Using free software to design a quilt

In support of my desire to learn to quilt, my fiancé has requested a project of me, so I went looking for quilt design software to plan it out appropriately. Unfortunately, the leading product on the market is $200+ and there aren’t really any ready-made alternatives with the scope I would want. However, some searching on the Quilting Board site got me a tutorial by Michael Holmes on how to use free resources to design quilts. The tutorial was written in 2010 for an older version of GIMP, but the steps look more or less unchanged for the current version, so the only changes I’ve made have been to paraphrase and arrange steps for my personal comfort level and preferred procedural approach. I also prefer this approach to learning how to use a new piece of proprietary software, since the skills acquired would be more applicable to other uses.


  • Comfort with basic computer tasks like installing software, browsing the Internet, saving files from the Web, keyboard shortcuts
  • GIMP installed on your computer
  • Saved PDFs of paper with a grid appropriate to your project
    • I’ve found Incompetech‘s site easy to use, and Michael also recommends it in his tutorial
    • Some good grid types to start with: squares, quartered squares (make sure you have both Verticals and Horizontals checked)


  1. Set up your template; this only needs to be done once per grid style you ever intend to use
    1. Open GIMP
    2. Go to File > Open
    3. Select the PDF file containing the grid style you want for your project
    4. Make no changes and click Import
    5. Go to View > Zoom and select 1:1
    6. Go to File > Save and name your template
  2. Set up your quilt design file
    1. Go to File > Save As and name your quilt
    2. Leave this tab open
  3. Set up your swatches
    1. Find a swatch online of the fabric you plan to use
    2. Right click on the image and select Copy
    3. In GIMP, press SHIFT+CTRL+V
    4. Click the window that appears and press CTRL+C
      • If you only want a specific area of the swatch, first use the Rectangular Select tool in the top left of the main tool palette to select the area you want
    5. Repeat the above steps for every fabric you intend to use; each will appear in its own additional tab
  4. Design the quilt
    1. Click on the quilt design window from Step 2
    2. Click the Paint Bucket icon and choose Pattern Fill
    3. Click the thumbnail under Pattern Fill, then select the top-left Clipboard Image
    4. Click the area in the grid to be filled with that swatch
    5. Repeat the above for every fabric you want to use
  5. Crop (if needed) and save the finished quilt


  • If you use a grid with very large squares as your template, you can design a more complicated quilt by copy-pasting entire quilt blocks the same way as your fabric swatches

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