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The Bumpy, Rocky, Twisty Road of Quilt-Pattern Design–Giveaway Today!

(Or, Attempting That HUGE Leap From Cute Sketch to Marketable Pattern)

Do you remember those paper-pieced holiday blocks I designed last December?

Three seasonal blocks in a row--I think it's beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Three seasonal blocks in a row–I think it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Well, they’ve been a tremendous hit in our FREE Pattern collection and I’ve been jazzed to devise a few “quilty” ways to set the blocks. In fact, an upcoming issue of The Quilt Life will feature my table runner pattern made with the Santa Claus and Tree blocks—click here for last year’s sneak peek—plus an alternate layout for a larger-sized quilt.  More on that later when the issue hits the newsstands.

Back then, when I was fooling around with the table runner, I also sketched a Christmas tree skirt pattern with the blocks.

Quilt-J:  Santa tree skirt sketch

So cute! My next thought was to turn the sketch into a finished project—perhaps a pattern prototype. Yes, but . . . look at that design . . . how would I build it? If you’re a Mrs. Slap-Dash like me, you’d guess a size like 54 to 60 inches (pretty standard tree skirt dimensions) to determine the circle’s radius. That’d be 27 inches for my 54-inch choice. Okay.  Twenty-seven inches of what?  Ah, six pie wedges building a circle with a 54-inch diameter. Notice: Have I mentioned anything about making a scaled drawing? Stay tuned for the ramifications of that decision.

After some quasi-mathematical thinking, I stared at the sketch to figure out how to build the pie wedge. Finally, a light bulb flickered on and I could see it built with two narrow setting triangles at the top of the holiday block set on point and two more triangles at the bottom.  Alas, there’d be one Y-seam per pie wedge, but that configuration also delivered a secondary star design in the center of the tree skirt.

I blithely asked my blogging sister Laura to help me derive the dimensions/sizes of the setting triangles (because I’m math-hampered) and I also got our blog graphic artist Michelle to start pattern illustrations based on my sketch. Notice: sketch, not scaled drawing! Then, armed with the results of Laura’s excellent geometric skills, I made lovely pie wedges, but alas, they did not make a circle.

Uh-oh! Looks like I have a geometry problem to solve.

Uh-oh! Looks like I have a geometry problem to solve.

This is where someone might choose cliff diving as an escape, or elect to burn all the dratted pie wedges. I’m not that person. I counted my blessings:  I have math-proficient friends; and I’d invested in a bolt of background fabric. I wish I could tell you that my subsequent adventures in tree-skirt-building have been smooth, but they haven’t been because I’m amidst learning every bad consequence of not starting a challenging project—i.e. a pattern with acute and obtuse angled triangles and circle-shaped block setting—with a scaled drawing.

Is this an uh-oh? Nah! It's an almost completed layout.

Is this an uh-oh? Nah! It’s an almost completed layout.

Boiled down to a few bulleted points, here’re some pattern prototype do’s/don’ts (with input from my more technically skilled blogging sisters Darra and Laura, plus the managing engineer from my office (Charles) who is wickedly good in trigonometry).

Mrs. Slap-Dash’s Helpful Hints

  1. Turn your casual sketch into a scaled drawing or use a design software program to work out the bugs before you start cutting and sewing.

  2. If you start with a drawing, make sure to use thin or ultra-thin pencils/pens to render your sketch. Chubby marker lines distort exact measurements.

  3. Check and re-check your angles when your design has geometric shapes with acute/obtuse angles. Tiny inconsistencies can grow exponentially when enlarged! Laura recommends using a True Angle protractor.

  4. Heed the woodworker’s mantra at all times:  measure twice, cut once.

  5. For projects with extreme geometry, sew precisely and recheck the measurements frequently. Consider using a template to check accuracy.

  6. Give yourself a break; stitches can be snipped and seams re-sewn.

Quilt-J:  Mrs. Slap-Dash Makes a Circle.

Mrs. Slap-Dash finally closes her circle-in-the-making!

See, I’ve finally closed the gap for my tree skirt pattern despite my errors and missteps. The good news:  now I’ve got to test the pattern with tree skirt version 2.0! Cyndy Rymer, the wandering quilter, will be filling in for me on Friday (‘cuz I’ll be paper piecing) with her international fabric dyeing adventures and drool-worthy photography.

Giveaway Details Here!

Laura has very kindly arranged a True Angle giveaway for our readers from Quint Measuring Systems. Giveaway Question:  Do you avoid or embrace quilting’s mathematical challenges? (Jennifer?  Math-phobic and in serious need of her own True Angle protractor!) Leave me a comment by this Thursday, September 5 and I will announce the winner in the Friday post. Later, gators!

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