Software Review: VQuilt, v. 2

VQUILT: The Quilt Design Software that Makes You Rethink Quilt Design Software

Electric Quilt 4’s library now includes more than 2,000 quilt blocks in addition to hundreds of other fabrics. Quilt-Pro has issued a few CD-ROMs that contain virtual copies of the lines of well-known fabric designers. These virtual reproductions can be imported into the company’s programme and used to make quilts. In an effort to more precisely simulate on the computer what exists in the “real” world, the industry leaders in quilt design software are obviously moving in the direction of adding more capabilities, more libraries, as well as more fabrics and colours.

Then there’s VQuilt.

When they first introduced version 1.0 of VQuilt, the designers used to aggressively, even blatantly, promote what it didn’t have. This continued until they produced version 2.0. It did not come with any fabric library options. It had a somewhat modest collection of quilts and block books. It did not have 32 million hues that were already blended together. It didn’t even have online help. In addition, the cost was not excessively high. It was one of the more reasonably priced programmes available, coming in at just $39.99. VQuilt has made some efforts, beginning with version 2.0 and continuing with later versions, to incorporate capabilities that can be found in other quilt design applications. It now contains a library with about 16 pre-designed quilts and over 90 blocks to choose from. It will now calculate yardage for you (even if software yardage calculation has always left a lot to be desired), and it has added some more drawing and block manipulation capabilities, including support for bezier curves. In addition, it has added some support for bezier curves. However, there is still plenty of room for improvement in comparison to the industry leaders.

A DOS-based programme that was developed by Phil and Sarah Hisley of Computer Systems Associates is straightforward in its methodology, straightforward in its learning process, and yields results after a relatively short learning curve. Their programme is an attempt to be a tool for visualisation of blocks and quilts, without becoming bogged down in an excessive amount of detail and an excessive number of features. This belief is informed by the conviction that computerised quilt design is not a suitable replacement for the more tactile and intuitive process of quilting.

When you launch VQuilt, a well-organized screen appears before you. There is a drawing area for blocks in the upper right corner, a toolbar in the bottom left corner, and a colour palette on the left side of the screen. Scrollbars are located below the palette and permit the user to combine the hues red, green, blue, and white to create new colours. The primary screen for quilt layout can be changed to the alternative screen for quilt layout by pressing a button on the toolbar. The two modes are strongly connected with one another, having practically the same tools and icons to perform the same activities. (You have the option to draw on the quilt layout as well as in the mode that allows you to draw blocks.)

The programme will draw straight lines, circles or ovals, and “freehand” forms that need to be closed in order to construct “pieces” from which quilt blocks are formed. The drawing is done with a mouse. The “Snap-to-grid” capabilities are already built in, and it is not too difficult to generate the conventional quilt blocks with their straightforward shapes. However, more complex forms, such as those of appliqué, can be a bit more challenging to work with because they rely on the user’s dexterity with the mouse.

Clicking on the “PICK” button and then clicking on the colour you desire, either from the palette or from another block or piece, allows you to choose the colours that will be used for the block components (or full blocks when you are in the layout mode). Because of this latter feature, it is simple to match a colour that you have already used or that comes from the quilt or block libraries that include with the application.

For laying out a quilt you are given an initial selection screen on which to choose the number of blocks vertical and horizontal, block size, on-point or straight setting, and a variety of border and sashing styles and dimensions. I was able to get the program to give me a layout with as many as 30 blocks in each direction before it gave me “out of memory” errors, but of course this made the overall layout difficult to discern on the screen. As a practical matter a limit of 10 to 12 blocks in each direction is probably all you want to ask for, and all you can use, unless you are experimenting with watercolor or postage stamp type designs. You can specify just a single block for a medallion-style quilt, and there is also an option for no border on the quilt.

When you save a quilt to disk, saved with it are any blocks it contains (retrievable for editing in a later session) and any new color palette you may have created to go with it. This tight integration of quilt, blocks, and colors is one of the program’s chief strengths, making management of your collection of virtual quilts quite easy.

Online help is another department in which VQuilt takes an unorthodox position. There is a status bar at the bottom of the screen which lists the name of the project you are working on and provides a one word clue as to which button on the toolbar you may have activated. Beyond this there is no online assistance available. The documentation for the program states this was done deliberately under the assumption that anything that required online help was not intuitive enough.

I tested out this theory by approaching the program in the beginning without consulting the manual. I am generally a believer that you can learn the basics of any program by clicking around a little bit and experimenting, and VQuilt was no exception. The functions of most of the icons in the toolbar could be deduced easily, though in a couple of cases I found myself wishing for at least a one- or two-line explanation. The meanings of such terms as “TAG” and “PUSH” were not immediately apparent. It was also not always clear in what sequence you should click icons to get the job done, or exactly what happened when you moved from one screen to another.

We’ve already noted that the program has no fabric library. Is this a great loss? VQuilt designer Phil Hisley says: “Most quilters we know, including ourselves, don’t buy fabric ‘that way.’ We collect it (don’t open the closet!)” This observation gets to the most basic philosophical assumption behind the program, that people should spend more time quilting than they do in front of the computer. While trying to match a real fabric with a computer fabric (or vice-versa) might be an interesting feat, it is questionable how useful it is to a quilter or how much it rewards the time put into it.

VQuilt employs its quite robust color system, with aggressive use of dithering, to approximate the look and texture a quilt layout might have and this is finally its goal, to provide a way to *approximate* a look to assist in visualization of a final product.

The quilt and block libraries in the program provide just enough in the way of examples to show what can be done with VQuilt, which is a very great deal indeed!

Printing options include printing in color, printing the frame of the block, printing templates, and exporting to a PCX graphics file. The latter can be converted and/or imported into other documents, such as word processing files or into web pages. The printing of templates for block pieces requires that you individually tag each piece you wish to print so as to avoid duplication. The high end programs do this for you automatically.

The documentation follows the same basic philosophy as the program — simple but adequate for the task at hand. There are no complex tutorials but the program is fully explained in an informal and friendly way in a small booklet.

All in all, despite its simplified set of features, VQuilt is a quite capable program and represents the best price-to- performance ratio of any quilt design program I know. If you don’t feel like you need the mountain of features offered by the “full-service” quilt design programs, and don’t want to spend the bucks involved, give the VQuilt demo program a try. It may be all you need, or can ever use!

  • System Requirements: IBM-compatible 286 or higher CPU
  • 550K memory
  • VGA color adapter and monitor
  • Mouse
  • 2 megabytes of hard disk space
  • MSDOS 3.0 or higher

To Order: Computer Systems Associates
P.O. Box 129
Jarrettsville, MD 20184-9998


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