August 10, 2016

The Evolution of a Design

Today I thought I'd share a little about my design process by walking you through a quilt I'm currently working on and showing the evolution of my design. Here's a sliver of what's on my design wall right now.

This project actually began when I was playing with the Drunkard's Path block. There are so many wonderful layouts using this simple quarter circle block.

My early explorations were primarily based on positive shapes created when quarter circle units are combined into larger shapes. Some of these shapes reminded me of flowers which led to my Christmas poinsettia quilt with lovely red and green Kaffe fabrics. I even did a quilt along last year based on this design which you can learn more about here. I love how it turned out.

Kaffe Fassett, Drunkard's Path quilt, Christmas quilt, QAL, quilt along, red and green quilt

While this quilt was in the works, I continued to explore other layouts using the Drunkard's Path block. As I played, I began to focus on more modern designs and the use of negative space. Three quarter circles creates a square negative space. One quarter circle can look like a bite taken out of a larger square. Just look at all the interesting negative spaces in the example below.

I started my explorations by creating a palette of basic shapes in Adobe Illustrator. A single quarter circle. A half circle. A 3/4 circle. Then I duplicated each shape and rotated them to give me a variety of orientations. Once I had my shape palette, I started to play around with placement of the shapes while paying close attention to the negative spaces that were created. At this point I worked in black and white.

Creating negative squares from positive circles really intrigued me and, with this concept in mind, the name Circling the Square was born. I don't often name a quilt before designing it but in this case the name spoke to me. It seemed to clarify the concept and began to influence my design decisions.

Early on I tried quarter circles coming in and swirling around until they created a square of negative space in the center. Very interesting but not quite what the name implied to me. Perhaps I'll pursue this further at another time.

Then I began to focus on the circles forming a mass with the square at it's center. This was closer to what the name implied but wasn't quite there yet.

The consolidation of shapes was going in the right direction but the rectangular format wasn't right. I made the decision to change the overall format to a square which seemed much more appropriate given the quilt name.

As the mass of quarter circles came together it only seemed right that the larger shape created be circular in nature. I tried a lot of different arrangements until I got a somewhat uniform mass of circles. Careful attention was paid, not only to the placement of the circular units, but also to the negative shapes that were created. I wanted to balance the use of full circles, 3/4 circles, and half circles along with the negative shapes. I worked primarily with odd numbers, in many cases repeating the use of three elements as you can see below.

Once I got the basic shapes in place, I started to explore color. The constructive nature of the design reminded me of the early modern art movements of Constructivism and Bauhaus.  Black, white and red were frequently used in the graphic designs of these movements so it just seemed to be the right color scheme to use here. I did look at a few other colors but nothing was as dynamic and strong.

As you can see in the illustration below, I tried using red for the center square. It seemed like the natural place to use color. The effect, however, was that the red square became a positive shape rather than a negative space. There's nothing wrong with this except it wasn't what I was trying to explore. My intent was the creation of a negative square formed by the circles. Removing the red, as in the second example, returned the square to it's negative space but the design needed color. By placing the red in the only full circle in the entire layout a focal point was established. It gave the eye a place to start the journey of the circles swirling around the square.

Once I settled on color placement, I explored the finer details of the arrangement. The addition of little black arcs around the outside activated the circle. Take a look at the far right illustration above and then the illustrations below and you can see how the composition feels more active. I started with three (below left) and ended up with six (below right).

Another refinement was in the three small negative squares that come off the large central square. I felt the small squares (below left) diminished the effect of the large square. It didn't quite read as a single large square in the way I intended. Next I tried changing the small squares to quarter circles (below right) but this didn't quite work either. Now the center square looked like it had three little wings. This arrangement also introduced a new positive shape to the black 3/4 circles that I didn't really like.

Do you feel like you're playing one of those games where you need to find the differences? Can you find all the things I'm referencing? If not look harder.  : )

Below is the final layout. Simply rotating the quarter circle units brought the 3/4 quarter shapes back in alignment with the rest of the design while clearly defining the negative center square. So there you have it. The final design . . .

While I work out a lot of my design in Illustrator, many of these finer details happened on my design wall. The placement of the final black arcs and refinement of the center square all happened on the wall.  I'm pretty happy with how this design evolved and developed. I also auditioned fabrics on the wall. I used tone-on-tone prints for almost all of the circle shapes and for all the negative areas except the center square which is a solid.

Here's the finished top. Even now, I'm contemplating a change or two. We'll see.

I hope this has been an informative post. It's a glimpse into my design process. My graphic design background leads me to a more controlled approach to my work but not everything is predetermined. It's a back and forth between computer and design wall. Sometimes even a rough sketch on paper.

I love designing.  : )



  1. Love this glimpse into your process! I love Illustrator for playing with basic shapes, and nothing beats fine-tuning (and re-tuning) on the design wall. Lovely quilt, that spot of red is fabulous.

  2. Wow, this was a great tutorial. I don't know Illustrator, and am not a Mac person. I understand, I think your thought process. I hope I can do some designing by hand. Something I've always wanted to do. Again, this was a very thoughtful and informative tutorial.

  3. Yo are such a clever lady Anne! I don't think I could ever go through this process! I think I will stick to sketching on paper! Love the black and white with the spark of red!

  4. Thank you for sharing the process; I'd never realised how much thought and trial and error goes into placement. Using a digital aid probably speeds up the process, but whether using computer or graph paper, you still have to make decisions yourself.
    I love the result, but I also like one of the early arrangements: diagonal flow in a rectangle. I would have stopped there, so all credit to you for going on to find an even more perfect design.

  5. Thanks for the insight into your process, it was fascinating. I love the final design

  6. How cool! I love where you ended up.

  7. How cool! I love where you ended up.

  8. Wow, this is a great post, and a great quilt!

  9. A wonderful description of how the quilt evolved, as well as discussion about the importance of negative space in quilt designs.

  10. You are so very good at designing! Amazing process

  11. Very interesting seeing your process and I like your final design. Thanks for sharing!

  12. I think you could lead a really interesting class for the modern quilters out there. Your very thorough examination of design could be very valuable to the idea/movement/groupies.

  13. Anne, I love this! Way to create another amazing design!


WaHoo!!! You're leaving me a comment. Thanks for stopping by and do come back again. Quilt on, Anne.