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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 system requirements. 

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! 

While 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 for 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 at http://planetpatchwork.com/info-eq.htm

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.

(c) Copyright 1995-2012 by The Virtual Quilt Company. All rights reserved.

 


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