Since quilting is “just” a hobby for me, I feel inclined to think all aspects of it should be at least reasonably enjoyable.  What’s the point in a hobby you don’t enjoy?  That seems silly!  This is more or less why I’ve given up free-motion quilting, but we’ll discuss that another time.  Today I want to write about pattern drafting.

I draw a lot of pictures of quilts, both digitally and in a falling-apart washi-tape-frankenstein graph paper pad.  Some of these I decide I actually want to sew, and they become “patterns,” for which I have this basic process:

  1. Make it in Illustrator
  2. Decide how big it’s going to be and scale design appropriately
  3. Convince someone to print it for me
  4. Measure each block and cut freezer paper squares/rectangles to match
  5. Trace pattern onto freezer paper
  6. Prefold the freezer paper
  7. Sew the blocks using freezer paper foundation piecing method

There’s nothing particularly objectionable about any of these processes, but the one I’m not particularly fond of is number 5.  Tracing is just no fun for me.

Storm at Sea digital design

Many of you may be aware I’ve been working on a Storm at Sea quilt for a long time. Quite a long time. One of the delays on this one is that I’ve over-planned it, but that too is a topic for another time. The other delay is I can’t be bothered to make very many freezer paper patterns of each block.  The “center” piece I’ve only made one pattern and the long diamond I’ve made two. This means I can only sew one or two at a time, which makes the whole thing very tedious and time-consuming. Why don’t I make more patterns? Because I don’t like tracing.

Star Quilts book cover

So what’s wrong with tracing the pattern?  Besides the actual act of tracing (yuck!), I’ve gathered my method is a bit inaccurate.  I’ve been reading Mary Knapp’s Star Quilts, and there is a lot of great info about drafting in there (and it is relevant to my Storm At Sea, just ignore the pictures of my various plans, it’s not going to look like that anymore), in particular, accuracy. Ms. Knapp used to be a science teacher and it shows; There is half a page on “making sure your square is really square.”

How is my method inaccurate? (Are my squares really square?) As you can see in the image above, my pattern is a bit crumpled.  That’s the one I had printed from Illustrator.  That’s the one I was tracing from until I lost it.  That was when it got crumpled.  I found it again, but if I’d decided to make more patterns while it was missing, I would have traced one of the patterns I’d already traced. I do this all the time. This is where we run into something called generation loss.

Pattern Drafting

Tracing is an imperfect drafting method (obviously any time a human is involved things are going to be imperfect, but let’s still strive for the best result possible).  I am starting with something I’ve drawn with the aid of a computer, and since Illustrator introduced smart guides, I feel like my designs in it are preeeetty accurate.  Next, it’s being printed on a laserjet printer, with heat and magnets and magic, but probably only negligible distortion is happening there.  Finally, I’m tracing it with a marker, which has some width to it even if it’s very fine, generally a Sharpie ultra fine point or a Sharpie pen.

If I used a sharp pencil, that would probably be better, but I feel like the graphite gets on the iron.  The iron only belongs to me by marriage, so I don’t want gunk it up, nor do I want to add any more cleaning to my busy schedule, so I’ll just stick with the Sharpies… Or will I?

Back on the generation loss, any time something is copied, copied from a copy, so on and so forth, information is lost.  That’s because each copy is a little bit different.  After enough copies of copies, nothing is really the same as the original.  It’s like when you get a form from an office that has clearly been photocopied from a photocopy umpteen times, because no one has seen the original in decades, and it’s all garbled. I got one of these from the U.S. Government recently.  It makes me cringe, because that’s me just on a larger scale.  The more times I trace that pattern because I misplaced my original, the less accurate it gets….

But I had a revelation!  All I have to do is fold, and there is no more step number 5, no more tracing.  This idea is partly from Mary Knapp– she utilizes a complex grid for all of her designs, which is created by drawing lines down the center, using a protractor, and making shapes based on the intersections.  I worked out this same sort of grid and intersections can be made just by folding the paper.  I’ve only been trying it on some simpler ideas so far, but there’s nothing to stop me from using it on a more complex design as well.  I could also potentially skip the printing, just note the size of each block on the computer, and continue from there.

I see only two main consequences from using this method.  The first is if the design is quite complex, the grid needed to get the intersections required to accomplish the design could become a bit confusing as to which folds define a shape and which folds are just the underlying grid.  I have to really know what my design looks like when I’m sewing, or it could go all wrong.  The second issue is of course accuracy in folding.  Just like accuracy in drawing the lines, accuracy in folding the lines is crucial to success.  Though despite all my years of experience in drawing, using a ruler to draw a straight line versus folding a straight line is no contest.

Just Fold It

I knew there was a reason for making all that origami as a child.