The awesome Design Master Plan in action: how a mistake created something beautiful.

If you’ve ever stared at a blank piece of paper when creating a new design, this book is for you. Over the pandemic my design genes went into overdrive and I created another 200 designs and had to include many of them in the Design Master Plan book. They’ve taken it to a whole other level. I added in 12 pages and added in (or substituted in) a couple hundred more designs.

This is a more detailed behind-the-scenes look at the process of this particular design than I was able to put in the book as I’ve only just created it.

Here’s just a few of the 125 concepts in action and why you’ll get so much out of this book for your design journey. The real trick to design is not to try to create one design for one area. That limits what you’ll do in every way. Start with a motif or part of one and go through the Design Master Plan. You’ll manipulate and transform the design so many times that you won’t recognise it and then be able to arrange them in so many ways that you’ll have a design for every area and they will add variety and unity to any quilt or design. Don’t worry, there’s not 125 steps to the process, it’s just 125 ideas to use at any given moment that solve any problem or can be used to create something new.

This is how a beautiful mistake was made and took me in a completely new direction. First I put mixed up these two designs:

No, this wasn’t the mistake, I mix designs all the time. The first design was made from one flower not shown here, the generic flower in the centre, circles, a curl, a fan, leafy swirl and a fleur-de-lis motif. The only thing added to the design on the right was an ‘S’ shape for the cable.

This is the new block.

What can I say? I haven’t yet strayed from my signature black, white, gradient and gold colour scheme yet. One day all my designs will be done in blue and white too.

So all three of these designs use the same techniques:

they were all inspired by one flower motif that was manipulated to create over 1000 designs

other motifs were added or substituted in to the designs to create variety

they use the medallion style layout

designs were overlapped, joined or nestled in together to create a more cohesive look

there were designs around the outside to break up the pattern giving the eye somewhere to rest.

I stole these borders from the Design Master Plan cover as I love them so much. I wanted to transition the circular design into a square so I tried a bunch of borders and designs to fill in the gaps.

When I looked at the layout I noticed a few things I look out for. There’s a little too much negative (empty) space around the main designs which draws the eye away from the designs. So the first questions are, “What can be done to reduce the negative space without overpowering the overall design?” “Is that gold inner border overpowering the design? “Can simpler arrangements come out of this one?” We’ll answer those in a second. If you’ve ever thought of tossing away a design because it didn’t work out on the first try then I’m here to show you how you can turn anything into something awesome.

The inner border designs are what I like to call partial borders as they don’t connect all the way around the main designs. They nestle in well to the main designs to create a bridge and transition the area into a square design. How did I make the partial border? I chopped another version of the outer border into quarters.

So I changed it up a little…

I took the centre flowers off the partial borders and stopped immediately. I was going to take out the rest of that row but they worked well with the curls still creating that bridging design I like in my work.

I was able to move the partial borders closer to the main design and reduce the negative space. Now onto that inner gold border. I swapped it out for a clear border and popped some circles over the ends to finish them off. They also tie in with the circles on the end of the other designs to bring unity to the motifs. It doesn’t feel as heavy as the previous design and matches in with the clear design around the central flower.

You can see how many of those generic flowers there are in this piece. There’s even quarter versions in the partial border. These move your eye around the work seeking out the patterns. To disguise how many there are, I’ve coloured some dark and some lighter which is another pattern your eye seeks out.

Next I took off the outer border and the negative space felt so balanced and while the design was simpler, it was no less sophisticated or elegant. I also removed more of the partial borders and tried two sizes of the arcs to see if they worked.

The arcs soften the square edge of the partial borders. Which one do you like best? I like them both.

I tried another version with the flowers and loved that too. If you’re wondering why I try so many arrangements, it’s because one may suit a project better than another. If you’re quilting it, you may not want as much work to do. Also, I’m nearly to the point where I made the mistake.

Notice the power of the partial border here to allow the eye to freely travel all around the work. Simplifying the border means the eye pays more attention to the main designs. In the other versions, there’s an amazing border to capture your attention too. Which version you use depends on what you want the viewer to focus on. This is why creating so many versions leads to small changes in the designs to fit their area and those new designs are put back through the design process to become something different.

I went back to the original border to centre it around the main design for another version but forgot to group the motifs as one so it moved as one piece. This meant the left and right sides both moved to the centre. It’s like laying one hand on top of the other over a cup instead of the hands surrounding the cup. I do this mistake all the time but this time I’d been working with the coloured version. I normally work with the line drawings and this reminded me to always colour my work. Here’s what the line drawing and coloured versions looked like.

Looks bad, doesn’t it? At this point I always undo the alignment, group it on the computer and re-align it without a second thought. You wouldn’t make this mistake if drawing by hand.

The top part is what it looked like. The bottom part is the work in progress.

I had to address several things here. What did I like and what made me stop to have a look at the mistake? I loved how the partial borders had overlapped in the centre. They reminded me of the brilliant artwork on the Chanin Building in New York City by Rene Paul Chambellan. I know that’s Art Deco style and this is more classic ornamental but the idea of all those designs overlapping and being able to do something of my own in that arrangement took me out of my comfort zone and into asymmetry. It was like using a busy piece of fabric on a quilt.

The bottom part is what I tried to do to create something neat but it was looking too heavy along with the inner gold border. The mistake was begging (yes, designs do beg…in a good way) to be used as a rectangular border. At this point I remembered that anytime I try to perfect a beautiful mistake, I always go back to the original design as that’s what I fell in love with. I decided it should feel like the shape of a watch with a wristband and wanted it no wider than those breaks in the cable border. The inner gold border had to be moved in too and maybe use a bridging design to connect to the main design.

Finished design…so far. The centre is the main focal point, the unusual border is the icing on the cake.

Different? Yes. Love it? I think it’s my new favourite. This took a day to do. I lightened up the inner border again, popped the circles over the ends like I did in the other one without the fancy border, took off the feet on one side of the designs in the long thin border as they would have overlapped and looked messy. I put those feet between the generic flower and the top flower in the centre of the border. I have the top flowers going the same direction as I wanted to make this a portrait layout, if it was to be used in a landscape layout I’d turn the lower flower 180° to face downwards. I put a circle over each join anchoring the vertical bars to the horizontal border. I did this in another complicated design as a lazy fix and I find a circle can fix just about anything.

I know the little double curls I used as a bridging design to the outer borders are a basic design element but I wouldn’t have thought to use them unless I they’d overlapped in the mistake like that. I just joined them together and they worked so well I put larger ones on the vertical sides to join the design to the gold border. They fitted in to the wristwatch idea like the metal ring that is attached to a pocket watch on one side and the chain on the other.

The last thing I did was to add the background pattern that is on all three covers of my books. As it’s a busy design, it needed to be subtle and I think it adds a velvety texture to it. I’d never have added it in a line drawing as it would look too chaotic.

If I’d said to myself that I wanted to create something this fancy for a whole-cloth quilt and started drawing from scratch I’d have given up as soon as I put pen to paper. By working on one motif without a whole design in mind, it takes the stress out of designing and you end up creating a library of motifs, blocks and borders that are there to be mixed and matched at anytime and altered along the way. If you’d told me as a kid or even an adult that I could do this, I wouldn’t believe you but the system is so simple and practical even I can do it and you don’t need a computer and a fancy program, all this can be drawn with a pen and paper, it’s just quicker in the computer.

If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. I can’t tell you how much developing this design process changed how I look at learning everything in my life. It’s given me much needed confidence. Analyzing what works and what doesn’t, seeing the patterns in things and developing a set of ideas that creates new designs and solves any problem that pops up along the way has made me want to learn more about things I thought I wasn’t interested in. So if you’re stuck in a design rut like I was for the first seven years of my quilting life, this is the book for you. The system is so good that you’ll see it works for any design style from primitive to ornate and the fact that I can change out any design in the book for another to prove the concept works…well I’m stoked!

Happy designing,


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