Number Ten * August 15, 1996
BlockBase is the best thing to happen to quilt blocks since Barbara Brackman.
The electronic quilt block library compiled by The Electric Quilt Company is, in fact, based on Ms. Brackman's exhaustive hardcopy catalogue of quilt blocks, "The Encyclopedia of Pieced Quilt Patterns," right down the block numbers that have been assigned as part of her cataloging system. There are approximately 4,000 quilt blocks stored electronically in BlockBase, available not just for viewing but for coloring, modifying, printing out as templates, and, if you own the companion software, Electric Quilt, placing in computer-generated quilt designs.
When you first start the program up you are treated to a little animated show, with a quilt block spinning around flying toward you, presenting itself on the screen and then dissolving, with the BlockBase title soon on its heels. It may seem silly to even mention these introductory theatrics, but the reason I do is that they can give some users problems. When I first acquired BlockBase I was using an older 386 computer, and certain of the blocks would take FOREVER to perform their tricks on my screen, making for considerable irritation on my part. On faster machines, however, they are no problem.
After the introduction you are presented a screen that is very familiar to users of The Electric Quilt software. The plain blank white screen with menus across the top is a dead ringer for the EQ screens, and does the same dumb trick of just sitting there until you tell it what to do. My oft-repeated gripes against the basic EQ interface aside, at the heart of BlockBase is a simple but effective set of electronic file cards called CardFile. You get to it by clicking on the Search menu.
The set of cards (similar to Windows' electronic rolodex) has colored tabs that have either the Brackman numbers or the letters of the alphabet, depending on whether you've selected the A-B-C or 1-2-3 button in the toolbar in the upper right corner of the screen. The CardFile button bar also lets you navigate forward and backward through the stack, and to select the color scheme in which you would like the blocks displayed -- Black and White, Historical series, or Contemporary series.
Each card contains a small version of the quilt block along with a name, a source, and cross-references to other similar blocks in the stack. Name, source and related block numbers are hyper-linked to other small screens or cards that provide more background on the selected block, including mini-texts on the historical published sources of blocks. You can also click on small buttons in the lower left corner of the card to display a larger version of the block, again in any or all of the color schemes.
This elegant presentation of the catalogue of blocks would have been a worthy piece of software in itself, but the folks at EQ have gone several steps further in devising a program that will allow you to actually use the blocks to assist in quilt design. From the cardfile you can copy any block to an EQ-style project and from there open the EasyDraw module to color or modify the block. The EasyDraw module is virtually identical with the one in EQ2, with the same drawing grid and tools for drawing both straight and curved lines.
Where EQ drew the line between BlockBase and their quilt design program is at quilt layout. In order to take a block from BlockBase and design a quilt with it you must have The Electric Quilt (now in version 3.0). The method of importing a block into EQ is not difficult, but it is a little bit awkward. You save the block(s) you wish to use in an EQ project in BlockBase, close BlockBase, open EQ, and open the project in EQ. This usually involves telling EQ to search for the project in a different directory on your hard disk, though it is possible (and desirable) to save all projects from both programs in a single shared directory.
BlockBase will also print out blocks as regular templates (complete with seam allowances), paper-piecing patterns, and as black and white or color images. Printing is one of the weak points of The Electric Quilt Company's whole line of software, largely due to the fact that it is written for a DOS environment and therefore EQ must produce printer drivers for all the new printers that continue to flood the market. If the program were written for Windows or Windows 95, printer drivers would be taken care of by the printer manufacturers. If you have a fairly standard printer setup, you should have no problems with BlockBase. If your printer is not one recognized by the program, then you may have to contact the company for assistance in identifying the right printer driver.
Besides quilt design, another popular use for this quilt block catalogue is as a source of images for computer graphics design. All blocks in the library can be exported to a standard .pcx format, and then from there manipulated and converted to different formats in most standard paint programs, like Paint Shop Pro.
Another amusing use for the program is as a screensaver of sorts. The View function will randomly display blocks on your screen, complete with animation, at a speed you select. This can be a fun way to view the available blocks and get inspiration for a new quilt.
The documentation for BlockBase is very well-done, consistent with EQ's high standards. Not only is the 285-page book a thorough and well-organized reference, but it is peppered with puzzles and challenges to help the user learn how to use the program while being entertained at the same time. In the back there are several appendices, which explain in detail the criteria used in designating block styles and categories. The manual is supplemented by the traditional EQ online help messages activated with the right mouse button.
Before winding this up I am going to grouse one more time about EQ's stubborn allegiance to programming for the DOS environment. I know that there is only one person programming at EQ, and perhaps in the crush of upgrades and printer fixes and sales and marketing, there doesn't seem to be time to make a major shift to a Windows program. The company's attempt to adapt their product to the Macintosh has been a disaster, and moving over under Windows/WIN95 would require a major effort. However, with the growing popularity of WIN95 and the continuing free fall of prices on powerful Pentiums, it is inevitable that people, especially new users, are going to demand programs designed for current platforms. Already some complaints are being aired about incompatibilities between the new EQ3 and Windows 95, and both of EQ's major competitors, Quilt-Pro and Quiltsoft, are programming for Windows. It's time for EQ to get with the program.
BlockBase The Electric Quilt Company 1039 Melrose Street Bowling Green, OH 43402 E-mail: email@example.com
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Quilt Shop Service -- Discount Prices
Looking for a source for quilting notions and books at fair prices? Then check out PineTree Quiltworks. PineTree offers attentive customer service and prompt shipping, accompanied by discounts of 20%!
PineTree carries an enormous selection of natural fiber and poly batts; applique aids; fabric and hand care products; pencils and markers; templates and template plastic; needlecraft gloves; rotary cutters and related supplies; rippers, clippers, snippers, and scissors; machine sewing needles; seven (!) brands of hand sewing needles -- including Jeana Kimball's renowned Foxglove Cottage needles; basting systems; thread, including Mettler and Gutermann cotton sewing and quilting, Tire silk sewing, and Sulky rayon, metallic, and sliver ... and more. Though not listed in the catalog or on the web pages, PineTree sells books at 20% off retail; e-mail title and author for price quote.
Look for patterns by applique patterns by Jeana Kimball, template-free patterns by Gretchen McKenzie-Clarke, paper-pieced Mariner's Compasses by Lori Nixon, and paper piecing patterns by Jan Engan on the home page: http://quilt.com/Pinetree, where you can also check out the rest of the catalog. PineTree will ship you a hard copy of the catalog if you e-mail your name/address/city/state/zip to addy@TheExperimentalQuilter.com!
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