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Quilt-Pro 4.0: Help Has Arrived 

About a year ago, in early 2001, Quilt-Pro Systems brought out a program for easy quilt design, called 1-2-3 Quilt! It was a great idea, based on step-by-step wizards that led the user through the quilt design process. It took a great deal of the learning curve and frustration out of designing simple quilts, enabling the user to realize designs relatively effortlessly. The problem was, in order to make the process easy, the program proved to be too limited in its capabilities. Many users I spoke to complained that they were stymied by the program’s limitations very quickly and wanted to do something more creative than simple repetitive block layouts.

 Whether or not 1-2-3 Quilt was a success in its own right, the innovations that the Quilt-Pro company created in designing it have now found their way into their flagship program, Quilt-Pro’s new version 4.0. The wizard concept is now thoroughly integrated into the program’s whole user interface, using step-by-step selection boxes, with multiple tabs, which lead you through laying out a quilt, designing a new quilt block, and making templates of your blocks. Overarching all of the processes involved in computer quilt design is a thoroughly revamped help system for the program, called “Quilt-Pro Assistant,” which provides detailed, context-sensitive help for every button, tool, and menu item in the program. The help is very detailed – more than a few lines of text, and in many cases even contains brief videos to show, for example, the technique for drawing a polygon with your mouse. Once you become proficient with the program, the Assistant can be turned off, but for the beginner it is a wonderful feature to help you get comfortable with a program that can sometimes seem very intimidating because of its many features. Unlike 1-2-3 Quilt, Quilt-Pro is not limited to a few tricks. 

One of the first things you note when you begin the quilt wizard, which is where the program opens by default (again you can turn this off) is the wide variety of quilt layouts available in the program. Beyond the usual straight set and on point styles, the program provides grids for freeform layout, two styles of hexagonal blocks (Grandmother’s Flower Garden), baby or tumbling blocks, and two styles of diagonals. You can specify a size for the blocks in inches, or choose a layout that corresponds to the size of a standard quilt – crib, single, queen, etc. Likewise in the block design screens you’re given an abundance of choices for grids, including 8-pointed star grids, a Grandmother’s Flower Garden grid, and of particular interest to those who might be into colorwash quilting, a grid of small squares set on point that gives you the matrix for watercolor style quilts. There is even a way to do your own custom grid for a block not covered by those in the program. 

All this talk of grids and layouts may seem a bit technical, but these basic tools, once mastered, form the basis for everything else you do in computer quilt design. Quilt-Pro 4 does everything it can to automate and simplify the process so that you make the selections and set the parameters you need correctly before you start playing with colors and fabrics. 

There are some other innovations originally in 1-2-3 Quilt which have found their way into the new Quilt-Pro. Not only can you draw and number the pieces of foundation piecing blocks (again, through a wizard), the program will also provide rotary cutting instructions for any blocks that lend themselves to rotary techniques. You can import bitmap files and trace them to make blocks from images outside the program. Quilt-Pro has also added what they call a “Round-Arranger” which will set any pattern you wish in a circular, wreath-like arrangement. There are a wide variety of choices for medallion quilts as well. 

To facilitate your designs, Quilt-Pro has a library of about 1,000 quilt blocks built into the program. In addition, if you own Quilt-Pro’s companion CDs in the Foundation Factory or Block Factory series, you can import the blocks on these disks into the program as well. In addition, Quilt-Pro is offering newly designed blocks online. The new blocks link from the program’s Help menu to the internet, strangely enough, doesn’t work, but there are new blocks, and whole quilt designs, at the company’s digital fabric website, Quiltstash.com. And speaking of fabrics, the program comes stocked with thousands of them from the major designers. By downloading from Quiltstash, you can add to your library continuously, without any additional cost. In addition, the program allows you to import any bitmap file, so you can scan and import your own real quilt stash if you want, or trade bitmaps with friends. 

Quilt-Pro allows you to display, and work on separately, three different layers of a quilt design. Functioning like a quilt itself, the layers will display regular blocks, appliqué designs, and quilting stencil designs. You can display the layers separately, or in any combination, so you can see the overall effect of the various overlays. You can even change the color of the “thread” of your quilting stencil to match that you plan to use. The program comes with more than 50 quilting stencils built in, and you can design your own if you wish. The layers function is accessible as one of the tabs on the quilt layout wizard, so it’s easy to work with. You can also easily add sashing and borders (up to 10 borders) to any quilt, in a variety of styles. This is controlled through the layout wizard. 

The program makes extensive use of “drag and drop” functions to assist in the design of the quilt. For instance, if you are making a sampler quilt, and you see a block you like in the library, the most direct way to place the block in the layout is by simply dragging it from the browser window to the quilt layout. Adding fabrics to a custom fabric palette is done in the same way. Applying new fabrics and colors to the quilt layout is accomplished by selecting the fabric with your cursor and then using the paint or spraycan tool to color individual pieces or groups of pieces in the layout. 

So what happens when you’ve finished your virtual quilt design and want to translate it into actual fabric? The first thing you will want to use is the program’s yardage calculation feature, which allows you to measure each of the fabrics needed for the entire quilt or each of the individual elements (including backing) separately. The company claims their yardage calculation is more accurate than in the past, but we were not able to verify this for this review. Generally such computer estimates run a little bit high, depending on the design. After you have your fabric, the program will generate and print out either traditional templates, rotary cutting instructions, or foundation piecing patterns where appropriate to use in cutting out your pieces. Templates include a ¼-inch seam allowance, but this can be adjusted to any width you wish. 

The User’s Guide which comes with the program is an inch-thick black and white paperback that includes sections on Getting Started, a five-lesson tutorial, and a How To Guide covering all the essential functions of the program. It is quite thorough, cleanly laid out and well-written, without any computer jargon. 

Computing quilters like to share their virtual designs, and Quilt-Pro makes available functions which will allow you to convert designs into several common types of graphics files, as well as a special compressed file for sharing called a “packet.” The packet can be sent by e-mail and opened and viewed at the other end by another Quilt-Pro user. 

In the past, Quilt-Pro has had some problems with stability, prone to crashing in the midst of program operations such as drawing or laying out designs. This version, in use on both a desktop and laptop in the Windows 2000 environment, has not crashed in several hours of use. I did have some problems during one session with the video. Some lines that should have disappeared behind newly opened windows persisted, and the slider bar on the block browser disappeared, making it difficult to move around. To correct the problem, I saved my work, closed and then reopened the program. It was not necessary to reboot, and the program performed normally after that. Quilt-Pro is much improved in this department. 

At the Houston Quilt Market in October 2001, we spoke to Quilt-Pro owners Miriam Neuringer and Jim Salomon, and they were quite proud of their new product. They told us they had done extensive user tests, interviews, and focus groups to find out what users found difficult or what they wanted improved. The new Quilt-Pro is the result of this scrupulous listening to users, and the effort shows. It is first-rate in its power and ease of use, and should be considered seriously by anyone shopping for a quilt design program.  

System Requirements:

  • 16 MB of RAM
  • 800 X 600 screen resolution
  • Windows 95/98/ME/2000/NT/XP  installed
  • A mouse 
  • 25 (minimum) to 190 (with fabrics installed) MB of hard disk space available
  • Internet Explorer 4 or higher installed
  • Dot matrix, inkjet, or laserjet printer

Quilt-Pro 4.0 is available at a discount in our store.

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


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