The Joy of Quilting CD-ROM

Is Quilting's First CD-ROM
Ready for Prime Time?

The best way to begin talking about Kepler Communications' new CD-ROM for quilters, "The Joy of Quilting," is to make it clear what it is not.

This may seem a negative way to begin, but there is some confusion in the maillists and elsewhere on the net about what this new publication offers, what exactly it IS. With all the space available on your average CD, there is room for it to offer a great deal of information for quilters, and it does do that. But it's important to be clear about the product's intent and approach.

The first thing it is not is a software program. At least not in the sense that Electric Quilt and Quilt-Pro are. It does not offer a block library, large selections of cyber-fabrics, or a drawing program with which to draft and lay out quilt blocks. It does not measure yardage. It does not generate a thousand permutations on a quilt layout. It is not the savior that many who are dissatisfied with the limitations of other programs might wish it to be.

It is also not simply a quilting book transferred to your computer screen. Nor is it a full-length feature film, or a new version of "Doom."

So what is it?

It is a multimedia presentation about quilting that uses a variety of techniques and approaches in attempts to teach and, perhaps more importantly, inspire quilters, not only to learn the basics of quilting but to venture from the tried and true paths of the traditional into more adventurous design and construction territory.

The approaches largely reflect the personal quilting style of the author, Laurie Swim, a Canadian quilter whose previous conventional books have been used as the basis for much of this electronic publication. Ms. Swim's quilts tend to use large shapes and textured surfaces to render representational subjects such as landscapes, portraits (especially nudes) and interiors, capturing a stillness or brooding quality in everyday images. Most of her subjects seem to be caught in a dreamy moment of repose or contemplation that suggests a yearning or nostalgia for something beyond themselves. There is not a lot of traditional patchwork or abstract geometric design on this disk.

This may not be your cup of tea as a quilter (it's not mine, particularly), but it provides a perspective on both technique and subject matter from which there is much to learn. For example, one of the disk's design modules is devoted to a technique for making and using a simple cardboard "viewfinder" to frame possible subject matter from nature. Similar to what you might see through a camera viewfinder, the view of the world you get through this little rectangle is at once limiting and liberating, allowing you to experiment with composition while reducing the number of elements in order to simplify and balance a design. Swim provides tips throughout the narrative on what constitutes good composition.

Another more advanced module is interesting primarily for its studies in surface texture design, or fabric collage. The module takes the viewer step by step through the inspiration, design, and fabrication of a complex landscape piece featuring an elm tree as the major feature of the composition. Swim demystifies the process by showing the incremental way in which the final product was achieved -- first through photographs, then simple drawings, then the transfer of the design from paper to fabric, and the layering and machine-quilting of different textures. After 28 screens displaying and explaining the process, the viewer has a pretty good idea of what goes into a quilt of this type, and how to proceed in experiments of one's own.

The one "computerized" design tool provided with on this disk is a "tangram" which allows you to take simple geometric shapes and arrange them on a grid to make larger shapes and ultimately an overall design. You use the tangram, which is basically a square divided up into large triangles, small triangles, a smaller square, and a parallelogram, by dragging these shapes with your mouse out onto the grid (there are several grid choices). After placing a shape on the grid there are tools to flip and rotate it, or delete it, and you can also print out the designs. One user reported to me that the printing aspect didn't always work correctly and that some of the shapes were dropped from the design when it was printed off, though I didn't have this problem myself. There are also plenty of examples of the simple drawings that can be done with the tool, which can easily be imported onto the grid and used in your own designs.

"The Joy of Quilting" is also a resource, and a not inconsiderable one, for beginning quilters. It contains multi-media modules on the history of quilting, quilt basics (including tools needed and elementary techniques), display, storage, and protection of quilts from environmental hazards. In the same patient, detailed way it approaches advanced design, the lessons walk you through piecing, quilting, and even vacuuming and washing quilts in the tub and hanging them out in the air to dry.

Navigating through this CD-ROM is straightforward and simple, if not very imaginative. The product provides a main menu from which to select the module you want, a map for a more visual approach, and a rather detailed index which will take you with a click to any subject on the entire disk. There is no use of hypertext links anywhere on the disk, however, and its approach overall is relatively linear and book-like, rather than taking advantage of the more cross-linked techniques available in electronic media.

As for its production values, the artwork throughout is understated and consistent, with a good but not stunning overall look and feel. There is little or no true animation on the disk, and many of the photos are somewhat dark. Ms. Swim's own voice, complete with Canadian inflections, is quite effective, though sometimes it is drowned out by the "background" music. Throughout the lessons the narrative is both printed on the screen and read to us by the narrator, and it would have been more imaginative to have the narration depart and elaborate in some places on the printed text. It's sort of like a teacher standing up in front of a class and reading the textbook to the students. The music is, I suppose, meant to be upbeat and inoffensive, but I found it rather cheesy and, at times, obtrusive. The logic behind the transitions from one musical style or selection to another mostly escaped me. Probably because there was none.

Another more troubling problem with the disk is the technical difficulties I and some other users have encountered with it. The producers of the disk did not endear themselves to me when they instructed me in the installation instructions to execute an installation file which did not exist! I double-clicked on the only executable on the disk and it did, haltingly and with some objections, install the elements it needed on my hard disk. Then when I went to open the program the first time it told me that it could not find the "opener.dir" file. I eventually discovered that this is because the disk's default drive designation for the CD-ROM drive is "d:" and my CD-ROM drive is, because of my configuration, called drive "i:". There is apparently no way to "educate" the program to look in the right place, so each time I start up "The Joy of Quilting" I have to tell it where to find the files it wants.

Other users have reported more serious problems with installation, with the disk refusing to install on three out of four computers tried by one purchaser, who ended up sending her copy back to the manufacturer. They accepted it cheerfully and gave a refund, but according to her report seemed quite puzzled by the problems, as they had tested the product on "three computers" in their office. These incidents were all with PCs, and I haven't heard any similar reports from Macintosh users. Mac and PC versions are on the same disk.

The company did have a difficult time meeting its production schedule. They advertised the product's availability as long ago as the November 1995 Quilter's Newsletter Magazine, but the final disk wasn't available until February of this year. There are other signs of rushed production: some modules of the disk are riddled with typos -- simple proofreading errors. Apparently in the rush to be the "first" to get a quilting CD-ROM out the door there were some both technical and editorial loose ends which were not tied up. Hopefully the company will correct these problems in later releases.

The cost of this disk is approximately twice that of a good, full-color quilt book. Whether it's worth it will largely be an individual decision, perhaps having to do with whether you would rather read your quilt books reclining in a chair or bed, or sitting in front of your computer.

In terms of the quality of the information on the disk and the different approach to quilting it offers from traditional patchwork, Laurie Swim's "The Joy of Quilting" CD is a refreshing change which can be of value to almost any quilter, from beginner to advanced. Ms. Swim is at her best in her ideas about ideas and inspiration, and in her encouragement to quilters to try new things. These ideas and encouragements suffuse and inform the entire disk.

The Joy of Quilting CD-ROM
By Laurie Swim

Kepler Electronic Publishing Inc.
1525 Centennial Drive
Kingston, Ontario Canada K7L 4V2

Tel # (613)384-1386
Fax # (613)384-3208

Price: $59.95.
Visa or Master Card Accepted
(800) 653-7537

The CD-ROM is also being distributed by C&T Publishing and is featured at their website at


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