Elizabeth Barton’s “Inspired to Design” isn’t for the faint of heart. Outside of a brief description of how to dye fabric gradients, the book contains no patterns or construction techniques. It’s filled with ways to sharpen your analytical ability to design original quilts. Most of the book concerns everything that happens before you even bring your rotary cutter near your fabric. Barton’s bottom line – if your design is weak, no amount of sewing/embellishing/quilting can save it. You can follow Barton’s art quilt thoughts at her blog.
Here are some thoughts I took away from this book:
Re: using photos for design inspiration – The design shouldn’t be a direct copy, but a translation, filtered through how you see and feel something.
Re: strong designs – “…you don’t want to make a quilt that rambles along like an old house that has had bits added on over the centuries. …All the beads in the world won’t transform a poorly structured design into something elegant and meaningful.”
Re: critiquing your design sketches – first let them mature a few days on the design wall. Intuition goes just so far; it may tell you something’s wrong but not why or how to fix it. Principles for evaluating your designs: unity and harmony, variety and tension, balance and proportion, repetition, rhythm and movement, and economy. Barton illustrates these principles with her own work.
Re: need for tension or variety in a work – “Without some tension, a work of art is like a meal of white fish in a white sauce with white mashed potatoes and cauliflower, And white bread on the side.” A quilt with the exact same block in the exact same colors, repeated over and over, lacks tension.
Re: quilting – “You can’t save a weak quilt top with quilting; don’t even try….The quilting should enhance the design, not try to rescue it.”
So the next time I start throwing fabric onto the wall I need to stop, step back, and force myself to design on paper first and evaluate that design. If I follow this advice, I have a feeling that improv piecing will become an illicit thrill for me.