Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Keep it Clean: tips for using a design wall

I think most art quiltmakers now use a design wall – composing their images vertically, since it is easier to get a clear view of how the piece progresses by being able to step back from the wall.  This was never possible when working on a table unless one had the power of levitation!  Which, alas, I do not!

My wall is like any other: a layer of foam insulation (that pink stuff about an inch thick that is sold in home improvement stores) which is very easy to pin into.  Some, I know, use a tougher kind of board but my fingers would never permit me to pin into it.  Plus, the foam board is really easy to nail to a wall not requiring many nails to hold it up.  Or you can even just prop it up, if you can’t install it permanently.  You then cover the foam with flannel, or batting or polartec or felt – all materials with some surface hairiness that will “hold”  small pieces of fabric against the surface without pinning.  Though, I would suggest that if you are likely to switch a fan on you do pin the pieces down – unless you want to see your beautiful design disappear in a fabric snow storm!!  I’ve been blessed with several such storms!

Before I start pinning up any fabric, I like to outline where the quilt is going to be.  I just use the selvedges I’ve ripped off the fabrics, and I hang a little weight on the vertical lines so that they are straight, and check the horizontal edges with a spirit level. I like to keep things squared up right from the start so I don’t lose too much to squaring up later when everything is sewed together.  And, also, I find that looking at those four edges I can visualize my idea within them.  I can judge whether the scale and orientation look “right” for my idea. 


on the left, I see a scene like a waterfall, or maybe a tall skyscraper, or a Japanese scroll kind of design….whereas on the right the shape is reminiscent of a more traditional landscape or abstract quilt design.   IMG_0132


If you were going to make a diptych, you could outline both shapes and see how well they looked together.  Or, you could set up a quartet of four little squares perhaps for some flower studies.  Getting those first four edges in place and “right”  is the first step in composition, and an important one.  Furthermore if you’re finding it hard to get started, this is a good way to ease yourself into composing mode!




Once I’ve got my piece up, I like to isolate it with strips of white fabric – I find that if I look at it all cluttered as on the left, I can’t really judge it correctly.

I find all that Stuff most distracting – somehow it adds itself into the picture – I’m amazed at how cluttered most people’s design walls are – mine amongst them!  So when I need just to see the piece and nothing but the piece, then I set out those strips.



On the right, you can see I put my strips out and then started adding on some more elements, so even though I’ve got most of the clutter out of the way I still can’t see the piece how it actually will be when it’s finished..the narrow bits that extend off the edges of the quilt are in my view and therefore in my mind.





So I think it’s important to take the time to replace the strips so only the actual proposed quilt is visible: okay…now I can see the piece and it can breathe!

Of course you can always take a photograph, run to the computer with the camera, hook it up, extract the photo and in Photoshop (wait till the program boots) crop off the extraneous distractions…..and I do that too!  But keeping that clear space around the image I’m working on, helps me to focus on it, to see if the balance of images is right, where my eye goes  and all those other things AND keeps my head clear.

Go now! and tear some long white (or black, as the mood takes you!) strips and try it!!  And, if you have been, thanks for reading!  Elizabeth

PS – if you have any helpful tips that will make composition and construction easier, do please comment!! thank you.  or if you just want to tell a funny story….or anything else!!


Jackie said...

I use plumb lines as you mentioned in class, but hadn't used a level for the horizontal lines--great idea. Thanks!

Unknown said...

Great article Elizabeth - Thank you! I learnt an interesting lesson yesterday - If you feel you need to add one more screened inage to a piece of complex cloth, screen it off the wall! I now have a little bird's tail permanently on my flannel design wall!

Sandy said...

I like the squaring up first idea. I will see how I can put that into action.
I don't have a vertical design board, when I do think it is at the check it out stage, mostly pinned together, I hang it from skirt hooks on the cupboard doors.

But I do have a range of large cardboard pieces to lay out my compositions (I work quite a bit smaller!) I know what you mean about the extraneous stuff being part of the composition if you can see it. I learned to put it on the cardboard pieces when I realised that things were less alive than when I had composed them...and realised I had composed them to include the colour of my large cutting mat!
So, I might still be developing as an artist, but at least it is not all geared around teal!

anyway, the cardboard also serves like a puzzle board to take away when you have to do something else on the workspace.
Sandy in the UK

Anonymous said...

As always, great information. Thank you.

Jane said...

Love the ideas of plumbing the outline strips to square up before beginning and using the white strips to "see" the finished composition. Thank you for sharing two very very useful, helpful tips!

M.E. said...

You are absolutely right about clearing the extra stuff off the design wall. It's distracting. My wall tends to turn into more of a bulletin board. I think some of the older unfinished projects I've put up, or left up, start to depress me after a while.

Annie said...

Hm-m-m, I'd never thought of making a fabric frame on my design wall! I can't wait to try it! What do you use for weights?

Elizabeth Barton said...

thank you for all the comments!
re the plumb lines...I just use anything that's lying around for weights...old bobbins or spools, or a chain of paper clips (grandson is always madly joining my paper clips together) and few buttons - anything!

MariQuilts said...

Great ideas...I never thought about framing things that way as I'm working, I think it will be really helpful.

Ruth said...

As everyone else has said - some really useful tips here. I do use plumblines but usually later in the process. I must try out the idea of defining my size first - my quilts are a bit like Topsy and grow! Must be the exception to the rule though. I only ever have my quilt top up on the design wall the rest of the stuff is in piles around the place or in my head.

Margaret McCarthy Hunt said...

great idea ...like using a view finder to compose a drawing...now WHY didnt i think of that!!

Susie Monday said...

Another way that I am using lately to "frame" my work is to take a photo in my digital camera, then take it into iPhoto and crop it several different ways, since I tend to sometimes have some unnecessary and uninteresting edges. I can crop in different ways, then trim the work to the new frame,