Let’s pretend that you want to turn a pillow-sized block pattern into something quilt-sized. It’s too big for printing out at your local office supply store or your home printer, and it would be a giant pain in the pincushion to try to print it out in sections and tape it together. And even if you could print it, how would you make a digital copy of the pattern that large?
A lot of us (myself included) have resorted to manual, “analog” solutions to this issue. My big-block New York Beauty quilt involved a lot of mathematical calculations, sitting on the floor with a giant protractor, and crying. For my Michigan quilt below, I found a map and used an art projector to blow it up onto some craft paper I’d taped to the wall. It was much easier than the math route, but it wasn’t particularly accurate because the image was so blurry at such a large scale. I kind of guessed at the Michigan coastline; if you live there, please accept my apologies, and also GO GREEN!
Both of the above techniques worked just fine, but they were really arduous and might inspire a lot of readers to roll their eyes and sigh, Ain’t nobody got time for that. I HEAR YOU. After all these difficulties, you can imagine my appreciation for my friend and guildmate Andrea’s supersized skier quilt. Andrea blew up a pattern by Amy Friend of During Quiet Time and turned it into a gorgeous quilt as a holiday gift. She’s shared her technique here for the rest of us to use:
Enlarging a Digital Pattern
After purchasing the PDF of Amy’s pattern, Andrea had to get a digital copy large enough to print. In technical terms, she needed a vector image of the pattern. If you’re already into graphics and design, you’ll know this, but a vector image is based on mathematical calculations rather than pixels. Instead of getting all blurry when it’s enlarged, it maintains its sharpness. You can blow it up to any size your computer is capable of accommodating; this is how big banners and signage are made.
Andrea’s husband is an architect and has access to AutoCAD software, but there are many other alternatives available. Adobe Illustrator (now available for $19.99/mo) is the go-to vector app, but Affinity Designer (for Mac users only; $40) and Inkscape (free) are also just great for this purpose. Open the PDF file, add a layer on top of it, and then trace the original pattern. (Note: if your pattern includes the seam allowance, remember that it, too, will be enlarged. If possible, mark the pattern’s finished size BEFORE tracing, so that you can just cut 1/4″ outside of it after printing.) Once you’ve done this, you’ll now have a big ol’ digital file that can be blown up. Andrea enlarged the skier to 800% of its original size.
Printing an Enlarged File
As an architect, Andrea’s husband used what’s called a plotter, which is basically a big-ass printer used specifically for vector graphics. He printed the image in two big sheets, which she then used to construct her paper-piecing design.
If you are not (or are not married to) someone who designs and prints giant stuff for a living, fear not! You still very likely have access to a plotter. Local printing or “document services” businesses that will print banners and signs are your best bet. They are often very knowledgeable and can assist you with printing the pattern to exactly the right size. Your local FedEx Kinko’s is also an option, though I’ve had spotty customer service there. YMMV.
Constructing the Quilt
Construction of your quilt will obviously not change much (besides scale), but Andrea does suggest using basting stitches in large areas so that your fabric doesn’t shift around too much on the pattern. As is the case with other paper piecing patterns, waiting until the entire top is pieced before ripping off the paper will help maintain accuracy.
Thanks for all the tips, Andrea!
Have you tried to supersize a quilt pattern? What’s worked for you?
P. S. If you liked this post, you'll love the Wordcraft + Right Sides Together newsletter. Get weekly blog posts and craft writing tips delivered right to your inbox! Sign up here.