Designing an Art Quilt Series: Part 2

Georgian Bay vista thread painting by Bridget O'FlahertyLong Beach Sunset thread painting by Bridget O'FlahertyLooking Up 2 thread painted art by Bridget O'Flaherty

You have the Concept, What’s Next?

Determining the overall concept of a series is one of the hardest parts of the job. Once you have a plan in place, you get to the fun of designing the work.  I find having defined parameters helps me stay focused and clear on what can and cannot be in the project.

In Designing an Art Quilt Series: Part 1, I spoke about the bigger picture and overall concept of planning the series, now we will discuss execution.


Once I have my overall concepts determined, I start narrowing down my design ideas. I need to understand how the lines of the subject work, so I take to doing sketches. Usually, I work with a photo. I either use my own, know the photographer ( with permission) or purchase the rights to use the photo. There are plenty of websites with public domain photos and many photographers are willing to be an inspiration. Unsplash is one I frequent.   I am always mindful of copyright and seek permission to use the photo, though I am not directly copying it.

I find drawing to be a great exercise, even when working in a different medium.  It’s a good way to familiarize yourself with the details. It also gives clients an idea of your vision if you happen to be doing commission work. I take this time to really look at the palette I want to use, where the highlights and shadows are, what elements are imperative when rendering the work. I tend to like to use pencil crayon, but I have dabbled in watercolour and acrylic as well.


Once I have the drawing and photos to work from, I will move to the layout in the fabric. The finished size/shape needs to be determined.  Often the subject will dictate this, but sometimes the space that will display the work will force you to work smaller, or larger than you may have previously. My preference is to work with large pieces and highlight the subject within the work.

I sometimes work with an episcopio or enlarger to help me transfer my designs from paper to fabric. I often want to add an element of quilting to my finished work so I will play around with patterns that complement the subject and create a sketch on the fabric before I begin. If there are traditional patterns that are found locally, I will try to incorporate those as a final design element.

When laying out the design I always try to get perspective, it allows me a chance to see if there are missing design elements. To do this, I use a design wall that is approximately 4′ x 8′, if I had room, I would use a bigger wall! I pin the design and get back from it as far as possible. Sometimes taking a photo helps. You can also use a glass Reducing Lens, there are a few options on where to buy those, check with your LQS.

Design Elements

Colour Theory Judy Villett

Colour Theory with Judy Villett and Joyce O’Connell

When working with fibre art series you will need to create works that have focus and impact. Following the Elements and Principals of Design is a useful place to start. You have already determined the theme, now it is time to “thread”  it throughout each piece. There can be many ways to approach this. The important thing to remember is that you have a focus and you need to check that when you select your palette, thread, fabric and embellishments. Make sure that they ring true to the core values of the work you have set in place already.

Canada Quilt Series Design Elements

I selected common elements in each province that are easily recognizable as significant and typical landscapes, wildlife or architecture for the area. It was more interesting to balance the variety of the subjects throughout the series. I decided to focus on relevant landmarks vs a single subject like only wildlife or only landscapes. It gave interest to the series as a whole and allowed people to engage in the exhibition, guessing which Province was being represented. The consistent elements were size and framing. For each piece, I carefully selected borders that both balanced the finished work and related to the subject. All of the pieces were either landscape or portrait and roughly the same size, keeping the “Golden Ratio” in mind. Having drastically differing sizes would potentially be distracting so keep this in mind when creating a series.

New Foundland: Storm at Sea Ice thread painting by Bridget O'FlahertyFor example, the Newfoundland Piece that features the rugged coastline, deep blue sea and ever recognizable iceberg. I finished this piece with a border of the “Storm at Sea” block in blues and whites. The landscape was calm, so the finished work could support a busy border.

Quilts of Canada: QuebecIn contrast, the Quebec piece had a lot of detail in the fall leaves of a country road and required simple borders to finished the work. Both represent typical landscapes for the region and palettes for the season.

When In a Series

I work at 3-4 designs at any one time. I find it too much to take on all of the pieces that will complete the series, a few at a time keeps the series cohesive and keeps me from experiencing overwhelm. When doing a large series, it can seem like a daunting task so I find it easier on myself to take a few at a time and work through those first. When I get to the next few, I can use the previous ones as a reference.

Here it is important to remember that all of the pieces will need to stand alone, but also work in the series. Refer back to the design work and assess, does the piece still ring true to the concepts defined originally? Does it align with the project? If not, it can be set aside for another time, stay focused and keep working at the series. 

How to get an Exhibition

Stay Tuned for Part 3 of this series where I will talk about the ‘behind the scenes’ of mounting an exhibition, from approaching galleries to marketing and opening night events. Sign up for my newsletter to get a notification!

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