2 tips to working with digital fabric files for your quilting ideas

Did you see those gorgeous Bold, Beautiful Basics by Northcott yesterday? Don’t they make you want to sew something?

Makes me want to sew something. Here’s the thing. There are times when you know exactly what you want to make – perhaps it’s a pattern you bought or you have a very clear vision in your head. But what about those times when you want to design your own project or you want to change the colorway in a quilt and not sure what it’ll look like? Or you want to change the size and how do you then recalculate all those yardages?

That’s where working with digital fabric files can save a lot of time, effort and money.

I’ve been using a computer-based quilt design program for many, many years. At the beginning and partially because I thought it was complicated, I used to use the fabric defaults in the program.

Once I learned that I could easily incorporate the Northcott fabrics into the software, I’ve never looked back. I never use the defaults and the first thing I do when I start a new design file is to clear out all the default fabrics. No sense cluttering up the sketchbook with stuff I won’t use.

This isn’t going to be a full-blown tutorial but I want you to see what’s possible. If you’re convinced, then get out the manual and check it out. It’s not really that hard. Trust me, there are days when I’m totally incompetent when it comes to technology and I figured it out!

Downloading the digital fabric files to your computer

Northcott has made it extremely easy for quilters to get their hands on these digital fabric files. Once the collections have been put on their website and often well in advance of the fabric hitting the actual shelf, the digital files are available to download.

In the screenshot below, check out the turquoise button in the middle of the right-hand side. The one that says “Download Fabrics for EQ”. Hit that button and you’ll get a zip file of ALL the fabrics in that collection. If the collection happens to have multiple colorways, like Stonehenge or Shimmer, then you’ll have to download each colorway separately. But that’s OK as you likely want to keep the colorways in separate folders on your computer.

It’s that easy to get those files from the internet to your computer.

Screenshot from Northcott website showing button to download digital fabric files

Creating Libraries for the digital fabric files

It’s a wee bit more complicated to get the files into the computer-based quilt design program. Not hard, but a few more steps are required.

There are fabric libraries built into the software and you can easily use the fabrics included. However the chances of you having the exact fabrics in the fabric libraries are very small and since you can get the Northcott digital fabric files for free and very easily, why wouldn’t you want to use those? A big thank you to the Marketing team for making this happen!

You need to create a new library in the computer-based design software to accept the new digital fabric files. You can see in the photo below, I created a new library for each of the Northcott basics that I talked about yesterday.

My custom fabric libraries on my computer

Within each library, you can set up sub-libraries with different colorways in each as you can see below where I’ve created a new sub-category for each of the colorways in Stonehenge.

Fabric library sub-categories created within one of the main fabric libraries

Once my new libraries and sub-libraries are created, I can import the fabric files into the appropriate libraries.

Importing is simple enough. Using the tools provided in the computer-based design software, you import the files that you downloaded from the Northcott website (they should have ended up in a directory on your computer called “My Downloads”. They will appear on a screen called Import Results. Copy them from the Import Results screen and paste them into the appropriate library.

One last detail. Make sure you save that library! I was merrily importing files today and couldn’t figure out what I had done wrong (brand new software to play with) and oh shoot – I forgot to save!

Import results screen when importing fabrics into your fabric library

In the screenshot below, you can see that I have the ColorWorks files in my fabric tool. Because these are the solids, there is no texture to the swatches, but if the fabric had a print, the print would show up just like the real fabric.

ColorWorks are now in my working project file

What’s even more amazing is that the SKU number (identifier number) for each fabric is also attached to the digital file. If I hover the mouse over each swatch, I can see which SKU is which. These numbers, of course, match the swatch card and the SKU number is essential if you want to order a specific color.

What’s even better is that when you’re done your design, you can print out a list of requirements. Not only will your yardage be listed, but the SKU for each fabric chosen will be listed as well. That’s why it’s so fun to use actual digital fabric files instead of the generic ones that come with the computer-designed quilt design software.

The SKU for each fabric will appear when you hover the mouse over the swatch

Now that I have the ColorWorks fabrics in the software, it’s easy for me to play around with colors.

In this example, I started out by choosing three different aqua/turquoises from light to dark. The first colorway is from dark on the outside to light in the middle.

Project colored from dark on the outside to light on the inside

Then I tried light on the outside and dark on the inside.

Project colored from light on the outside to dark on the inside

Then I choose three different greens in three different values.

Project in a different colorway

What’s nice is that I haven’t even cut anything yet. I’m just playing. I even started out with a totally different block design. It didn’t turn out like I wanted it to, so I scrapped it and went with this instead.

This is such a useful tool on the Northcott site and it’s so helpful to be able to bring the actual fabrics into the computer-based quilt design software. I’ve even sliced and diced up Northcott panels and other fabrics from the non-basic collections.

The best part is that you get to play with brand new collections before the collections hit the shops. Once the collection starts to ship, you can use the product finder to search out the fabrics you want to buy.

Again – a huge thank you to the Northcott Marketing team to make it so easy to play with new and existing fabrics. Even if the fabric is gone, the files won’t disappear from your computer.

Come back tomorrow because we’re going to start cutting up our fabrics and I’ve got a lot of tips on cutting that you won’t want to miss.

Have a great day!


This is part 2 of 5 in this series.
Go back to part 1: 7 Bold Beautiful Basics by Northcott; fabrics to rock your world

Go to part 3: 4 essential tips for cutting fabric for your quilt

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1 comment

Eileen December 25, 2018 - 7:02 pm
Hi, You said the first thing you do when you start a new project is to clear out all the default fabrics. You can clear out all the fabrics and then save it as the default. You can do that with the blocks too. It saves time, you don't have to do it each time you start a project.
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