Tuesday, 24 February 2015

Using Microsoft Word to design a quilt

During our discussion over Christmas on a potential group project, the subject of quilt design and using software to share blocks came up.  It’s been an item I had planned on writing for the blog for some time, so I finally got a bit of a chance this weekend to grab some screenshots and start this series of posts with a process for creating designs using Microsoft Word.

I hope to write about Touchdraw (tablet and phone app), Inkscape (free drawing program), Threadbias and others, working up to EQ7.  If you have any programs or apps you use and want to share your process please get in touch as I’d love to expand on this!

shapes all
First up is Word.  It is really easy to pull basic shapes into a drawing space with word. 
When you open Microsoft Word the Home tab on the top of the page automatically opens.  If you click on the next tab INSERT, you open up commands that can give you access to shapes like those above.

shapes menu
In the shapes menu you can click on the shape you want to draw and then, with your mouse hold down the left click button and drag your mouse across the screen to make your shape.  If you hold down the shift key while clicking and dragging you will create a square shape or a triangle with even sides.

To change the colour of your shape, double click on your shape and the Format tab opens up.  Click on Shape fill and a drop down menu pops out and you can choose the colours available in columns, or if you want more variation, click on More Fill Colours.

colourmore fill colours

With more fill colours, you can click on the base colour in the rainbow palette and then if you want a lighter or darker colour move the slider up and down. 

You can add a pattern or texture to your shape by clicking on Texture, more textures, pattern and choosing from waves to brick effects that can mimic fabrics.

If you want to change the size of your shape you can drag the corner of your shape or you can change it in the format tab.  You can make it taller and wider by changing the values in the boxes to the far right. image

Now that we know where our basic shapes are and how to change the size and colour we need to arrange them on our page.  Similar to graph paper, I like to use a grid, as it helps when moving shapes around and lining them up to build a design.  Word has one built in.  The default grid can be toggled on and off in the View tab.
view grid

Click on VIEW and then check the gridlines box and the grid will appear behind your shapes.  You can move your shapes within this space and they will align to the grid and snap to each other to make it easier to arrange the shapes into a design.  If you want to change your grid to have more or less squares you can find the settings in Format, align, grid settings.

Working with the shapes themselves is easy.  You can right click and copy a shape or group shapes together and create blocks.  For example,  to make a simple 9 patch we need 9 squares arranged into 3 rows x 3 columns.  You could pull 9 squares onto your grid but it is easier to pull out one, copy it twice, arrange them to create a row of 3 and group them as one item.


Click on each one  while holding down the Ctrl key and all will be selected, then click on FORMAT and Group and all 3 squares will be combined into 1 shape, that you can then copy again and arrange into a 9 patch.  Select the 3 lines and group again to make a block.

You can make multiple selections within a block by holding down the ctrl key and clicking on those items within the block.  This will allow you to change the colour of those selected shape in one go.  Very handy for trying different colour schemes.  You can then copy and paste your shapes and blocks to make up your design.  If you want to rotate your block just click on the little circular symbol and pull it around.

To get an idea of what your design will look like in fabric you can turn off shape outline.

Grouping elements, moving them around, rotating them copying them and changing the colours are all quite easy with software and you can go from some very simple to more complicated looking designs.


Why not give it a go?  I had great fun with just simple shapes like the hexagon and triangles just colouring them in and ended up using this balloon as the centre of my medallion baby quilt from our Medallion Quilt-A-Long last year (yet to finish it but I am getting there!)

I'm hoping to submit these two quilts for our first exhibition in May/June.  If you missed it, Fiona's announcement post is here!

In next week's post I’ll show some screenshots of Touchdraw, (Lynne from Lily's quilts uses this a lot!).  It's an app for tablets and can run on Mac's.  I'll be talking about how to make half square triangles, flying geese and layering shapes on top of each other to make more intricate quilt designs.


  1. Thank you so much for this thorough instruction! I am intrigued, and will have to make time to play with this, as I am a confirmed graph paper/colored pencil kid! You make it look very do-able!

  2. Oh my goodness Ruth - I had no idea this was even possible! I have to share this with a friend who was just asking me about it. Thank you for this lesson!
    When I design, I most often use a combination of hand drawing, refining in Microsoft Paint and EQ7 and sometimes playing more in Photoshop Elements

  3. Thank you Ruth! Lara told me about this post, and it is just the most perfectly timed tutorial--! I found the shapes (coolio!) and had painstakingly messed around with them to get a 7X7 grid quilt, and had shaded them as I wanted to, but I needed to select it all and just could not! The grid feature you show will save my life (and my laptop from flying through the window, lol) as I try to write my first pattern! Will follow your next posts about Touchdraw (I have a MacBook Pro) and also the EQ7. Thank you for doing this!!

  4. This is wonderful! I just bookmarked it for future reference too. Thank you for going to so much effort to show how to do it.

  5. Wow I just found your site and this tutorial is exactly what I needed!! Thank you so very much!!!!!!