Software Review: VQuilt, v. 2

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

Electric Quilt 3 now has over 1,000 quilt blocks and hundreds of fabrics in its library. Quilt-Pro has released a couple of CD-ROMs with virtual reproductions of the lines of well-known fabric designers, which can be imported into their program and used to design quilts. The direction of the market leaders in quilt design software is clearly toward more features, more libraries, more fabrics and colors, in an attempt to closely approximate on the computer what exists in the "real" world.

Then there's VQuilt.

When they first released version 1.0, VQuilt's designers used to aggressively, even brazenly, trumpet what it didn't have. It didn't have fabric libraries. Its quilt and block libraries were small. It didn't have 32 million ready-mixed colors.  It didn't even have online help. And it didn't have a big pricetag. At $39.99 it was one of the least expensive programs on the market. In version 2.0 and subsequent updates, VQuilt has made a modest attempt to add features found in the other quilt design programs. It now has a library of about 90 blocks and 16 pre-designed quilts. It will now calculate yardage for you (though software yardage calculation has always left a lot to be desired) and has added some additional drawing and block manipulation tools, including support for bezier curves. But it is still spare compared to the market leaders.

Phil and Sarah Hisley of Computer Systems Associates have created a DOS-based program that is simple in its approach, easy to learn, and which provides results with a very short learning curve. Informed by a belief that computerized quilt design is not a substitute for the more tactile and intuitive quilting process, their program attempts to be a tool for visualization of blocks and quilts, without getting bogged down in too much detail and too many features.

When you open VQuilt you are given a cleanly laid-out screen with a block drawing area in the upper right, a toolbar below, and a palette of 16 colors on the left. Below the palette are scrollbars which allow mixing of red, green, blue, and white to make new colors. The alternate screen for quilt layout can be toggled by pressing a button on the toolbar, and the two modes are tightly integrated, with essentially the same tools and icons to do the same functions. (You can draw on the quilt layout as well as in the block-drawing mode).

Drawing is done with a mouse, and the program will draw straight lines, circles/ovals, and "freehand" forms which must be closed in order to make "pieces" from which quilt blocks are formed. "Snap-to-grid" features are built in, and it's relatively easy to produce the simple forms of traditional quilt blocks. More sophisticated forms, like those of applique, are a bit trickier, however, since they depend on the mousing skill of the user.

Picking colors for block pieces (or whole blocks in the layout mode) is done by clicking on the "PICK" button and then on the color you want, either from the palette or from another block or piece. This latter aspect makes it easy to match a color you have already used or which comes from the program's quilt or block libraries.

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

Telephone: 410 557-6871 Fax: 410 557-7928

E-Mail: pnh@clark.net

 

(c) Copyright 1995-2012 by The Virtual Quilt Company. All rights reserved.

 


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