Quilting with Adobe Illustrator

Learn how to use Illustrator CC to create quilts that warm the body and catch the eye.

Patterns by Carolyn Friedlander, Anne Sullivan, and Daisy Aschehoug
Quilting with Adobe Illustrator

Quilting is a timeless art that dates back as far as the first pharaohs of Egypt. It is a delicate art, blending colors, shapes, and craftsmanship. The exact origins of quilting remain unknown, but some key features of the art have not changed much over the years. For example, the fundamentals of quilting, piecing, and applique used for clothing and furnishings in diverse parts of the world likely resemble techniques used in the past.

That said, much about the art has changed, as well. One of the biggest changes is how technology has enabled quilters to take their creations to the next level. Quilters today can use Illustrator CC to ideate, plan, and digitally cut increasingly complex quit designs.

With QuiltCon just right around the corner, showcasing more than 500 quilts, we wanted to share creative tips and processes from groundbreaking quilters around the world. Below, you’ll see how graphic design in Illustrator CC has transformed a classic artform.

Carolyn Friedlander

Carolyn Friedlander comes from an architectural background. She not only designs quilt and sewing patterns, but fabric as well. She uses her fabric collections to create unique quilts that draw inspiration from the landscape of her Florida home.

Carolyn uses Illustrator to bring her sketches to life, translating ideas into quilts and fabric. She starts with simple lines and shapes, then uses the computer to discover the best way to build them with fabric while working within the quilt’s size constraints. She also uses Illustrator to audition colors and fabrics to explore different colorways.

Carolyn’s Tips

  • Create your own swatch library for each project using your favorite colors or fabric collection. This way, you can audition fabrics with the click of a mouse.
  • Use Illustrator to create project templates that are easy to replicate, adjust, and express. You can use these templates in any design you want to explore in fabric.
  • Rotate and mirror quilt blocks in Illustrator to explore design alternatives. Often, the best quilt designs come through play and experimentation.

Download the Bartow Quilt Pattern by Carolyn Friedlander

Bartow Quilt layouts_carolyn friedlander.ai
Bartow Quilt Pattern.pdf

About Carolyn Friedlander:

Carolyn is a fabric designer and award-winning quilter. She also designs her own line of quilt and sewing patterns and is the author of Savor Each Stitch: Studio Quilting with Mindful Design.

Website: carolynfriedlander.com
Instagram: @carolynfriedlander

Anne Sullivan

Creating a quilt requires math and logic, but savvy quilters use Illustrator to ease the burden. Anne Sullivan has a PhD in computer science and uses her background to calculate quilt math quickly and create shortcuts during the design process.

Anne loves that Illustrator works with vector art instead of pixel art, so you can design your quilt “to size” without worrying about the file being too large. After a quilt is designed at scale, Anne does a little math to add the standard quarter-inch seam allowance to each piece and can quickly calculate yardage.

Designing at scale also makes pattern-writing much easier. “I can design the quilt and then easily see how big to cut my pieces because they’re all drawn to size already,” Anne says. “I just have to add the seam allowances and go.”

The Quilt
How the pattern looks in the Adobe Illustrator file.

Anne’s Tips

  • Create artboards in your finished quilt size. This allows you to draw your design without having to scale, which makes it easier to calculate fabric yardage and cutting measurements, or turn your pattern into a paper-piecing pattern.
  • Take the time to learn the keyboard shortcuts. It will speed up your workflow and let you focus on design. Illustrator also allows you to make your own keyboard shortcuts for actions you use frequently. For instance, Anne has a keyboard shortcut for Select > Same Fill Color because she uses that command to tweak colors. She also has a custom shortcut for calculating fabric yardage.
  • Use swatches that match the color of available fabric. This helps you visualize what the final quilt will look like. Although the colors are not perfectly accurate ━ a computer screen can only show a subset of colors we can see from objects in real life ━ it is a fast and easy way to experiment. Anne has created Illustrator swatches for major fabric manufacturers, available here.
  • Use layers to play with quilting designs. Keep the design on one layer, lock it, and draw quilting lines on a second layer. This allows you to manipulate quilting lines individually. This is also a nice way to play with quilting motifs and thread color to see how it would change the overall design of the quilt.

Download the Bridges Quilt Pattern by Anne Sullivan

Bridges Carolyn Friedlander.ai
Bridges Quilt Pattern.pdf

About Anne Sullivan:

Anne is an artist and creator whose primary mediums are quilting and programming. She appeared on the Fresh Quilting TV series and teaches workshops on how to apply design principles to quilt design.

Website: play-crafts.com
Instagram: @playcrafts

Daisy Aschehoug

Some people draw their quilt designs on paper before creating them digitally. Daisy Aschehoug isn’t one of those people. Instead, she draws just the beginning of a quilt shape in a sketchbook before moving it into Illustrator where her designs really come to life.

As soon as Daisy has an idea, she likes to work quickly, so it’s important to her to be able to make changes with just a few steps. Daisy experiments with combinations of curves and lines and finds the pathfinder tool essential for creating new shapes that can be made with templates that many quilters already have. Daisy’s designs often include areas of negative space, and Illustrator helps her visualize how much fabric she needs and the most efficient way to cut it before sewing.

Daisy’s Tips

  • If you’re working with a block-based design, create a symbol. Edit the symbol to audition colors and prints. That will change the colors in all instances of that symbol — even if you’ve rotated it or changed its size.
  • When larger pieces have sizes that aren’t consistent, create a cutting diagram to make your quilt math easier. Create an art board of 42” x 36” (the standard size for a yard of fabric) for each fabric. Copy your shapes to the new board, add a quarter-inch seam allowance to each shape, and extend the art board to include all your shapes. The resulting width of your board is how much fabric is required to construct the quilt.
  • If you’re considering a quilting motif that traces some of the shapes in your piecing, use the pathfinder tool to join the shapes you want to echo. Then, use the offset path tool to space your lines — Daisy’s favorite is a half-inch. Use the stroke tool to make dashed lines that mimic stitches. The result gives you an idea of what the quilting will look like.
  • Experiment with everything, but on always on a copy. If you’re exploring ideas, copy your layer, lock the copy, and turn off the visibility. If you like what you’ve done, but get a wild idea that will significantly change your design, go ahead and save your file, then “save as” so you have a copy to play with.

Download the Pivot Quilt Pattern by Daisy Aschehoug

Pivot Pattern.ai
Pivot Pattern.pdf

About Daisy Aschehoug:

Daisy is an award-winning quilter, pattern designer, and artist who resides in Oslo, Norway. She is a founding member of the Quilt Theory design group, and her quilts have been featured in many magazines and the recent book Modern Quilts: Designs of the New Century.

Website: warmfolk.com
Instagram: @warmfolk

About QuiltCon

Thousands of attendees come to see over 550 modern quilts on display at QuiltCon every year, featuring 360 juried creations from Modern Quilt Guild members around the world. The conference features four days of workshops and lectures, led by leading designers and quilters, and the show floor has dozens of vendors and exhibitors for days of shopping and fun.

Want to learn more about modern quilting? Visit themodernquiltguild.com and join as a member to access monthly quilt patterns, block patterns, webinars, and more!

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