Electric Quilt 5: For the Cyber-Quilter Who Wants No Less than Everything
As a daily reader of Planet Patchwork’s Info-EQ maillist for users of Electric Quilt, I never cease to be amazed at what users demand of a piece of software. Not content with a program that competently draws blocks and allows you to lay them out in quilts on the screen (which of course is a giant leap from graph paper and pencil) users demand scans of the latest designer fabrics, vast libraries of blocks, customized layouts, sophisticated import and export capabilities, multimedia – the list goes on and on.
This is a good thing.
It is a good thing because the
designers and programmers of Electric Quilt listen to what their
increasingly sophisticated customers want, and then set out to give it
to them. Over the last ten years, the modest little quilt design program
known quaintly as Electric Quilt has matured into a feature-rich and
user-friendly program that now occupies about 250 megabytes in a typical
installation (you can do a compact installation in about 90 MB) and
utilizes to full advantage the memory, speed, and disk storage of
today’s incredibly powerful PCs. Because it is an advanced program, EQ
5 does not work on versions of Windows prior to Windows 98, but it works
on all versions from there up to and including Windows XP. EQ
4 will continue to be produced and supported for users of Windows
95. See complete
In its basic look and feel, Electric
Quilt 5 doesn’t differ significantly from version 4.1. This continuity
is a mark of the program’s maturity, its creators having worked
through the usability issues of the program’s main components and
found that they work well and are time-tested. For those not familiar
with quilt design programs, they are essentially specialized drawing
programs with their drawing tools tailored to the needs of quilters.
Typically, they have two modes: block-drawing and quilt layout, and the
“worktable” for this activity in Electric Quilt, with grids and
snap-to points, is essentially unchanged from earlier versions. The
available grids for drawing blocks are logically designed to be
compatible with the variations of traditional quilt blocks (9-patch,
4-patch, log cabin, etc.) and the program allows you to draw in two
modes, using lines or closed shapes such as triangles, rectangles, and a
variety of –gons. You can also draw appliqué designs using curved
lines and many pre-drawn shapes like hearts, leaves, and teardrops.
I was able to test a beta version of
EQ 5, as well as the completed program, and put it through its paces
both in block drawing and quilt layout, and trying out many of its new
features. The program is very stable (the beta version locked up only
once in several hours of intensive use; the completed program has not
yet misbehaved) and installs easily from a self-executing compact disk.
Along the way, it seamlessly picks up on any other Electric Quilt
products you may have installed, such as Sew Precise or BlockBase, and
pulls their libraries into the main program. For those upgrading from an
earlier version of Electric Quilt, it is important to note that Electric
Quilt 5 creates an entirely new installation and will not alter earlier
installations. It will also easily open project files from EQ 4.
One of the best features
of Electric Quilt, which is continued in the new version, is the
organization of design projects. Using a “sketchbook” metaphor, the
program saves your work in a project file which contains blocks, colors,
fabrics, and quilt designs you save to it. This keeps all your work
together in one place, ready for you each time you reopen the project.
Unlike earlier versions, there are almost no limits to the number of
colors/fabrics you can use in a quilt. Another feature which has been
enhanced is the import of fabric bitmap files. There are now no longer any
limitations on the resolution or file size of a fabric bitmap you may want
to import – except the size of your hard disk!
we’re on the subject of bitmaps, the new EQ has a capability that many
users have asked for – the ability to import photographs and place them
in memory quilt designs. With the popularity of photo-transfer techniques,
this feature allows quilters to see how a photo collage will look on a
quilt, and move photos around to try different arrangements. They can be
mixed with traditional blocks or in free-form layouts. As anyone who has
dealt with scanned images knows, they can be tricky, and one of the
anomalies of importing photos is that the higher the resolution, the lower
the quality of the image will be in your quilt layout on the screen. I
imported a high resolution photo of my daughter and placed it on a block.
The result was a tiny version of the photo that was somewhat “blocked
up” because of the density of its pixels. When I zoomed in for a larger
view, the photo became more normal, and if I were to print it out it would
be more suitable for photo-transfer. If you wish a photo to look better on
the screen, a lower resolution is necessary, but this might not look as
good on the actual quilt. As with all things digital, mastering the
techniques in this area takes practice. The program’s Help facility
explains these anomalies in some detail.
In addition to photos,
the program will allow you to place embroidery designs on your quilt, and
includes a large library of them (more than 1,000 designs) from the Great Notions Company. The
motifs are for quilt design purposes only, and you cannot create an
embroidery template from within Electric Quilt – these must be purchased
from Great Notions.
EQ 5 has several new
libraries or enhancements to old ones. The block library has increased
from 2,200 to 3,100 blocks, which can be searched by keyword similar to
BlockBase searches. The fabric library contains more than 11,000 fabrics
organized in new ways. In addition to the library contained in EQ 4, there
is a library of designer fabrics organized by fabric company, including
Bali, Hoffman, P&B, Benartex, Moda, RJR, etc., and another library of
designer fabrics organized usefully by color. This can be a great aid in
simplifying color selection for a quilt you’re designing.
Probably the most exciting new feature in EQ 5 is the availability of a bunch of new layout capabilities, plus a library of some 500 quilts already laid out for you. EQ users on Info-EQ and in the company’s forums have long sought advice on how to design specific types of quilts besides simple straight sets. Such things as strip quilts, baby blocks, bargello, grandmother’s flower garden, and other unique designs have required sometimes elaborate workarounds to accomplish. Now with new horizontal and vertical strip quilt, one-patch, and other layout options, these kinds of quilts are much easier to design. The layout library also contains a variety of medallions, optical illusions, tiled blocks, checkerboards, and other unusual designs. For those who are looking to design a quilt of a certain size, such as a king bed or crib quilt, there are also basic layouts organized by quilt size. You no longer have to scramble around looking for the typical dimensions of a queen-sized quilt – EQ has it built in!
If you decide you want to
depart from a traditional quilt layout and yearn for a blank workspace in
which to do free-form design, Electric Quilt has long had what they have
called the “country set” in which quilt blocks or pieces can be placed
freely, overlapping, or otherwise outside the normal quilt grid. In EQ 5,
this is called the “custom set” and has a set of slider bars you can
use to adjust the size of the workspace, even after you have inserted
blocks. The program will automatically resize the blocks in accordance
with the new quilt size.
While the basic user
interface has not changed, and will look familiar to users of earlier
versions of the program, it has been enhanced by several new tools that
give you more flexibility and creative potential. The “fussy cut” tool
will now let you rotate the design of a fabric within a block to get the
effect you want, and the “symmetry tool” will let you rotate
user-selected groups of blocks. The new eyedropper will help you identify
a fabric you have in your quilt (if you forgot where you got it) by simply
pointing and clicking. And the new “tape measure” tool will tell you
the dimensions of your quilt, or any portion of it.
Of course the final step
after designing your quilt down to the last detail is to print out the
patterns and use them to make the actual object. EQ won’t make the quilt
you (yet!) You can now get the patterns in three forms – traditional
templates, rotary cutting instructions, and paper-piecing foundations. Not
all blocks are available in all formats, as some don’t lend themselves
to one or another, but the much-asked-for rotary cutting mode, already in
BlockBase, is now included in EQ. If you do use templates, you now have
more flexibility to print only those you want and to rearrange them on the
page to save paper. You can also renumber the sections of a foundation
piecing pattern if you don’t like the way the program does it.
Like EQ 4, the new
version of Electric Quilt comes with two books in the box – “Getting
Started” and the EQ 5 “Design Cookbook.” These books have been
significantly expanded from their EQ 4 versions, and contain the basic and
more advanced tutorials you will need to become quite proficient with the
program. I am often asked how hard it is to learn Electric Quilt, and I
always say it is easy BUT . . . . Electric Quilt is a very powerful
program, and learning to use its many features requires that you apply
yourself to the task with some diligence. The more you know about it the
easier it will get, and the more sophisticated your creative technique. If
you work your way through the lessons in the user guides that come with
the program, you will be a fairly advanced user of the program.
As for other help
available, the sources are many and varied. Within the program, the Help
facility is greatly expanded, logically organized, and context-sensitive.
It is greatly enhanced by a collection of 16 brief videos narrated in the
pleasant voice of Penny McMorris, co-creator of the program. These are
succinct and cover many basic functions in a simple visual way. Beyond the
program itself, the company’s wonderful website a http://www.electricquilt.com
contains lots of information and interactive forums on which you can post
your questions or help other users. Finally, Planet Patchwork sponsors the
Info-Eq maillist mentioned above. You can find out more about subscribing
Even though it won’t
actually make your quilts for you, this new upgrade of EQ marks a
watershed for the program and for computer quilt design. Easy to use but
enormously powerful, it shows its origins in the ideas and suggestions of
hundreds of loyal users, implemented by the talented team at Electric
Quilt. Quite simply, Electric Quilt 5 is the most powerful and
user-friendly quilt design program ever created.
For a complete rundown on
new features, click here!
Electric Quilt 5 is available in the Planet Patchwork store .
|If you are interested in comparing the new version of Quilt-Pro with Electric Quilt 5, our review is here.|
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