Quilt Life will feature my table runner pattern made with the Santa Claus and Tree blocks—click here for last year’s sneak peek—plus an alternate layout for a larger-sized quilt.  More on that later when the issue hits the newsstands.

Back then, when I was fooling around with the table runner, I also sketched a Christmas tree skirt pattern with the blocks.

Quilt-J:  Santa tree skirt sketch

So cute! My next thought was to turn the sketch into a finished project—perhaps a pattern prototype. Yes, but . . . look at that design . . . how would I build it? If you’re a Mrs. Slap-Dash like me, you’d guess a size like 54 to 60 inches (pretty standard tree skirt dimensions) to determine the circle’s radius. That’d be 27 inches for my 54-inch choice. Okay.  Twenty-seven inches of what?  Ah, six pie wedges building a circle with a 54-inch diameter. Notice: Have I mentioned anything about making a scaled drawing? Stay tuned for the ramifications of that decision.

After some quasi-mathematical thinking, I stared at the sketch to figure out how to build the pie wedge. Finally, a light bulb flickered on and I could see it built with two narrow setting triangles at the top of the holiday block set on point and two more triangles at the bottom.  Alas, there’d be one Y-seam per pie wedge, but that configuration also delivered a secondary star design in the center of the tree skirt.

I blithely asked my blogging sister Laura to help me derive the dimensions/sizes of the setting triangles (because I’m math-hampered) and I also got our blog graphic artist Michelle to start pattern illustrations based on my sketch. Notice: sketch, not scaled drawing! Then, armed with the results of Laura’s excellent geometric skills, I made lovely pie wedges, but alas, they did not make a circle.

Uh-oh! Looks like I have a geometry problem to solve.

Uh-oh! Looks like I have a geometry problem to solve.

This is where someone might choose cliff diving as an escape, or elect to burn all the dratted pie wedges. I’m not that person. I counted my blessings:  I have math-proficient friends; and I’d invested in a bolt of background fabric. I wish I could tell you that my subsequent adventures in tree-skirt-building have been smooth, but they haven’t been because I’m amidst learning every bad consequence of not starting a challenging project—i.e. a pattern with acute and obtuse angled triangles and circle-shaped block setting—with a scaled drawing.

Is this an uh-oh? Nah! It's an almost completed layout.

Is this an uh-oh? Nah! It’s an almost completed layout.

Boiled down to a few bulleted points, here’re some pattern prototype do’s/don’ts (with input from my more technically skilled blogging sisters Darra and Laura, plus the managing engineer from my office (Charles) who is wickedly good in trigonometry).

Mrs. Slap-Dash’s Helpful Hints

  • Turn your casual sketch into a scaled drawing or use a design software program to work out the bugs before you start cutting and sewing.
  • If you start with a drawing, make sure to use thin or ultra-thin pencils/pens to render your sketch. Chubby marker lines distort exact measurements.
  • Check and re-check your angles when your design has geometric shapes with acute/obtuse angles. Tiny inconsistencies can grow exponentially when enlarged! Laura recommends using a True Angle protractor.
  • Heed the woodworker’s mantra at all times:  measure twice, cut once.
  • For projects with extreme geometry, sew precisely and recheck the measurements frequently. Consider using a template to check accuracy.
  • Give yourself a break; stitches can be snipped and seams re-sewn.
Quilt-J:  Mrs. Slap-Dash Makes a Circle.

Mrs. Slap-Dash finally closes her circle-in-the-making!

See, I’ve finally closed the gap for my tree skirt pattern despite my errors and missteps. The good news:  now I’ve got to test the pattern with tree skirt version 2.0! Cyndy Rymer, the wandering quilter, will be filling in for me on Friday (‘cuz I’ll be paper piecing) with her international fabric dyeing adventures and drool-worthy photography.

Giveaway Details Here!

Laura has very kindly arranged a True Angle giveaway for our readers from Quint Measuring Systems. Giveaway Question:  Do you avoid or embrace quilting’s mathematical challenges? (Jennifer?  Math-phobic and in serious need of her own True Angle protractor!) Leave me a comment by this Thursday, September 5 and I will announce the winner in the Friday post. Later, gators!


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54 Responses to The Bumpy, Rocky, Twisty Road of Quilt-Pattern Design–Giveaway Today!

  1. Jill says:

    A good tool is always my favorite way to solve a difficult quilting puzzle! LOL
    So many of my projects become UFO’s because I’m math challenged!

  2. Pingback: Watch Santa Smile as He Dances Round the Christmas Tree! A New Holiday Pattern + A Special Opportunity |

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  4. Audrey says:

    Unfortnately, I tend to avoid them.

  5. Suzi says:

    I love quilt math, or maybe I just become obsessed with the problem. This would be an awesome tool!!

  6. Jane says:

    Oh, I avoid them as much as I possibly can! I’m so very, very bad with math. My brain just doesn’t comprehend. Even very basic math things confuse me. It’s embarrassing really. Otherwise, I don’t think I’m terribly stupid….but I could be wrong.

  7. Peggy says:

    The tree skirt is adorable!!! I would never try to do the math with triangles! That would be way to hard! I have enlarged a pattern with squares and rectangles without too much difficulty. Thanks for the chance to win the tool.

  8. rustyavenger says:

    What a great tool and pattern! I really love your paper pieced tree and santra and a tree skirt is a great idea. Glad you could get the math figured out. I love quilty math problems. So many ways to figure things out. Never try and solve stuff when you are tired though.

  9. Susan Paxton says:

    I have been an accountant and math was always my strong point so I don’t shy away when it comes to quilting math (but I do enjoy the app I have on my phone to help me figure out fabric needed)

  10. Cecilia says:

    All I can say is that I’m impressed with the way you persevered! My geometry is not that great, which is why I like patterns. I follow instructions well. :-) I love your patterns for Santa and the Christmas Tree, they are so cute. Thanks for all of your hard work.

  11. Deborah says:

    Nope, no math for me…I’ve always avoided it. Gives me the shivers!

  12. Mrs. Plum says:

    Your tree skirt is darling! Well worth the challenges, I think. The tool sounds like a great help, so I appreciate the opportunity to win it. Mostly, I design my own quilts, using graph paper. When some weird angle stumps me, I make a full size template with graph paper, and that usually works.

  13. Oh my gosh I avoid it like I avoid parallel parking! LOL

  14. Heather J says:

    While I always loved math in school (probably because it was a subject at which I was good), I find now that if I rush through something, the math just confounds me. Tools are my best friend when I have limited time. Otherwise, I need to slow down, take a deep breath, and play/do by trial and error (and nobody ever knows unless I tell)! :)

  15. Sandy Allen says:

    I love the mathematics of quilting! I haven’t tried anything as complicated as this, though. Thanks for the heads up, too! :P

  16. Carol Barringer says:

    I cannot trust my math, no matter how much I try to “pay attention.” It handicaps my quilting dreadfully, and wastes both my time and my fabric. “Math” was introduced to me in the fourth grade by a horrible teacher at a time when I was being sexually abused. My coping strategy for the abuse was to break my mind into pieces so that the abuse was only happening to part of me. Because the teacher was so mean, I used the same strategy to cope with school — I lost that entire year of education; math was lost to me forever. I did well at algebra — because it uses letters instead of numbers, I think. I am glad you worked out your problem, and I love the design — but I would never attempt it, even with a pattern.

  17. Terry says:

    I love a good challenge when it comes to anything creative and it’s also my ‘excuse’ to purchase all kinds of fun, and useful, gadgets to ‘help’ achieve my goal :) Thanks for the sweet giveaway!

  18. Anita says:

    My mantra is ‘math is your friend’. But then again, I design all my quilts to scale on graph paper, with colored pencils. It’s a control thing. A really BIG control thing. Maybe that’s why I love quilting so much – there’s math in the art of it.

  19. Ellen M says:

    I don’t do math. I would do a trial and error to see what would work and end up frustrated or a lot of unsewing and resewing of blocks.

  20. Judy W says:

    I like math most of the time, but I really REALLY like a good tool all of the time! Whoo Hoo!!!! A ruler & protractor tool in one for quilting is AWEEESSSOOOMMMEEEEE!!!!!!!!

    • Jennifer says:

      Thanks for the comment Judy, you’re officially entered into the giveaway. I also want to thank all the others leaving such thoughtful remarks–it’s heartening to read about math fans and math phobics. The protractor is fantastic and so useful for drafting quilt patterns.

  21. heartsease57 says:

    I’m math challenged too. I HAVE to draw it out because I need to see it on paper to visualize it fully. Love this tree skirt and love paper piecing-this one is a must have.

  22. Jean says:

    In taking Laura’s Craftsy BOM 2013 class I learned to draft. I’ve really embraced the math in quilting! She’s such a great teacher and so very helpful. I recently drafted a geometric block to scale and found it quite easy using the skills I have acquired. I’m now working on creating a braided design using circles. The True Angle sounds like a tool I could really use. Thanks for the opportunity!

  23. mjkasz says:

    Jennifer I am also a math-phobic thanks to a HS teacher in the 1960’s who said Don’t worry honey just get thru Algebra II and you won’t need anymore math, girls don’t need math. I would have a fit if someone told my girls that today. But today I know I can do most if it well and what I struggle with I can figure out with a little time. Thanks for sharing your phobia.

    • Jennifer says:

      Yes MJ, I hear ya! That sexism was a real factor in girls avoiding math and science. I actually selected my program of studies in college based on the no-math-required stipulation. Yes, I took tons of economics classes as a result, but that was a fair exchange. I loved geometry and trig more than algebra and precalculus which is probably why quilting makes sense to me. Thanks for sharing too!

  24. barb price says:

    i try to stay away from math, and if i need anything figured out i call my son, he gets math, lol

  25. Donna W says:

    I love math challenges. Since I have been in “accounting” all of my working life, I guess that fits. Thanks for the giveaway.

  26. Judy, SC says:

    I enjoy the simple day to day math. Guess it is the accountant in me but the harder stuff I ask for help. Pays to have a grandson in accelereated math classes and an engineering husband. Love your design.

    • Jennifer says:

      You are most fortunate Judy, you’re open to solving most of your math challenges + you have family members with skills. My Dad has always been my math source, but he lives on the East Coast so I don’t have easy access to his sharp mind. He did tell me that my pie wedges didn’t look like equilateral triangles from the photo I sent him. That I could solve–unsewn seam allowances!

  27. pjdominici says:

    I have only done paper piecing once and found the challenge in making identical wedges for my star. Maybe this ruler would help me.

  28. Lois says:

    I enjoy the math but use some drawing programs for help. I wish I had known when I took all those math classes in high school and college that they would help me in a very constructive way.

  29. No, I let you and your contingent work out all the problems and just follow the instructions!

  30. Sandra Bruce says:

    Jennifer, I love how well you use both sides of your brain! I am definitely left-side challenged, which I guess is why I’m an art quilter :-)

    • Jennifer says:

      Hey Sandra, I like your take that I use both sides of my brain. I guess when one side fails to rise to the challenge, one must unlock the power of the other side. Walked by your studio in Grass Valley a few weekends ago. Would love to see your latest wonderful quilts and fabric designs. Thanks for stopping by!

  31. Rosemary says:

    Love your post-the thinking and your process of drafting a new pattern. Sometime I just “slog” through something and learn from the process, but I have also tried, as you have, running it by someone with more knowledge than I. Recently I saw a pattern on the web that didn’t make math sense to me and I made a comment on a blog about it. Low and behold! I got a response which verified my hunch and convinced me that my circumstances dictated going another direction, which I have. BTW, love your pattern. Thanks again for sharing.

    • Jennifer says:

      Now wasn’t that fantastic vindication Rosemary? I’m really learning to trust my gut feelings when it comes to quilting. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve sewn something wrong when I should have listened to a nagging thought that something was amiss before I hit the pedal.

  32. I loved math in school but am all thumbs when it comes to precise piecing so I rarely use my math skills in quilting. I prefer designs where matching corners/seams isn’t required.

  33. Laurel says:

    I find the math part to be hard, that is why I love a good pattern. I love the fabric/color selection part. Your Santa and tree blocks are adorable!

  34. Kathie L says:

    I was a math major in college, so I love anything numbers related. Still, I need to remember to check things at least twice before making those cuts in the fabric. Lovely tree skirt pattern.

  35. Frances Quigley says:

    I am not good at figuring the math part at all. So I do the main part of the design,place the ibackground where it would go, Trace around it, cut a 1/2 inch bigger on all sides and voila. Everything seems to fall into place.

  36. Sandy K says:

    If I can’t get it within a fairly quick amount of time, I give up and move on. There isn’t much patience in my tool box for math.

  37. Vicki H says:

    I loved math in school, so I am usually up to a good challenge.

  38. Sally MB says:

    I not only love math but I love tools used in math class! From my protractor to slide rule (yep, I used one of these) to graph paper, they are still with me. They come out every once In a while when needed in my quilting. Too bad I still have mismatched seams :-(.

  39. Jean says:

    I love the challenge of math so I embrace the issues. Others come to me for help. LOL

  40. Brita says:

    Generally, I can figure out mathy kinds of issues when quilting, but I’ve found most answers can be found online when I Google a how-to problem. If all else fails, I go on to something else ;-)

  41. I can SO appreciate your math woes with quilting. The design is awesome and will be worth all your woes. My hubby taught our grandson how to do scale drawings. I should have been listening!!!! Thanks for a chance to win!

  42. Ellie says:

    I was a math major… So I embrace math challenges!

  43. Christina in Cleveland says:

    Math loving but challenged here. lol I tend to try, and try and try… like you did only I, typically, forget to ask for help. :) My “Mews” (cat named “JT”) is sympathetic but disinterested in anything but laying on the project. I appreciate all you went through and the tree skirt (or fab table topper) is going to be magnificent!!!

  44. Sally Dixon says:

    I do as much as I can, then ask my engineering husband for help!! He always comes to my rescue! Thanks for the give away!

  45. Beth says:

    I understand math challenged issue perfectly. Fortunately I have married an engineer to handle all the issues. However, it would be good to do this myself without always having to ask for help plus receive math instruction at the same time.

  46. Jane from New England says:

    Well – it really depends – it’s a day by day thing. Sometimes I really welcome the challenge – and then there are times – just curves scare me – forget math!! Anyhow, anything that will make me go ahead with challenges – I welcome. Thanks for the chance.

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