|Quilting Software Review: Dear Jane Quilt
The Electric Quilt Company, 2003
Based on the Jane Stickle quilt of 1863, and book by Brenda Papadakis
The “Dear Jane” phenomenon, which has spread explosively among the world’s quilters over the last twelve years, is a striking example of the power of imagination, combined with technology, to renew the past, and ourselves. Brenda Papadakis’ interest in (some might say obsession with) the now-famous quilt, her diligent documentation and ardent advocacy of its creative power, have created a global artistic community that shares ideas, images, and techniques. Inspired by the “mother” quilt, that community has produced an impressive body of work that both imitates and extends the legacy of Jane Stickle, and much of this work is shared online at thousands of websites.
Given the role of the web and the internet in fostering the growth of the Jane Stickle “movement,” it’s appropriate that Brenda Papadakis’s work would be presented and interpreted in a digital medium. The Electric Quilt Company, working closely with Papadakis, took on the task, and the result is a multi-faceted CD that not only unlocks the secrets of the quilt, but opens the door to the Dear Jane community. It provides electronic design tools for the quilter who wants to create her own “Baby Jane” quilt, and patterns for constructing the many unique blocks invented by Jane for this quilt.
The engine that powers this software is a modified version of Electric Quilt’s EQ5 quilt design software. Users familiar with EQ5 will recognize a limited set of the same tools and icons they are accustomed to using in that program. “Dear Jane” is, however, a standalone program, requiring no other software (other than Windows). In fact it’s incompatible with EQ5 – EQ5 cannot open Dear Jane projects, and EQ5 projects cannot be opened in Dear Jane. Dear Jane’s primary purpose is to allow you to use the original 225 Jane Stickle blocks (plus 225 alternate designs and other suggested substitutions) to design your own Dear Jane variations. The DJ block library works the same way as the one in EQ5, but it is limited to the Jane Stickle blocks. You cannot draw or import new ones, as there are no drawing tools in the program. The blocks are organized in a number of useful ways. You can sort them alphabetically (all the blocks have been named by one or another of the Janiacs), by their position in the grid of the original quilt, and by level of difficulty of construction. For construction tips, there is a clickable photo of the original quilt that brings them up when you click on a particular block. Some of the blocks have been simplified for ease of construction, and where possible rotary cutting or paper piecing instructions are provided. While you cannot redraw the blocks included in the program, you can recolor them using the fabric libraries provided, or with your own imported fabric scans.
The quilt layout feature of the program is at the center of its power as an aid to designing your own Dear Jane. While it doesn’t have the full EQ5 range of layout options, it has a great many quilt templates adapted to the characteristics of the Dear Jane quilt. Knowing that quilters will want to vary the size, number, and position of the original blocks, the program’s designers have provided dozens of straight set and on-point layouts. These are conveniently arranged according to the size of the quilt, from California King on down to placemat size. Once selected, these can be further modified on the layout worktable by changing the number and size of the blocks, the size of the sashing, etc. A helpful feature as you begin to design is the Project Wizard which, when invoked, walks the user through the process of selecting a layout template, the block construction method you prefer, and a fabric collection from the program’s fabric libraries. The wizard can be set to come up every time you start Dear Jane, or simply wait for you to push its icon.
As Janiacs know, one of the marvelous eccentricities of the original quilt is the border, which is made out of triangular and kite-shaped blocks and scallops. The software includes a library of all of these blocks as well, along with sophisticated tools for making borders. You can clone an existing border as well as apply multiple borders to a quilt. Chapter 7 of the program’s user manual provides detailed step-by-step instructions on how to design an original Dear Jane border.
The Dear Jane CD’s fabric library is organized in two ways, by color and by “Dear Jane Look Alike” in each row of the quilt. This unusual organization provides a way for modern quilters to reproduce the effects of the original quilt if they desire, or depart into their own color experiments. Other nice features of the program include the ability to export color and line renditions of designs for sharing with others, and a high degree of customizability. The 250-page user manual that comes with the program is both comprehensive and understandable, and its meticulous step-by-step lessons don’t assume any previous user knowledge of computer quilt design.
Beyond the design program, the Dear Jane CD contains a number of other features which make it fun as well as inspirational. The written articles and film clips of Brenda Papadakis provide fascinating insights into the Dear Jane quilt, the historical sleuthing that uncovered its origins, and the personal journey of Brenda as she (metaphorically) took possession of Jane’s quilt and then had difficulty letting go of it to share it with the world. Brenda’s down-to-earth quilting aphorisms (such as “Finished is better than perfect”) are funny as well as practical, and the section on Sewing Techniques provides a wealth of information and shortcuts. If you’re a little timid about beginning your first Dear Jane quilt, there is a 12-part set of lessons by Brenda that leads the quilter through the construction of a small wall-hanging.
The disk also includes a gallery of nearly 40 “Baby Jane” quilts from quilters all over the world, and a collection of web links to many others, some still under construction. Obviously the unifying power of the original Jane Stickle quilt is very strong, while at the same time the variety of responses and interpretations is almost infinite.
Once you start your own Dear Jane journey in earnest, the program provides a template for a block chart and a journal for documenting your progress and your experiences, as well as “certificates of completion” that encourage you along the way.
Whether you’re a long-time Jane aficionado or are just hearing and learning about her, the Dear Jane CD is a source of great delight. With its combination of history, art, detective work, design, and inspiration, Dear Jane is one of the best CDs Electric Quilt has published.
(c) Copyright 1995-2012 by The Virtual Quilt Company. All rights reserved.
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