Basic Design for Beginning Quilters: Shape (pt 2)

April 12, 2013

Today I will belatedly continue my little crusade to convince traditional quilters that design IS relevant to all kinds of quilts. If you missed my blathering on about why I believe that learning the basic elements of art is worthwhile and possible you can read Part 1 – Texture.

Today’s basic design tip?
Learn to understand



SHAPE is an element very easily understood for all quilters. After we walk into the quilt shop and pick out our fabric we take it home and (sometimes) wash it, fold it, but always we love on it with our fingers and eyes. Eventually we will cut (some of) it into SHAPES and sew those pieces together with other shapes into a quilt.


Shapes in a quilt or in any work of art perform an interesting function – evoking a sense of movement or stillness, carrying our eyes in one direction or another either quickly or gently. Letting the eye rest or encouraging it to lively movement.

Think about a body standing straight up – I always picture one of those palace guards in England – with the big black Q-tip hats. A picture of strength and stability (and tourists trying to get them to crack up.) Shapes that are predominately vertical have some movement to them but also stillness and strength. Take a look at Monet’s painting of the Parliament building. All those vertical shapes create a sense a quiet strength. Now how can you create that feeling in your patchwork?



Now think of a horizontal body. It is most likely at rest, sleeping. There is a feeling of quiet, of peace. The eye moves slowly back and forth and there is a feeling of peace. The quilt to the right is available as a free download pattern from Robert Kaufman. Read about it at the blog Film in the Fridge.

2009121459320067Look how peaceful and calm this landscape (also Monet) feels. The soft horizontal shapes play a big part in creating that feeling. How can you use that in your next quilt?


What kind of patterns can you think of with horizontal and vertical shapes. What happens when one shape or another is dominant. What happens when you combine the two?

imagesLet’s move on to diagonal shapes and what kind of movement they create. A body at a diagonal is either moving or it’s going to! Diagonal lines carry the eye quickly from one place to another. They imply and elicit motion. Monet’s landscape here is predominately created with diagonal shapes. Look at the edge of the river, the reflection and the way the sky creates a big triangle as well. Still peaceful but more movement than before.


Janet Wickell created this pinwheel design and it is definitely full of visual movement, don’t you agree? How can you create movement with your patchwork? What patterns create lots of motion as your eye quickly slides and jumps around the lovely thing you’ve created?

Now think of what happens with curved and organic shapes – even more motion! What kind of movement a feeling do you want to elicit? Sherri Lynn Wood created this fabulous quilt – available on Etsy. Where does your eye go? What happens when you include diagonal and organic shapes?

Claude_Monet_Water-Lilies-500x500Here is another Monet, this time the shapes are very organic made mostly of circles. Where and how does your eye move around the painting?

There now. Wasn’t that easy? You now know two of the basic elements of art: TEXTURE and SHAPE.

What kinds of shapes do you see around you? What kind of movement do they evoke? How can you translate that into your quilts?

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  • Reply
    May 1, 2013 at 8:38 pm

    Your book just arrived the other day! Thank you for this extra input for us who follow your blog! 🙂

  • Reply
    Basic Design for Beginning Quilters: Color – Hue (pt 3) | Lyric Art
    April 22, 2013 at 1:27 pm

    […] lesson on COLOR. Don’t worry – it’s easy. (If you missed the first two here is Part 1 – Shape and Part 2 – […]

  • Reply
    Jennifer Cooper
    April 13, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    This is a great series for us un-trained textillians. Thanks for doing this, much appreciated.


  • Reply
    April 12, 2013 at 8:25 pm

    Thank you Lyric,
    I’ve got your book and this series are a great bonus.

  • Reply
    April 12, 2013 at 3:05 pm

    This is a great series Lyric. Thanks for taking the time to put it together!

  • Reply
    April 12, 2013 at 7:02 am

    I’m enjoying this the Elements of Art from this new perspective! Thanks, Lyric.

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