In 1987, Nina Antze published the first significant quilt design program, PCQuilt for the MS-DOS operating system. For four years PCQuilt had the field to itself, but its position in the market was to be eclipsed by a series of new entrants, beginning with The Electric Quilt and later joined by VQuilt, QuiltSOFT, and Quilt-Pro, the latter two of which were written for Windows.
Despite this competition, and the ascendancy of the Windows operating environment, PCQuilt remained largely unchanged for the next ten years. It didn’t support the use of a mouse, remained rooted in DOS, and many found its methods of manipulating the elements of cyber-quilts to be awkward at best.
In late 1996, Ms. Antze has finally answered the challenge of her competition with a new Windows version of PCQuilt. PCQuilt for Windows and for WIN95 is a compact, elegant program that makes use of all the tools available to Windows programmers — sophisticated toolbars, extensive, context-sensitive help, and full use of the mouse, including WIN95’s right-click capabilities. It’s clear the author has learned her Windows lessons well.
So how does the program stack up to its competition?
The first thing of note in this new program is the basic interface screens. In all other programs on the market, the user toggles between two basic screens — one for block design and the other for design of the quilt. In PCQuilt, these two screens are combined. There is a block design box in the upper left, with a second block display box below it, and on the right is a larger box for display of the whole quilt.
The two boxes are so closely integrated that as you design a block, adding triangles, squares or other shapes, you immediately see the results in the quilt next door. This is both satisfying and a little bit disconcerting, because a quilt made up of partial blocks can look kind of funny. The insight you gain from this incremental display of the quilt may or may not be very helpful in making design decisions. The other drawback to this arrangement is that you are limited to a smaller display of the quilt than you are in a program which has a separate quilt screen. Nevertheless it makes working back and forth between blocks and the quilt less awkward than with the screen toggling required by other programs.
At the top of the screen there are three toolbars. The top one includes the tools for doing the basic functions of the program — laying out blocks, coloring patches, measuring yardage, adding borders, etc. My only complaint here is the lack of automatic help bubbles to aid the user in remembering the meaning of the icons.
The second and third toolbars are for color and pattern fill (“fabric”) selection respectively. The color bar provides a selection of palettes in different colorways that expand and help define your color choices. The small selection of fabrics, or pattern fills, can be edited, or new patterns can be created from scratch to add more, but there are no large fabric collections based on actual designer lines, such as you will find in other major programs. Whether or not this is a big drawback depends on how you use a quilt design program.
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.