How to Make Quilting Your Business #8 – Designing Patterns

Welcome to my continuing series on How to Make Quilting Your Business. I’ve been designing my own quilts for nearly as long as I’ve been quilting, but only recently decided to start turning them into actual patterns for sale.

Modern XMy latest PDF pattern design – Modern X

First, I had to get over the idea that I thought it was somehow “cheating” for me to charge people money to tell them how many squares and triangles to cut out of a yard of fabric! I really enjoy figuring out the math when it comes to calculating yardage requirements, but I know not everyone feels the same way.

I recently I had a great discussion with my friend Lee Heinrich (a prolific pattern designer and recent book author) and she convinced me that it’s okay for me to share my knowledge and get paid for it. She told me that some people’s brains just don’t work that way and they are more than willing to pay for it. I finally get that now – thanks, Lee!

Vintage Quilt RevivalVintage Quilt Revival, co-authored by three talented pattern designers Katie, Lee, and Faith. See where pattern design can ultimately take you?

Today’s topic can be narrowed down to two main ideas: (1) designing the quilt (for business or even just for personal use) and (2) producing and selling the pattern.

Designing Quilt Patterns

When it comes to designing original patterns, there are a myriad of technological choices out there. It can be as basic as sketching your ideas out on graph paper, or as advanced as using specific design software.

Personally I use EQ7 for all my designs. My favorite aspect of the software is that I can import swatches of fabric from any manufacturer into the program. Although I’m by no means an expert, it’s been easy enough for me to learn the basics of what I want to do. I can even design modern “improv” blocks. 🙂 (I know – that’s kind of an oxymoron, right?)

spiraling_color_choicesI like to finalize my design digitally before I try it out in fabric. This was my working sketch that ultimately led to a darker background for Spiraling Out of Control.

Another good choice for computerized design is Adobe Illustrator. Several very talented designer friends of mine swear by this program and their work speaks for itself:

Turning Cartwheels

 Cartwheels by Lee Heinrich, designed in Adobe Illustrator

20140401_lindsey_qalLindsey’s latest pattern – designed using Adobe Illustrator

No matter which software you use (or none at all), once you have the basic “sketch” nailed down, you’ll need to do something with those designs to turn them into an actual pattern. I use simple word processing software. I copy and paste my EQ7 images into a Word document and then add text where needed. It’s very basic and gets the job done and at this point matches my skill set. 🙂

Christa Quilts Herringbone Gray Matters MoreHerringbone, designed by me in EQ7. Graphic designers from Camelot Fabrics imported my sketches and instructions into their layout software to create a professional pattern.

If you’d like a more professional look, you can import your design images into a higher-end layout and publishing software such as Adobe In-design or Microsoft Publisher. This is on my “to learn” list!

You can also opt to hire a graphic designer if you plan to produce mass quantities of a particular pattern. However, Lee’s advice is to just bite the bullet and learn the software. She states, “It will really cut into your profit margins if you have to pay a designer every time you have a new pattern that’s ready to release or you need to make changes to existing patterns.”

Modern Log Cabin Rough SketchMy current quilt on my “virtual” design wall. I’m working on the pattern for it now.

Selling Quilt Patterns

Once you’ve created your patterns, the next step is to start selling them! I asked Lee if it’s really necessary to sell printed patterns, or if PDF’s will suffice. This was her answer, “I absolutely think someone can get away with selling only PDF versions of patterns. PDFs are great because there’s practically no overhead, no page limitations, and you don’t have to rely on distributors to get them out there. But it’s important to understand that PDF patterns and paper patterns reach completely different audiences, at least for the time being.”

20121018_charmingchevronsCharming Chevrons, my first PDF Pattern design

For the beginning pattern designer, there are several options to get your patterns into the hands of your customers right away! You can sell them yourself on your own website, or from online sites such as Threadbias or Craftsy. I’ve personally chosen to start selling my patterns on Craftsy because there are no selling fees there!


Another fabulous selling model implemented by my friend Alyssa Lichner from Pile O’Fabric is her Aria Lane design company. Alyssa says, “As an independent designer sometimes you want to stop hassling with all the business details and just design! Aria Lane give designers the opportunity to publish patterns without worrying about those details. At Aria Lane we have a very specific modern aesthetic we are trying to achieve for our designs.”

If you have a design in mind that you feel would fit that aesthetic you can learn about the details of designing an Aria Lane pattern here.

20140401_aria_laneAnother fabulous Aria Lane pattern, “Hemispheres” designed by Megan Nichols

I feel like I’ve just scratched the surface of this hugely broad topic. Just remember, there are several paths to success, but the first step on that path is to start making. Don’t be afraid to dive in there and learn as you go. That’s usually my method of doing things and so far it’s served me well!

Click here for the start of this series.


21 thoughts on “How to Make Quilting Your Business #8 – Designing Patterns

  1. Regina Tousley says:

    I draw and turn my drawings into a quilt. People beg me to make patterns for them to buy but I have the slightest idea of how where or how much I charge for my personalized patterns help please

  2. chellesquilts says:

    Hi Christa! I heard you on Modern Sewciety last month and decided to give EQ7 a try. I’m still learning the software but loving to so far. I’m trying to convert my first EQ7 pattern to a pattern I’m planning to sell on Craftsy. I appreciate this blog post and wondered if I can ask you a question. I’m having trouble copy and pasting from EQ7 to word. Do you know if that is a feature they have removed? Thank you so much for your time! Michelle

  3. Faith Wellman says:

    Please don’t forget to have your pattern tested before selling!! Mistakes are no fun for anyone trying to recreate your lovely design. Plus, I always learn something from constructive feedback. Really enjoy your writing Christa – thank you. Faith.

  4. NiinaMaria says:

    I have a question for you. I’ve had my first quilt in progress for ages. Meaning I only have some of the pieces cut. I decided to do a plain quilt. Just basic squares in shades of yellow with some pinks, purples and greys thrown in. Originally I was going to make it to fit my 120cm/47inches wide bed to work as bedspread, with about a 30cm/foot hanging down on the sides. Well, then I moved and my old bed didn’t fit through the stairs so I bought two mattresses to make 160cm/63inch bed. I calculated that I would now need to make the quilt 220*260cm/86.6*102.4 inches and my question is that IF I choose to go with a quilt pattern, how do I adjust the size? I fell in love with the Cartwheel-quilt but the biggest size is 74″*90″. Or should I just stick with my original plan of basic squares? I know, I know I’m ambitious and there will be many tears shed but I’m one of those people who best learn to swim by jumping head first in the water.
    P.S. I also thought….Since I won’t be able to machine quilt it in full size, should I try the quilt as you go method? Or just stick with handstitching with pearle cotton? AAAAND. Since I’m asking all these questions, what do you think about batting? My local fabric store only has horrible synthetic one meant for winter jackets. Since it’s my first quilt I don’t want to spend too much money. I’m basically looking for something that is decent quality but won’t be that expensive that if I ruin the quilt, I won’t be crying over the cost of the batting.
    P.P.S. I’m going to make this same comment on Mollie Sparkles too, so I can get two professionals opinion. Thanks a heaps in advance!

    • Christa says:

      The easiest way to adjust the size is add more blocks, or borders until it’s as big as you need. Remember, borders don’t have to be the same width on all 4 sides,

      I’ve been able to quilt large quilts by using the thinnest batting I can find. My favorite thin batting is Quilter’s Dream Request cotton. I do not like synthetic battings and prefer natural fibers instead.

  5. Elisabeth Ostiguy says:

    Christa, I really appreciate your blog. It really opens up to new opportunity. I do my own designs but don’t translate them into patterns for others. I do have the software but most of my time is spent on making the quilts. just not enough hours in the day but there is always hope…

  6. Judy says:

    I have a question about designing patterns that I asked on another website and never got an answer to. When you design a pattern how do you know that yours is original With all the people designing patterns is there a place to go to make sure that no one else thought of your design previously. I realize that each designer puts their own unique stamp on a pattern that makes it different from any other pattern but is that enough? Even though I have not designed any patterns I do find this topic interesting and thank you for sharing your knowledge.

    • Christa says:

      That’s a great question to ask! There’s no way to guarantee your design is 100% “original” because many designers can come up with the same idea at the same. However, if you have designed it yourself, without copying anyone else, then it is unique to you. Each designer will have their own way of explaining the instructions, too.

  7. Lorna McMahon says:

    Thanks so much for sharing this encouraging post. I do think this is the one step that intimidates a lot of creative people from going forward. Sure appreciate your thoughts on design and pattern writing, Christa!

  8. Becca @ bryanhousequilts says:

    Thanks for this advice! I’m thinking of publishing my own patterns (read, I’m going to, I have plans to, am actively working on a pattern, but am a bit scared to actually say anything other than “thinking about”, ha!).

    The biggest hurdle for me right now is to get over all the things I have left to learn and just do it.

  9. Anita says:

    Thank you Christa! I have a question about PDF software. Do you use Adobe software to create PDFs or one of the freebies online? I looked into Adobe PDF software and it seems pricey to me (unless I’m looking at the wrong thing). I think it was something like $600 CDN. Would you recommend biting the bullet on that or using the free ones online? Thanks!

    • Christa says:

      I have Adobe Acrobat Pro, because it came with Adobe Creative Suite, which I own. However, I rarely use Acrobat Pro, and mostly use some free pdf utilities. Some to look at: CutePDF Foxit PDF PDF-Xchange

      Good luck with it!

  10. jenetamasson says:

    I found this post so interesting. Your information is invaluable. I have so many ideas in my head and would like to progress past the point of hurried sketches and scribblings framing them!

  11. Leanne Parsons says:

    Thanks for this! I’m only recently to the place where I accept that I don’t need special qualifications to design and sell my own patterns. Don’t know what I thought those special qualifications were, but I didn’t have them! Now I have one pattern listed on Craftsy and another ready to be added by the end of the week with loads more in my head, in EQ7 and even in progress. I’m excited and nervous at the same time. It’s a fun place to be. I had wondered about making my patterns look more professional (I use Word and cut and paste from EQ7 too), so I appreciated your info there.

  12. Alida says:

    Thanks for sharing these tips! I would like to add that there are free and open software alternatives to Adobe Illustrator or Publisher: they are GIMP and Inkscape. I don’t know much about Illustrator but I know that GIMP and Inkscape are two very powerful software for designing your own graphics/patterns. And a free alternative to EQ7 (but for non-commercial use only) is QuiltAssistant. This software is probably less fancy than EQ7 but if you want to share free patterns just to see if people like them (and if you like to design and distribute them) I think they are worth a try!!

  13. Kristy Daum says:

    Lots of great advice here, and I’m like you…I didn’t comprehend that people would pay for patterns especially of super easy designs. I am like you and can usually figure out how to make a quilt by looking at it, and don’t mind the math one bit. That is not to say that I don’t buy patterns, because I like to support other small businesses, and also because sometimes I just want to be able to sit down and start a quilt, rather then think it through.

    I started designing in Illustrator because I was familiar with the program and only recently started working in EQ7. The big thing that I wish people remembered about designing patterns…ALWAYS have others pattern test it, or at least read it through. What sounds good in one’s head might not translate to others.

  14. Sandra Louise says:

    Hi Christa – such great info here! If you don’t mind a suggestion, I’d recommend learning InDesign over MS Publisher. It may seem more complicated at first, but it can do so many things much more easily and professionally, which will help if you get to mass printing patterns or designing cover sheets. If you decide to try it and have questions, feel free to give me a shout. 😉

  15. Vicki says:

    Wow Christa…I’m still scared to death! I’ve had several requests for patterns, but don’t have a clue how to start. Wish you lived closer.

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