Nina Antze is credited with developing the first notable quilt design programme, which was titled PCQuilt and was released in 1987 for the MS-DOS operating system. The market was dominated by PCQuilt for a period of four years, but it was eventually overtaken by a number of new competitors, beginning with The Electric Quilt and later being joined by VQuilt, QuiltSOFT, and Quilt-Pro, the latter two of which were written for Windows. PCQuilt eventually lost its dominant position in the market.

PCQuilt continued to operate in a manner that was, for the most part, unaltered over the course of the subsequent ten years, despite the prevalence of the Windows operating environment. It did not provide support for the use of a mouse, it continued to be based on DOS, and many people regarded its ways of manipulating the components of cyber-quilts to be, at best, clunky.

By the end of 1996, Ms. Antze had developed a new version of PCQuilt for Windows, which she used to successfully meet the challenge posed by her rivals. PCQuilt for Windows and for WIN95 is a programme that makes full use of the mouse, including the right-click capabilities that are available in WIN95. Despite its small size and elegant design, the programme takes advantage of all the tools that are available to Windows programmers. These tools include sophisticated toolbars, extensive context-sensitive help, and full use of the mouse. It is quite evident that the author has a solid understanding of Windows.

So how does the program stack up to its competition?

The fundamental interface screens of this brand-new programme should be discussed first and foremost. In every other application now available, the user is required to toggle between two fundamental screens, one for the design of individual blocks and the other for the design of the quilt as a whole. These two screens are integrated into one within PCQuilt. There is a display box for the design of the block in the upper left corner, another display box for blocks directly below it, and a larger display box for the entire quilt on the right side of the screen.

Because of the tight integration between the two boxes, when you create a block by adding triangles, squares, or any other forms, you can immediately see the results in the quilt that is hanging on the wall next to it. This is exciting and a little bit unsettling at the same time, because a quilt that is pieced together using only partial blocks might have an odd appearance. The gradual presentation of the quilt will provide you with new insights, some of which may or may not be extremely helpful when it comes to making design selections. The other problem of this approach is that you are restricted to a display of the quilt that is smaller than what you would be able to see in a programme that has a separate screen dedicated to the quilt. In spite of this, it makes switching between working on individual blocks and the overall quilt a less cumbersome process than the screen flipping that is required by other programmes.

There are three toolbars located at the very top of the screen. The first one has the tools necessary to carry out the fundamental operations of the programme, such as arranging blocks, colouring patches, measuring yardage, and adding borders, among other things. The only thing I have a problem with here is that there aren’t any automatic help bubbles to assist the user in recalling what each icon represents.

The second and third toolbars, referred to collectively as “fabric,” are dedicated, respectively, to the selection of colour and pattern fill. The colour bar gives you access to a variety of colour palettes presented in a variety of colour schemes, which both broaden and assist in defining your colour options. However, there are no vast fabric collections based on actual designer lines like you would find in other major applications. The tiny selection of textiles, also known as pattern fills, can be altered, or new patterns can be generated from start to add more. How you plan to utilise a quilt design programme will determine whether or not you consider this to be a significant limitation.

The program’s block module has a variety of features and is very flexible. You can choose between drawing quilt patches using lines or using pre-drawn shapes, such as triangles and squares. You begin the block design process by selecting a grid design for the block window (anything from 1 X 1 to 9 X 9), which defines your basic type of block and provides guides and “snap-to-grid” features to assist in drawing the block. You can create shapes, flip, rotate and mirror them. While the program lacks “bezier curve” capability for drawing applique patterns or other curves, it does have what it calls the “drunkard’s path” tool which allows for limited curved shapes for that particular block design. The toolbar at the top of the screen is supplemented by a “portable” toolbar which is invoked by pressing the right mouse button while your cursor is over the design screen. This “quick tools” feature contains more shapes than the main toolbar and is a handy convenience.

If you’re not into designing your own blocks, the program comes with about 250 pre-designed blocks that can be pulled up from the block library into the block design area and into your quilt. Numerous blocks can also be pulled up from the library and placed in a temporary storage area called the “block window.” I say temporary because this window is cleared every time you close the program. You are not able, as you are in The Electric Quilt, to save a group of blocks, borders, palettes, etc. in a project file along with any quilts you’ve designed, to be opened later. You can, however, save groups of blocks separate from the quilt in “library files” which can be retrieved and placed together in the block window. There is a limitation (albeit a generous one) to the number of blocks that can be stored at one time in the block window.

The tools for designing quilts are equally robust. You can easily design a quilt made of a single block or two alternating blocks (simply by selecting the blocks and pushing a toolbar button) or you can lay out a sampler by placing blocks individually on the quilt grid. Of course you can adjust the size of the quilt and the number of blocks across and down, up to a limit of 42 blocks in any given quilt. You can with a click on a button view the current block on point in the quilt. The program also features a medallion quilt tool which allows for the design of quilts with a central motif. The way this works is that the quilt design screen is display as a grid on which you may design with various lines and shapes as you would in the block design module. There is a selection of pre-drawn quilts available in the quilt library, which is available in the same window as the block and border libraries.

Recoloring your quilt blocks is also easy. You can color and recolor in both the block design and quilt design windows, but they do slightly different things. If you recolor in the block, all the blocks in the quilt change at the same time. If you recolor a patch on the quilt, it changes the color of only that patch in that block. This allows a great deal of flexibility in the manipulation of color in your quilt and experimentation.

Placing borders on the quilt is accomplished in a couple of ways. There is a group of “default” borders, those commonly used, which can be toggled through from the main screen. There is also a larger group of borders available in the border library. I ran into a problem when I tried to use a couple of these library borders. When I applied one to the quilt it overran the quilt edge all the way to the edge of the design window, in both the horizontal and vertical directions. I was able to delete the extra horizontal border (though this was somewhat tedious, as you have to delete the patches individually) but the vertical appendage stubbornly refused to respond to my clickings. I never did figure out how to remove it. It also doesn’t appear to be possible to place more than one border on a quilt, but there are ways of creating interesting borders, including placing blocks you have designed there. You can also design your own borders using the same drawing tools available for block design. The only problem here is that the grid on which you draw a border is along the edge of the quilt design window, and involves tedious placement of shapes.

Placement of sashing in the quilt is also very easy and automated. You can adjust its size and color it as you wish, including corner keystones.

The program’s printing and fabric measurement capabilities also appear to work well. It gave me no problems in printing out templates for a large block, though it printed out the template for EVERY patch, even though some were mirror images of others, and it did clip off the end of one piece that was at the bottom of the page. It put the appropriate quarter-inch seam allowance around the pieces (this is adjustable).

The documentation for this program is a modest yet thorough spiral-bound booklet of 82 pages. Well-written and orderly, it familiarizes you with the program’s many features in a logical way and provides helpful tips along the way which point out shortcuts or more advanced features for those who have mastered the basics. It contains a hard-copy catalogue of the program’s quilt blocks, a good index, and a quick-reference appendix which identifies the various toolbar buttons and menu and hot-key shortcuts.

So how does it stack up with the giants of the industry? Well, it doesn’t have a bazillion quilt blocks or fancy fabrics from Jinny Beyer. On the other hand, you shouldn’t have problems with printer compatibilities as some programs still rooted in DOS do, and you don’t have to worry about having more than one mouse driver.

It also doesn’t have the ability to draw sophisticated curved applique pieces, or to overlay a quilting design on top of the quilt.

On the other hand, this program is more modestly priced than most others on the market — at $75 about 20-30% cheaper than other “full-featured” programs. And it is a pleasure to use. It doesn’t hog a lot of disk space and its screens repaint quickly, even on older computers with less than the latest Pentium  processors.

If you’re looking for a well-designed Windows-based program in which to test out your quilt design ideas, PCQuilt should get your serious consideration.

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