Phased by wholecloth quilting?


Quilt maker and designer Sandie Lush gives you the low down on how to get started in wholecloth!

Getting started in wholecloth quilting

Getting started on any new project can be difficult, but wholecloth quilting seems particularly daunting. I can still vividly remember standing at Quilts UK in total awe of Amy Emms and her beautiful satin wholecloth quilt and thinking I would never be able to make a quilt like that myself. It seemed the equivalent of being given a huge blank piece of paper and being told to draw something.

The good news is that there is very little drawing involved when designing a wholecloth quilt, and you don’t need to reinvent the wheel every time either. There are lots of books about quilts that will help you get started, not to mention plenty of motifs in magazines. Diana Lodge’s book Quilting is an excellent resource for the novice designer as it provides both line drawings and templates for some traditional quilts as well as photographs of the quilts themselves.

Old quilts are the most obvious design source. Combining the best of several old quilts into an entirely new quilt will provide valuable insight into how designs were laid out as well as setting an interesting challenge.

It can be difficult to get to see old quilts, but there are many images available online, including quilts in The Quilters’ Guild Museum Collection. A trip to Lampeter is well worth the effort as Jen Jones’ annual exhibition of her antique Welsh quilts is truly inspirational. Her 2020 exhibition will run from May 1st until the December 24th.

In reality we are surrounded by potential quilting patterns: carved wood in picture frames and old furniture, plasterwork in ceilings, designs on cutlery handles, anaglypta wallpaper, and even kitchen roll and toilet paper!

If you are looking to reproduce a motif, a symmetrical one will be easier to start with. That way only half the motif need be drawn as the other half can be traced. Not only does this minimise the amount of drawing to be done, it will also ensure the motif is symmetrical.

To illustrate the design process I have copied a motif found on King’s Cutlery.


First I enlarged the image and then traced one half of the design.

diagram 0

The base of the feathers lacked a focal point so I added a double circle. I also extended the outer lines until they joined and added an extra feather to fill the resultant space.

diagram 1c

The finished motif measured 6¼”in length. However, if downloaded, they may not appear the correct size, so please refer back to the above diagram which includes a ruler guide.

Having copied (or created) a motif, now it is time to play with positioning it in various ways. Folding a piece of tracing paper in four makes it possible to position the motif either on the fold lines or place it within them.

better new diagram 3

The motif can also be placed facing in the opposite direction. This is easier to do if the motif is positioned inside the fold lines to ensure repeat motifs do not overlap.

new diagram 3

Placing the motif this way creates a central space which can be filled with circles, square diamonds or another motif.

diagram 4d

If planning a cushion, any of the above options work well; but if planning a larger quilt, the first and final options will give a better central focus.

The motif can be used to create larger patterns.

diagram 5c

This frequently leaves spaces that need filling either with background quilting, another motif or both.

diagram 6c

Patterns get to grow quite quickly this way. The design below would fit the centre of a double bed.

diagram 7

This would be quite an ambitious size to start with! A cot quilt would probably be a more appropriate starting point, as that size is large enough to present a challenge but small enough to be achievable.

So, returning to the original four-motif design, it can be repeated to create an all over pattern. The remaining spaces can then be filled with a background pattern such as echo lines.


diagram 8c

Although the above is a scale diagram for a cot quilt, any sized quilt can be made in this fashion.

The motif can also be arranged into various border patterns. Small designs can be created by positioning single motifs in several ways.

diagram 9

Deeper borders can be created using double motifs.

diagram 10

A border can be used to enclose a section of repeating pattern. Any remaining spaces will need to be filled with background quilting.

diagram 11c

This design will fit a large cot. Using fewer repeats would create a quilt for a smaller cot; using more repeats would make a rectangular quilt for a single bed or even a square design for a bed quilt.

All of these designs have been created using the pattern copied from the end of a knife, a rose motif, and fillings based on background patterns such as echo lines, straight lines and circles.

Mirror tiles are good way to see how repeating a pattern will look and how border patterns turn at the corners of a quilt design. They are also extremely useful for creating your own quilting motifs.


Mirror tiles.

mirror quilt

Mirror quilt.

You will be amazed at the number of interesting kaleidoscope images that can be invented this way. Each time you see a pleasing pattern, draw along the inside edge of both mirrors and label the pair of lines. This is because you may find more than one new design and a collection of unlabelled lines can be extremely frustrating! Having identified a promising segment, trace it onto another piece of paper and then repeat it to fill in the remaining sections.

Having copied or created several motifs, these can then be arranged to form more complex patterns using exactly the same approach as illustrated with the design taken from the end of a knife.

So arm yourself with a pencil, eraser, quilting ruler and lots of tracing or greaseproof paper and have fun!

Sandie Lush

(Header image, Fleur, 2003)

Editor’s note: Coming in 2020, Sandie Lush is designing two new wholecloth patterns exclusively for The Guild. Sign up to receive our QShop newsletters to be the first to know when they arrive!







One thought on “Phased by wholecloth quilting?

  1. How fascinating to see the myriad effects you can achieve from just one design. Thanks, Sandie, for making my train journey to York so interesting.


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