Kevin Kosbab of Feed Dog Designs, our senior PC-using correspondent, reviewed Electric Quilt’s Stash software for us last month. He’s back today with this very helpful and thorough review of Amy Butler Softwares, which was released in May 2009.
Amy Butler Softwares is a collection from the Electric Quilt Company of 22 quilt, home dec, and bag projects by eponymous designer, with digital patterns and instructions for you to sew up your own versions. The Windows-only program (i.e., requires virtualization software to run on a Mac) lets you change the fabrics, alter block layouts, and resize projects before printing out accurate templates for your customized versions. Along with the eight quilts, three table runners, eight pillows and cushions, and three bags, the program also boasts nine “bonus” projects, which true Butler fans will recognize as free downloads from her website.
More than just a collection of patterns, Softwares is like a virtual pattern book. The CD includes all the lush lifestyle photography you’d expect from a high-end craft book, but having templates and instructions in digital form encourages you to play around with the patterns and print just what you want or need (I followed the sewing instructions onscreen, and printed materials lists to go shopping). It’s a great idea, and I hope more publishers follow suit.
The designs themselves are in the clean, classic style that’s Amy Butler’s trademark, each made up in her quilting and/or home dec fabric. Many non-quilt projects are shown in two or three different color stories (am I the only one who hates that phrase?) — another idea I wish would become more common. While the photos are lovely, sometimes they’re more dramatic than practical, “lifestyle” shots that obscure the projects. In fact, many photos don’t depict the project at all — they may just show a vase of flowers or some other unrelated object that inspired the design.
I found these to get in the way, but Amy acolytes may appreciate the broader focus and will also want to check out the included “Inspired by Amy” gallery, featuring other crafters’ work using Butler’s fabrics.
The informational parts of the program navigate like a web browser, with separate tabs to see the project photos and instructions, play with the layouts, choose fabrics, “embellish” (i.e., choose thread colors), and print the templates. The project instructions are thorough, and terms and techniques a beginner might be unfamiliar with link to a glossary. You can follow the instructions on-screen (see screenshot above) or print off a PDF. I was a little cross that the links to PDF opened in Internet Explorer regardless of my system preference for Firefox, and really, couldn’t they have just opened in Reader? If you dig the PDFs out of their default folder (Program Files\Electric Quilt Company\amy butler softwares\html\pages\4\pdfs) and open them in a reader with annotation capabilities, you can keep track of your changes to the pattern and any other notes — I found this really handy while putting this review together.
Yardage is usually given for both quilting-weight 44-inch and home-dec 54-inch fabric — very helpful, though the yardage estimates often seemed excessive. The Truest Triangle Table Runner called for 1 3/8 yards for backing plus 3/8 yards for binding; I bound and backed mine from a single yard. Similarly, the straps for the Carry Anything Carry-All bag call for 1 1/8 yards, but cutting them across the yardage only requires 30 inches (less if you’re using wider home-dec fabric) — with four layers of sturdy fabric folded into the strap, I wasn’t concerned about any strength lost by not cutting parallel to the selvage. I certainly prefer instructions to err on the side of extra fabric, but if you like to buy the least amount of fabric possible for a project, I recommend taking that extra step of reading through the pattern to see if you can fit the pattern pieces into a smaller area. Also, the pillows sometimes give yardage for making two pillows, which can be less straightforward than simple division when you’re just making one.
The engine for manipulating the projects is a version of EQ; it works great for the quilts but is a little awkward for pillows, which show up with each side (front and back) as “blocks.” (See screenshot above.) I was hoping to see interactive elements for altering the dimensions of bags on the Projects tab, but bags are absent from that section — happily, though, the bonus projects are included. For the projects that do have layouts, you can recolor each patch with the Amy Butler print or solid of your choice (the selection varies by project; you can also use generic solid colors) to see how the design will look before you put the real thing together. The program provides instructions for opening the project files in EQ6 (if you have it) to recolor with any fabrics in your library there — amongst others, I used the Midcentury Modern swatches handily included in previously reviewed STASH to test my version of Truest Triangle before I sewed it up.
Printing the pattern templates on regular paper and taping sheets together can be tedious, especially when, as for Truest Triangle, each template has to be printed separately (you can only print multiple templates together when they’re part of the same “block”). I had to keep reminding myself that I’d far rather print and tape than have to take a trip to the copy shop and wrestle with enlargements and distortion. And of course, the true beauty of print-it-yourself patterns is that you can get accurate templates whether or not you make the project at the default size. Still, when it came time to print the pattern for the back of my Pinwheel Pillow, I just drew a 25-inch circle on oversized paper.
I was actually more interested in the Pinwheel Floor Cushion than the Pillow, but it required a 27-inch disk of foam that priced out to $40 (thankfully the software includes a link to a supplier). Be sure to use strong polyester thread for piecing the pillow top — I used cotton and had the seams pop several times when stuffing the form in. The detailed instructions were easy to follow; the hardest part was making the cording I used in place of the ball fringe.
The instructions for the table runner were also highly detailed and fully illustrated. They suggested stitch-in-the-ditch quilting; I added some argyle-ish lines through the triangles to give it a bit more texture. It was a quick size to piece and quilt; I’m using it as a housewarming gift if I can part with it. Look closely and you’ll see an actual Amy Butler print amidst the others!
I liked the simple shape of the Carry Anything Carry-All and made a version to drag quilts and stuff back and forth to guild meetings and workshops. The roomy bag is great for this, though I swapped the end handles for pockets and added pockets to the inside lining. Making the bag was an education in interfacings — three different types are called for. They gave the bag a nice structure, but it’s worth noting that in some places you’re sewing through 6 layers of fabric and up to 8 layers of various interfacings—and that’s not counting the extra bulk when sewing over seam allowances! I used a heavy-ish denim for the body, and my sturdy machine only choked a couple times at the thickest seams, but I suspect some machines would have just laughed at the thought.
Overall, the digital patterns allowed more flexibility than a printed pattern or book, they suited the way I work very well, and the list price of $29.95 is fairly comparable to craft book prices. I hope this is a sign of more to come from Electric Quilt and others.