Composition Guides, Design Tools and the Lazy Artist

A painter friend, Janne Henriksen, was talking about art at a party recently. We discussed technique and process, and how she paints, and what tools or guides she finds useful. That’s when I realized I would be a much better artist if I would first find and then use the many tools I have bought over the years.


My favorite design tool is graph paper.


Lani Longshore graph paper


Graph paper is the single most useful thing a quilter can stock. My sketching skills are minimal, but give me a pad of graph paper and I can recreate the lines and angles of interesting shapes in a format that will help me create something wonderful in fabric.


I’m also fond of marking tools.


Lani Longshore marking tools


Colored pencils, markers, slivers of soap – anything that lets me add a line to fabric is welcome in my studio. Sometimes I need a sewing line, sometimes a cutting line. Sometimes I want to intensify the color of the fabric, sometimes I want to hide it (and sometimes I want to hide where the seams don’t quite meet).


When my free-hand drawing skills fail me, I turn to stencils.


Lani Longshore stencils


Stencils are great for quilting, embroidery, or beading designs. I like to look at them when I’m stuck for a piecing idea, too. No, I don’t do curves or pointy-points, but you’d be surprised at how the brain kicks into problem-solving gear if the fingers think they’re going to have to do something hard at the sewing machine.


Of course, even the most highly motivated creativity session can end in disappointment. This is where the most important design tool comes in handy.


Lani Longshore trash can


I decided long ago that agonizing over $1.15 worth of fabric and half an hour of my time was silly. I give you permission to bury your mistakes, too.


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6 Responses to “Composition Guides, Design Tools and the Lazy Artist”

  1. jkroyce Says:

    Over the years (and long before you gave me permission), I decided it was fine to bury my mistakes. I’m off to buy some graph paper, maybe with that, I’ll have fewer disasters.

  2. Violet Carr Moore Says:

    I’ve given up, or at least postponed, cloth crafts to piece together a mystery manuscipt. Acute revisions equal your waste-basket advice.

  3. quiltfever Says:

    Never thought of the waste basket as a tool but really it is the Ultimate helper!

    • Lani Longshore Says:

      It sure is! I think all quilt teachers should give us permission to pitch out our samples if they just aren’t working for us.

      Lani Longshore Death By Chenille ( When Chenille Is Not Enough(,, Lani Longshore’s Blog (

      Broken Dishes Repertory Theatre (


  4. TheaM Says:

    Hi Lani – you might be pleased to know that we just spent 2 days cleaning, clearing, and re-organizing my grotto studio space – filled 3 garbage bags… decided to get a larger trash can for the Grotto. maybe it will stay a little more organized a little longer.

    • Lani Longshore Says:

      Oh, mercy! Congratulations, and let me know how the bigger trash bin works.

      Lani Longshore Death By Chenille ( When Chenille Is Not Enough(,, Lani Longshore’s Blog (

      Broken Dishes Repertory Theatre (


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