More than just a guide to quilt design or a simple coloring book, Thomas Knauer’s newest work is a manifesto on creativity.

The story of The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook is really a story of synchronicity.

I should begin by explaining that I got into art by accident. Until the age of 16, I assumed I was going to be a mathematician. As a child I was obsessed with numbers and the ways they formed patterns and systems; to me, they were beyond beautiful. Meanwhile art made no sense. I could never draw whatever it was that I was supposed to be able to draw (I still can’t; I’m pretty sure my brain lacks some necessary visualization connection). But by my junior year in high school, the study of math shifted from the number play I loved to the dry memorization of formulae. So I had to find something else, and being the contrary young punk that I was, I decided to take on my art teachers’ expectations of me, not because I suddenly loved art, but because I wanted to prove everyone — including myself — wrong. Little did I know where that would lead me.

Traffic Jam quilt Thomas Knauer

Thomas Knauer’s Traffic Jam quilt plays with spacial expectations, occasionally joining individual squares to form rectangles of varying lengths, producing new directions of movement that are reinforced by the changing values of blue. Photo by Mars Vilaubi, excerpted from The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook

Years later, here I am blending a book about the precision of design and the freedom of artistic exploration. You see, I don’t believe in the idea of innate creative ability, the notion that certain people are blessed with artistic talent. (If that were true, I never would have made it beyond those early art classes into life as a designer.) What began as a simple quilt coloring book — an easy proposition for an obsessive designer like myself who has a backlog of quilt designs that could keep me busy for a decade — became a manifesto on creativity. While quilts are the foundation, the book extends far beyond quilting. It is about pattern and systems, colors and connections; it is an intertwining of art history and the quilting tradition, intuition and logic, play and reflection. It is a guidebook for rediscovering the freedom I found missing from those high school math classes, with all parts working together in service of something larger.

Me Every Which Way quilt Thomas Knauer

The Me (Every Which Way) quilt alludes to new connections across spaces and pulls out relationships otherwise not readily apparent. Photo by Mars Vilaubi, excerpted from The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook

The essays on modern art serve as a background for seeing the 49 coloring designs; the quilt designs offer new ways of seeing the organization of shapes and colors; and the 42 design prompts offer a framework for intuitive play with inventive design ideas. Each element of the book opens up to the others, suggesting possibilities while encouraging individual exploration.

Take, for example, the design titled “Star-Crossed” from the chapter on space. Though based on a simple six-pointed star, the design draws on Cubism, Futurism, and other early Modernist explorations, offering lots of ways of imagining the relationships between the foreground and background, whether you want the stars to pop, recede, or simply disappear into a cacophony of color. In my version black and white stars contrast with a rainbow of colors; the stars jump out while the other colors create different direction rhythms.

Star Crossed Quilt Coloring Exercise

In this version, colored by my friend Ramona, the stars alternately dance forward and retreat; a few bright reds burst out while other spaces settle into a visual whisper.

Star-Crossed Coloring Exercise

Her take feels complex with all of its intuitive play, while my version emphasizes the design’s underlying structure. They each start with the same framework, but the individual color play transforms the design into two distinctly unique quilts. For me, and throughout this book, that is the essence of creativity: the ways in which each person’s perspectives and experiences lead to singular expression.

And with that I come full circle, back to the beginning of the story and synchronicity. Creativity and mathematics, analysis and intuition are all cut from the same cloth. Being creative is well nigh impossible if one simply awaits that proverbial bolt of inspiration from the blue. In The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook, I’ve done my best to provide structure and framework in a meaningful way, leaving you with all the space to play and experiment, to find and expand your creative voice. After all, it is through fun that we find what truly love.

The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook cover

Download and Color the Star-Crossed Template (PDF)

Now it’s your turn. Break out those colored pencils, click the link above, and download the 8½ x 11 Star-Crossed coloring exercise from The Quilt Design Coloring Workbook. Included with the coloring sheet are the two foundation piecing templates needed to actually make this quilt for a full bed. We hope you’ll print it, color it, and make it. And as you go, share your coloring play on social media with the hashtag #QuiltDesign. We’d love to see what you create.

Thomas Knauer

Thomas Knauer began his career teaching design at Drake University before turning to quilting. He has designed fabrics for several leading manufacturers, and his work… See Bio

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