How to design a patchwork quilt

Updated July 19, 2017

Patchwork quilting is a rich and enduring art that can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. Traditional patchwork quilts were made from squares of leftover fabrics. Understanding a few basic elements is essential in creating your own patchwork quilt design.

Decide on the finished size of your project right from the start. Measure the bed or the space where you are going to put your patchwork quilt. The bigger and more complex your project is, the longer it will take to complete. Write your measurements down. How thick do you want your quilt to be -- heavy and warm for the winter or light and cool for a summer room? Batting specially made for quilting is available in a wide range of sizes and types.

Creating a colour scheme is essential to any design plan. A traditional patchwork quilt is made of fabric squares in many colours, arranged to appeal. Try taking a large basket and filling it up with patchwork squares and swatches of fabric. Include a few small objects with interesting colour or texture. Take the basket to your work table and evaluate your choices. Look for combinations of colour that are pleasing and/or suited to your decorating scheme. Try arranging two or more colours or several shades of the same colour together. Strive to establish a continuity of colour that will carry throughout the completed quilt.

Selecting same or similar kinds of fabrics is important to good design. Cotton, muslin and linen are the most durable. Is your quilt going to be used frequently? Avoid stretchy or lightweight fabrics.

Deciding on the size of your patches makes a difference in the amount of sewing that you will be doing. If you enjoy sewing, you might use small, 5 cm (2 inch) squares. Be sure to add an extra 6 mm to 1.2 cm (1/4 to 1/2 inch) seam allowance to the sides of each patch when cutting them. Try embroidering some solid colour, plain squares if you like to embroider. Do you even want the patches to be square? Traditional patchwork quilts include triangle and rectangular shapes, too.

Consider how you will quilt your project. A patchwork design is traditionally quilted (sewn) in a grid-type pattern following the edges of the squares or groups of squares. Block pattern designs, available in many books and online, are a form of stylised patchwork. Small pieces in many shapes are combined to make a larger square or block. Quilting templates and patterns are also available if you choose not to follow the grid pattern.

Determine your focal point. Good patchwork quilt design includes a focal point. Think about the elements already discussed. Often, the focal point is a quilter's favourite part of the process or her strongest skill. Do you enjoy sewing a lot of tiny pieces together? If so, use smaller squares. If you would like a more complex quilting pattern, you will need to buy or make a template for sketching the design on your top patchwork panel. If colour matching is your focal point or your strongest skill, make your colour scheme the focal point of your project.

Sketch your patchwork quilt ideas on paper, and make a design plan. Sketch an outline of the completed quilt and plot measurements for the sides (with and without a seam allowance). If you plan to include a border, include those measurements in your drawing. On a separate sheet of paper, draw a grid scaled to the finished project to determine how many squares you need in each row and column to suit your measurements. Use colour pencils or markers to plan an effective colour design.

Decide what type of backing you want to use. For everyday use, a soft, comfortable fabric in a matching colour may serve you well. For a more elaborate design, work two design plans and make a reversible quilt. The design is completely up to you.


Many free block patterns are available in books and online. Use leftover fabrics, in good condition, if you like the colour or pattern.

Things You'll Need

  • Measuring tape
  • Large basket (optional)
  • Fabric
  • Coloured pencils or markers
Cite this Article A tool to create a citation to reference this article Cite this Article

About the Author

Cath Savage is a returning freelance writer with a B.A. degree in organizational/intercultural communication from Arizona State University. She has written for Tempe Magazine, Arizona State University, the Phoenix Zoo, and McDonnell Douglas Helicopter Co. Inc. Savage says she will 'write everything about anything' but really enjoys pieces about interesting people, places, cultures and workplace issues.