Quilt Design: Finding Elements

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Have you ever thought about how much visual stimuli you take in, in one day? Image you are driving down the road, you are simultaneously processing visual information that helps you drive your car correctly; for example, the signs you see on the road, what you’re seeing on your dashboard, what is along the side of the roads and what you see coming from in front of you, you may even look in your rear-view mirror. It’s mind blowing what a human’s cognitive abilities can do with that information. Those cognitive abilities are what we develop and strengthen which help us as artists and quilters to create.

As an artist, we use those cognitive skills to take an idea, create and plan a design, edit and develop the final piece. The best ideas begin with a compelling image. What makes that image compelling to you? Is it the individual elements, the tantalizing colors or the general composition of the image you see? Everyone processes the information in an image or scene differently.  For me, I am mostly attracted to the geometry or relationship of elements.

While visiting Shantytown in New Zealand, this vintage discarded mechanical part caught my attention. Immediately my mind started processes the components of the device into quilt designs. As we walk through my interpretation of the object, I challenge you to think about what you see and how you would translate this into a quilt design.


The most obvious elements, that started my mind processing, were the geometry and intersection of the front of the large upper cog and lower cogs. The idea or image of them folding into each other as they turn made me process “direction”. I saw that sudden change in direction from the arrows on the upper cog (which are pointing up) versus the lower cogs (pointing down) lead to this initial concept:

 This would make a great minimal quilt, but what would a repeat look like?

The unbalanced jump of the diamond shape, in the third column really appealed to me.  How could more asymmetry play within the design? Also, that pink is such a stark contrast.  Would a cooler color look better for this diamond shape?

Ooh, I liked this. My mind was still processing both the concept of repeats and asymmetry. What about adding more diamonds to make it even more irregular?

One of the main reasons I like designing in software is the quick editing. With this, I found it too busy. I backed out the changes. I was still curious though in color changes. The final design I played with two palettes, the first introducing more contrast and drama; black, orange and white.

This is close as I liked the contrast and drama but needed something slightly softer. For the final design I modified this palette by using the darker blue from the original designs, keeping the white and orange the same.

Cognition is defined as "the mental action or process of acquiring knowledge and understanding through thought, experience, and the senses". This was my cognitive journey which lead to this final design. I find the more you practice using your cognitive skills, the easier it becomes to find those compelling images, and processing them into your own quilt designs. Now what about that challenge, what did you see in the image above? How did you interpret the image as a design?


  • The software I use for the designing quilts is Quilt Canvas (https://www.quiltcanvas.com)
  • If you design your own quilts from the image feel free to post your design on Instagram, use #MQG_FindingElements so we can see what you come up with.