Why Design is Important in Crazy Quilting

Sharon Boggon 2007

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How often have you watched someone learn technique after technique and pay for lesson after lesson and yet they still manage to produce a haphazard hodge podge crazy quilt block. Or worse still, have you ever watched that person feel inadequate and unsatisfied with what they make, at a loss and unable to move on with their creative journey? These people invest much time, money, energy, and emotional commitment to crazy quilting, and as a community we run the risk of losing these creative souls. What is the solution?

I believe that learning the basic principals of design is one of the key skills you can acquire when embarking upon learning crazy quilting. People can learn techniques until the cows come home, but without some guidance on where to place motifs or some of the materials used in crazy quilting such as lace, beads, charms and ribbons, blocks will feel scattered, disjointed and simply wrong. A basic knowledge of design will help to counter this.

Many Crazy Quilters learn to design via trial and error and instinct which takes time, mistakes and sometimes loss of interest. However, you can short cut the process by having knowledge of design principals in your back pocket. Applying design principals does not mean you are following a set of rules or a formula but when instinct goes haywire you can step back and ask yourself why. If you have that knowledge you can apply it when needed. In other words applying design fundamentals to a piece solves problems, reduces frustration and prevents a project from becoming a UFO. Understanding design can also help you avoid costly mistakes and after a number of successes give someone the confidence to tackle that 'special' project.

Stop and think for moment. To make a successful traditional quilt, sane quilters need to understand tonal values and colour to make the quilt work. I am not suggesting that these are the only design elements that traditional quilters juggle just that they are key elements in a successful sane quilt.

Crazy quilters need to be able to handle the design elements of colour and tone but also understand the other design elements as well, particularly the elements of line, shape, composition, movement and texture.

Many quilters think that working to a design is total pre-planning. Let me state quite clearly it is not. Design is as much about process as it is about planning. Many Crazy Quilters will design a block instinctively. If you ask them what they do they will describe how they balance a bright 'bit' on the block with another bright 'bit' elsewhere. Or they say they put one motif here and then balance with another motif over there. This is actually design as the quilter's concern is playing one design element off against another, arranging them in order to act in relationship with each other on the block. They might not know the design language to describe what they are doing but it is designing at a basic level.

How many times have you become stuck on a block. It just looks wrong, yet you don't know how to fix it. A little design knowledge will help out in this situation so when a block goes wrong you can sit back and figure out why - and correct it.

I encourage crazy quilters to take their design skills to the next level. A revival of interest in crazy quilting has been relatively recent - in the last decade or so and as yet very little has been written about the design tools we can apply to crazy quilting.

In crazy quilting design is about considering what you want to do, thinking about the relationships between all the elements on a block and drawing on design skills as you create a block in order to achieve what you want. Design skills are a tool that you use just as you would draw on a rotary cutter or scissors as you need them.

You do not have to undertake a course or go to art school to improve your design skills. A trip to the local library can shed light on the world of design as there are numerous books on the subject. Start a visual journal and work through some of the suggested exercises. Design exercises will sharpen your eye for the visual dynamics of crazy quilting.

There are also plenty of resources online that introduce the subject. For instance Wet Canvas is a forum for artists but the site houses forums on Colour, Composition and Design. Much of what is written about and discussed on this site can be applied to any textile practice but particularly designing crazy quilt blocks.

2D Design Notes is published online by Jim Saw, a painter and educator. The site covers fundamental design concepts such as shape, line, space, texture, value, and colour, with supporting illustrations and examples.

Composition and Design Elements, Principles, and Visual Effects is a site produced by Marvin Bartel. It covers the key elements of design in a straight forward, understandable manner.

I also often publish links to resources online in my blog inaminuteago.

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