Analysis of a whole-cloth quilt using The Design Master Plan

April 2021: I’m currently doing a massive new edition with 12 additional pages and dozens more designs. Stay tuned. I’ll be taking the current edition offline at Amazon soon so I can order a proof book. Last year I created a couple of hundred fabulous designs and just have to put some of them in the book.

Read on to find out how this book saves the world from a chocolate shortage…

A few years ago I wrote a comprehensive approach to creating designs called The design master plan. It has ~125 concepts, tips, and ideas for problem solving. I am a doodler, not a da Vinci proving anyone can design. I don’t call this an awesome book because I wrote it. The proof that the process works is in the 2000+ design files on my computer. The amount and variety of designs I’ve got from dozens of basic ideas or parts of ideas is incredible. They morph in so many ways that you can hardly see the original design. I wish I’d had this book when I starting quilting. It would have made my quilting life more exciting and less stressful. Even if the designs in the book don’t float your boat, rest assured, they were turned into beautiful beings and there wouldn’t be any teaching value to just showing you the end results. It’s the journey that will make you a better designer.

The only problem is that once you start designing you can’t stop and that’s lead me to do two books of designs. I’m now working on another book of designs and then there’s going to be two compilation books. I’m about half way through designs for From labels to whole-cloths: Volume 3 and the designs are getting more elaborate. I was so excited with the direction the book was taking I designed a whole-cloth and am part way through it. Not only do I use the concepts in designing blocks and borders, but they also apply to creating whole-cloths especially when none of the designs are plain square blocks and there are awkward areas to fill. Many concepts work hand in hand with others.

Why did I start building a library of designs? I was so frustrated finishing the patchwork and not knowing where to start with quilting designs. Designs created especially for one area on one quilt stifles the design process. You’re not going to get into creating circular designs or make a border if you’re only looking for one square block design. Why not have a design for any area of the quilt on hand. I always ended up just quilting in the ditch and wanted to enjoy the whole process of quilt making, not just the piecing. I wanted to use my own designs as I tend to make unique quilts. I hated staring at a blank page when all I wanted to do is baste and quilt that puppy. Having designs on hand would allow me to work the designs into the piecing and plan out spaces for the quilting to shine…and the designs would damn well fit the space. That was the other problem!

Two things you’ll notice with this design are: These are ornamental designs so there are no feather designs, and you can create a design with any motif to fill any space.

Here’s a copy of the line drawing. Yes, I work on the computer but you do not have to–at all. There is a section in the book about working on the computer, just giving you an idea as to what a drawing program can do so it is to be read with an open mind and no stress. I wouldn’t have developed this design process without it (yes, a real artist could) it just made me work faster and see that I was doing the same sorts of things over and over again and coming out with a variety of patterns from one basic design.

Wholecloth line drawing Design Master Plan Fiona Schiffl

Sneak peek of a medallion style whole-cloth from the new book. Each quilt has got to have a wow feature. In this one it’s the main design so the border was just a little icing on the cake. I tried doing less border units so the design was larger but it competed with the main body and an outer border around that would have done the same thing.

Silk wholecloth Design Master Plan Fiona Schiffl

It’s my first silk quilt with a double layer of batting. I’m using Wonderfil’s Glamore thread but every line will have three rows of stitching around it which make quite a difference as you can see. It looks embroidered in real life. The outer two lines are a dark brown/black. I figured if I’m doing my first fancy whole-cloth, I may as well go to town on the quilting. It’s going to have micro-pebbling for a filler design.

Here’s a quick look at areas of the design with the relevant pages.

I look at the centre of any quilt first before my eye travels out so it’s handy to have something for the eye to follow out to the focal points. Designs that radiate outward work well here. I call them bridging designs as they build a bridge between designs.

Bridging quilt design Design master plan Fiona Schiffl

Radiating design Design master plan Fiona Schiffl

Pages on bridging designs. See what a difference a design in the centre can make. Notice how long it takes for your eye to move from the centre to the outer design. Does your eye see the design or just the negative space in the centre? The designs with a circle in the centre connect to the main design. The top right design wasn’t brilliant but when put in the centre of the lower right design it became a pretty fancy block.

Take another look at the original line drawing. How many designs are there circling the centre flower? What shapes are they? Are they bridging designs or do you think they are separate designs? In the lower left design shown below, the row of pearls separates the central design from the outer one. Notice how easily your eye moves between the two designs without the row of pearls. Something to think about.

Medallion design Design master plan Fiona Schiffl

I love medallion quilts. In my opinion designs don’t have to be circular or rows of borders. Anything goes. It’s time to tickle your creative taste buds.

Okay, so where do you start? With a basic design and it doesn’t even have to be a whole idea. I never know where a design session is going to take me. Sometimes you muddle through and get an ugly design. Ugh. Tomorrow it’s time to change up that design and make it sing, and sing, and sing. They always change into something beautiful and then it’s time to put that new design through the process again.

Basic units Design Master Plan Fiona Schiffl

At first the design won’t change much as you’re arranging it into shapes. As you turn each page the designs will become extraordinary.

Most of the designs in this whole-cloth are from a massive family of designs from one little flower. By massive I mean ~1000 designs of all shapes and sizes and I’m nowhere near done with it. Here are just a few of the basic units from it. Designs in From labels to whole-cloths: Volume 2 are all from this little flower. Volume three is going to have the new generations as well as other designs.

Transformation of design Design Master Plan Fiona Schiffl

Do you want to see newbies from this family?

Here they are! I’m still working on the centre of the top right one but you can see the basic flower there that all these designs are derived from. I’ve been exploring overlapping designs which have a section in the book too. I’m never fussed on whether the designs are continuous or not as that limits the process. I can always change them up to make less starts and stops or I can travel between a lot of lines with a filler design (another section in the book). My theory is if you’re going to make a feature design, it can be worth it to go the extra mile. Also, the designs can be painted on the quilt or used on other art works. It’s only a design, what you do with it is up to you.

Designs from From labels to whole-cloths Vol 3 2 Fiona Schiffl

designs from From labels to whole-cloths Vol 3 Fiona Schiffl

This flower just keeps on giving and giving. Wait until you see the rest!

Now for the “Ahhh, what do I do here????” section. Awkward spaces to fill. Most quilters would say feathers or a filler design. But what if the area is too big and needs a little something and dare I say it out loud, feathers don’t suit the quilt? I know, I know, you’re shouting at the screen and crossing me off your Christmas card list, however the answer starts on page 60.

But first, the border with the arrows had to serve an important purpose. I had a scalloped circular design and needed to transition to the square border. What did I do? This is where one of my lazy but clever designs comes in. Just zig zag around the design and add in some shapes and curves. It sneakily joins to the square sashing. Here comes the awkward corner which gave me the most to think about. It also gave me the most bang for my buck.

Awkward space to fill Design Master Plan Fiona Schiffl

Design fit the space Fiona Schiffl Design Master Plan

I still feel the old feelings of my blood boiling when I have a weird spot to fill. Now I just go through the design concepts and throw everything at the area.

So why did I pick these designs for the corner?

The top centre part of the lazy border drew your eye there and didn’t really take you anywhere else. I needed a design to draw the eye out to the edge. No standard border design did a thing for it and I’ve got plenty. The ‘S’ shape with the two feet coming out of it fitted the bill perfectly but left me with a large area to fill. It would probably have to be a stand alone design unless I could subtly join it to the ‘S’ shape. I went through a lot of ideas but nothing said “Yeah, baby!”. Looking at the whole quilt, I felt the corner needed to be a strong design to anchor the quilt. I had this little design that didn’t look good as a block but that’s never stopped me trying something.  Partial borders on page 135 to the rescue!

Partial border Design master plan Fiona Schiffl

That little border in the lower left corner was the inspiration.

Take another look at the whole design. Can you see how those corner designs anchor the whole quilt, bringing back to a square quilt? It creates a secondary design that takes it to the next level and takes the eye around the quilt seeking out the other patterns. Secondary patterns are also covered in the book.

On to borders. Oh boy I had fun with this little design and it has spawned a lot of different designs in its own right. It makes an interesting sashing designs (another topic covered in the book).

Borders Design master plan Fiona Schiffl

Borders and sashing. There’s a major chapter on every conceivable aspect to borders and solutions for every problem. I used to hate borders but after examining them in microscopic detail, I don’t fear them anymore, I embrace them. Boring borders be gone!

Sometimes there’s a bit of a difference between creating a design and it appearing on a quilt but there’s a chapter on that too in the book. I did a little test block with the centre of this quilt. Although the proportions looked fine on the page, there was too much negative space around the designs so I thickened up the designs. That’s why the line drawing looks pretty busy but the actual quilt looks like there’s the right amount of design versus negative space. The designs will stand out nicely with the double batting and micro-quilting.

One thing I learnt was that when you up your game with your designs that are not square, you have to up your game with the next design to fill in the area. This is where the concepts really force you to think to solve any problem areas. Solving problems creates more designs and you go off on a tangent and have more fun. Why? You don’t ditch bad designs, you change them up and the design journey continues. You have to keep stepping back to see if all the designs work together. It’s pretty amazing how they  do.

There are several other concepts used in this quilt but this gives you a great idea of how The design master plan can take you in so many different directions and prevent you from staring at a blank page, reaching for the secret stash of chocolate in the sewing table and walk off to find the other secret stash. Yes, this book saves the world from chocolate shortages. Well, a little anyway, it’s quarantine for crying out loud.

If you’re interested in reading some more from the book, check out the tab named book excerpts. I think the best things about the book is there’s ~600 illustrations and it takes you through not only what to do but what to look out for and solves all the problems. By writing the book, I realised just how much I did to each design and on the computer I can do all that in minutes. In an hour, I don’t get one design, I can get 20-30, polish them up, take them in another direction and start the process again. It makes a wonderful read through quarantine and will get your creative juices flowing.

Happy quarantine,


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