Last night I was up late playing with that lovely blue batik quilt topper, but playing only on the computer. I find the computer to be very useful when previewing ideas for free motion quilting. I know there are wonderful programs out there that help with this stage, but I improvise. Besides helping me to visualize patterns, it is also a good way to understand the motion needed to complete your chosen design. I used to lay thread out on the quilt top and play with designs. By going high-tech, I can quickly do a half dozen options and save them, previewing them side by side.
Here is an overly detailed step-by-step guide, showing how I do this on my PC, using Windows programs only, and my digital camera. If you just want to see a pair of examples, skip to the end of the post.
1. Upload a digital photo of your quilt top, and save it to your Pictures folder. (Before I had a digital camera, I would take a traditional photo and have it scanned or digitized when it was developed.) If you take a close up shot, concentrate on one section that is representative of your quilt. I recommend that it include between four and eight square feet, but you can have a shot of the full quilt top and crop it later. If you are thinking of a fancy quilted border, you may want to do a separate photo of the border.
2. Open the photo in your Windows Photo Gallery. Not sure how? Open your folder called Pictures and locate the photo. Double click on it to open it in the “gallery slide show” feature, which will open a new screen showing only that photo.
4. In PAINT, first SAVE your photo using the FILE option on the menu. Be sure to use a different name than the original photo, perhaps “Original Name Detail”. You are creating your base for exploring options, and it will be saved to your PICTURES file.
5. Crop your photo, if you have not done so yet. From the PAINT menu, first select VIEW/ZOOM and do CUSTOM 50% (or less if needed to view entire picture on your screen.) Then select EDIT/SELECT ALL. Now select IMAGE/CROP. Using your cursor, select the area of your quilt top you wish to play with, at least four square feet of the actual top. Once you have that marked off, select IMAGE/CROP and you now have a close up detail. If you do not like it hit CTRL-Z to undo the crop, and start again, no sweat! Once you are satisfied with your cropped photo, select FILE/SAVE to preserve this working base.
6. Time to Doodle! Now the fun begins. On the left hand side of the PAINT menu, there is a little PENCIL icon, click to select it. Then click to select a color that will show in high contrast, I used white on this blue quilt. If your image is still small, select VIEW/ZOOM and bring it to at least 100% , it can overflow the screen but you want to be able to draw! With your mouse (or touch pad) start scribbling on your photo, just to get a feel for how it works. You can erase this using EDIT/UNDO or CTRL-Z at any time. Take a few minutes to get comfortable with drawing this way. Do NOT strive for perfection, drawing with a mouse is messy unless you are a graphics pro! For this use you are looking for a reasonable representation only. I know for myself that my free motion quilting is a lot smoother than my drawing with a mouse! Scribble away, then clear the scribbling using EDIT/UNDO.
7. Try your first design idea. Start in one corner and draw out your first idea, as you would expect to stitch it. Remember that you can always undo it if you feel you are getting too sloppy or do not like it. You may want to try a simple meander first. Fill in the entire photo, using the scroll bars on the screen to reach the whole thing. If you lift the mouse and start a new line, think like you are quilting. Actually that is one nice plus of this process, you can also preview motion. As you work you may realize that your chosen design is choppy and would be hard to do on the sewing machine, or that it flows smoothly and would be easy to stitch.
8. Preserve this first design with a new name. Select FILE/SAVE AS and name it, perhaps “Original Name Meander” or something that makes sense to you. By starting your selected name with the same base, all your options stay alphabetically together in your picture folder.
9. Do another, and another! Follow the same steps, always starting from your “Original Name Detail” drawing. Try a crosshatch, stars, whatever you want. Select FILE/SAVE AS and name each one differently, such as “Original Name Crosshatch.”
10. Compare your completed quilting previews. Feel free to close PAINT. Open PICTURES, select the original cropped working base (“Original Name Detail” in the example) and double-click on it to open it in the Gallery/Slide Show feature. Under the photo are arrows to click to select the next photo to view, so you can flip between all your examples. You can also move them to a folder and view them using the Large View option.
I hope you will have some fun testing different quilting ideas this way. I tried four different options. I found I really liked one, but it would be a bear to actually do on the machine, so I moved on. Give me a couple of weeks, I will post the finished quilt and you can see where I went with the quilting!
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