I’ve always designed quilts and quilted projects like cushions and bags the old school way, sketching them out on graph paper and figuring out the calculations as I did so. However, I had heard about software which can do it for you – Electric Quilt 8, commonly referred to as EQ8.
Produced by the Electric Quilt Company in America, my book publishers Search Press are the UK distributors of the software and accompanying books. They kindly offered me to let me try it out. They sent me the EQ8 quilt design software, BlockBase+ software which has over 4,000 quilt blocks ready to print and sew plus you can import them into your quilt designs on EQ8 and the EQ8 Lessons for Beginners book to help me get to grips with how the software works.
Find the BlockBase+ review here.
EQ8 set up
Don’t worry if like me you don’t have a disk drive on your computer, the EQ8 pack comes with a download code so you visit the Electric Quilt website, use your activation code, set up a free account and then can download your software. You can also download the quick start guide (a paper version comes in the box) from your account, and a 256 page reference manual.
The quick start guide included in the box comes with instructions for installing the software, a starter lesson showing how to design a quilt and quick tips for using popular parts of the software. Once you have downloaded EQ8 you get sent an e-mail giving you a free printable lesson and video lesson to work through too.
Getting started with EQ8
I decided to start with the free video lesson to learn the basics before delving deeper with the manual and the EQ8 Lessons for Beginners book. I designed the quilt above, learning how to add quilt blocks, borders, fabrics to a quilt design. It also taught me how to print the fabric requirements for the quilt design, the rotary cutting instructions and cutting templates and foundation piecing pattern should you prefer to foundation piece your blocks.
The quick start guide that comes with the software is very handy too. It shows you what all the different buttons and menus on the screen do, how to use different parts of the software like drawing your own blocks, creating appliques, plus there is a starter lesson in it too, different to the free video lesson.
Using EQ8 - Quilt design
Like with most software the more you experiment the more you learn. So, once I’d done the free lesson I decided to dive straight in and have a go at a mini quilt I wanted to design to showcase Janet Clare’s Astra fabrics from The Quilter’s Den. I found the print preview option very useful as some blocks I liked the look of but when I look at the cutting templates or the foundation piecing options I realised they would be quite tricky so I swapped them around for easier blocks as I am writing this project for the site (find it here).
The fabric yardage tool also came in very handy as I was working with fat quarters so need to make sure I needed no more than 1 fat quarter of each fabric. So, I was able to adjust the fabrics used in my design until it fitted that requirement.
I learned it’s always best to do the print preview as sometimes the designs you plan don’t quilt work out. For example, a block I wanted to foundation piece ended up being spread over 4 pages which wouldn’t work. Even though you can drag the templates around I still couldn’t do it in a way which would be printable on A4 so I had to try different block sizes until I could get them to fit a single sheet. For these particular blocks I had to reduce them from 9.5 inches to 6.5 inches.
I did get a little confused when I first re-opened the project the next day as it went back to the first version of the quilt. But I realised after closing and re-opening it that it saves each time you press save as a different version of the same project. So, you have to click through to choose which version you want to open.
I can see why this is handy, you can go back a few stages and try something different. But it would seem more logical to bring up the most recent version first as you are most likely to go back into editing that.
Overall, I found the software fairly intuitive to use for designing quilts, I figured out how do things like uploading my own fabric prints without needing to refer to the manual. There are useful tips provided in the panel on the left which tells you about what the different tools do.
Using EQ8 to design quilt blocks
I hadn’t realised that as well as designing your own quilts you can use EQ8 to design your own unique quilt blocks too. You can create applique blocks, adding common shapes or drawing your own, or design pieced blocks. I decided to use the EQ8 Lessons for Beginners book to get to grips with this section of the software.
The book is split into a series of lessons teaching you how to use different parts of the program. At the end of each lesson it summarises the skills you have learned. The second lesson focuses on the basics of the block worktable, with step by step instructions supported by screenshots so you know where to click and what to select.
The book easily guided me through how to design my own blocks and applique motifs, showing me how to use several of the different tools as I worked through. I also learned that I could edit any of the many blocks featured in the EQ8 block library to personalise them.
It did take me a while to get to grips with gripping and pulling the lines around to edit blocks but after some practice I was able to extend 4 of the points of this mariner’s compass block out beyond the circle edge.
It’s handy that the screenshots have zoomed in bits showing you exactly where to click and what to type or select. This makes the lessons in the book fool proof to follow. Having the book is not only a useful reference guide but it shows you things you wouldn’t realise you can do with the software so I think it’s definitely worth purchasing alongside EQ8.
I can also see it would be handy if I don’t use the software for a while and need a refresher on how to do things. Plus I liked the fact it’s spiral bound so it easily lies open on the page you want next to your computer. There is also a second book called EQ8 Designing Quilts available.
The Image Worktable
I also used the EQ8 Lessons for Beginners book to teach me how to use the image worktable of EQ8. The EQ8 image worktable allows you to incorporate images or scans of your own fabrics into your projects. You can either scan fabrics or download photos of them off the internet to use.
The lessons in the book teach you how to scale fabrics, crop and fussy cut them to work in your designs and show you exactly how they would look in the full size version of your quilt. You can also import photos into EQ8 and use their array of photo editing tools to enhance or adapt them and then incorporate them into your quilts.
I had one issue when designing my mini quilt. For some reason white lines appeared across 2 of the blocks (2 versions of the same block) as per the image below. So, this allowed me to check out how useful the support is in seeing whether I could resolve this problem.
When clicking on the Help tab there were multiple options as shown above so I started with the online support articles. I had a look through for any mentioning lines across the quilt image. The help topics are sorted into easy to navigate categories. There’s also a search box so because I couldn’t find the right topic category I just searched ‘white lines’. I couldn’t find a solution so I used their contact form to ask them about the issue, which promises a 24hr response.
I also discovered there is a user run Facebook group where you can get tips and advice from fellow EQ users so I joined that. I posted my query in there too.
I was impressed to get a response from the online support team in under an hour! Plus on Facebook in just over an hour I had a few useful responses which expanded on what the support staff told me. It turns out EQ8 tiles your fabric print, and if there’s a little bit of white (like a selvage for example, or where you didn’t crop the image in tight enough) it will then cause the white line effect I had.
You can resolve this by uploading new images of the fabric, or using the crop or fussy cut options in EQ8 to remove the white line from the fabric image. I decided whilst I was replacing the fabric images, I would use more zoomed in version so you can see the fabric print more easily. There is also a way to scale your fabrics so they are the exact size they would be in your quilt in real life. I learned about that later when working through the image worktable chapter of the EQ8 Lessons for Beginners book.
Linking BlockBase+ to EQ8
Importing the blocks from BlockBase+ into EQ8 was really easy. Just go to libraries, Block Library and then click the link libraries button at the bottom. I’ve circled it in red in the image above for you. It recognises that BlockBase+ is installed on your computer and takes a couple of minutes to import the blocks from it into EQ8 ready for you to use.
Overall thoughts on EQ8
Honestly EQ8 has blown me away, it does so much more than I thought it could and I haven’t even had time to explore all the features yet! This review took me many more hours than expected as I kept finding new exciting things to do with it.
Like the serendipity tool that lets you merge blocks together, tilt them, frame them, create kaleidoscopes with them etc, the photo editing tools, the ability to draw your own blocks from scratch, the masses of existing blocks to choose from and edit should you choose. I feel like months, or even years down the line you would still be discovering cool new things you can do with this software when designing quilts and blocks.
Like with most software it takes time to get to grips with it and explore its full potential but there are plenty of resources to help you the quick start guide that comes with it, the free online classes, their YouTube channel and website, the Facebook group and the supporting books you can purchase. If you like to design your own quilts EQ8 will certainly help you take that to the next level.