General Tutorials

Portable Design Board {Tutorial}

I love my design wall. It has revolutionized the way I visualize and organize my quilt tops while I am piecing. Even though my design wall is just to the left of my sewing machine, though, I have been wondering if there isn’t a better way to stay organized. Chain piecing complicated blocks can take a lot of time when it’s up to the design wall, back to the sewing machine… and even with the design wall right there, I still can sew my blocks together the wrong way. My friend Stephanie from Late Night Quilter told me about her portable design board and I had a HUGE lightbulb moment. The portable design board allows you to transfer a block from your design wall to the sewing machine with ease. I couldn’t wait to make my own, and it is such a simple and quick project – even if you don’t have a design wall, you probably have room or space for a design board!

Step 1: Gather Materials

Step 1: Gather Materials

The first step is to gather the materials for the project. I went to my local store (I live in a small town, so I went to KMart) and I looked at all the picture, photo, and poster frames that they had in stock. I selected a black 16-inch by 20-inch poster frame. I found a piece of scrap batting in my stash that was 17-inches wide with plenty of length, and I grabbed my scissors.

*Note that I did also end up using clear packaging tape, which is not pictured here.

**Also note that you can use flannel or other material that your fabric would self-adhere to just like a design wall. Use what works for you and you have on hand!

Step 2: Remove Contents from Frame

Step 2: Remove Contents from Frame

The poster frame consists of a thick plastic cover, a thin “poster” page, and cardboard. It is held together with 9 metal tabs that fold over the edge of the cardboard in the back. I really think this style of picture / poster frame is preferable to some of the others where metal tabs have to slide into slots in the edge of the frame, because the batting (or flannel) will be thicker than what is normally put into a picture frame and it might be difficult to close it when you are finished.

I did consider buying a smaller picture frame that had a stand built into the back so that the board could be propped up beside me while I am sewing. I ultimately chose not to purchase that kind of frame because:

  1. That style of frame only came as large as 11×14 and I wanted something a 12×12 quilt block would fit on.
  2. This poster board frame was much cheaper (about half the cost).
Step 3: Removed Contents

Step 3: Removed Contents

Above you can see the contents (cardboard, poster paper, and clear plastic cover) after the metal tabs were folded away. Note that I recommend folding back all of the metal tabs. Set the poster paper and plastic cover to the side. They will not be used for the project and can be used as templates for future quilting projects.

Step 4: Trim Batting

Step 4: Trim Batting

Next, I placed the cardboard on top of my scrap of batting and trimmed to leave roughly an extra inch of batting around the edge of the cardboard.

Step 5: Place Batting and Cardboard in Frame

Step 5: Place Batting and Cardboard in Frame

This is the most time consuming step out of the whole process. Taking your time, place the batting and cardboard inside the frame. It is easy to get the batting caught on the metal tabs. What I found worked best for me was to do one side at a time and work my way in a circle around the frame. For instance, I got the left hand side in, then the bottom, then the right, and then the top.

Step 6: Verify You Can See All Metal Tabs

Step 6: Verify You Can See All Metal Tabs

Go around the full perimeter of the frame and make sure you can see all of the metal tabs. In my case, I made sure I could see all 3 tabs on each side of the frame.

Step 7: Flip Over and Check Front

Step 7: Flip Over and Check Front

Prior to closing the metal tabs, I recommend flipping the frame over and checking the front. I initially had a few wrinkles in my batting, and by gently tugging on the edges of the batting on the back, I was able to smooth it out and create a nice even surface.

Step 8: Close Tabs and Secure Batting Edges

Step 8: Close Tabs and Secure Batting Edges

Once the front is smoothed out, press down the metal tabs to secure the batting and cardboard inside the frame. I also chose to use clear packaging tape to hold down the edges of the batting.

As you can see, I immediately put my portable design board to work to help me with my Magnolia Mystery quilt blocks!

I hope this is a handy tutorial and gets your creative juices going. Would a portable design board be handy in your life? Do you have any materials on hand you would use instead? I can also envision wrapping a nice piece of plywood with batting or flannel, but I didn’t have a super creative idea for how to finish the back in a nice and neat manner – I just kept thinking of a staple gun. :)

41 thoughts on “Portable Design Board {Tutorial}

  1. Rike says:

    What a fantastic idea! Thanks for the tutorial!
    Greetings from Germany

  2. Jen Strauser says:

    THis is so great! I’ll be making one of these soon.

  3. Michele T says:

    Great idea!! Thanks! I need something like this too.

  4. Rebeca Chianese says:

    Great idea! I am going to make one for sure!

  5. Cocoa Quilts says:

    What a quick helpful tool! Thanks for sharing.

  6. I love using a portable design board and have made three of them, I used foam core board from the dollar store.

  7. Miss Daisy says:

    Love the idea and will be using it, thanks for sharing.

  8. Tish says:

    I had never thought about making a portable board, but realize now, it sure would make life much easier. Thanks for the great tip.

  9. quiltdistrict says:

    This is so clever!

  10. Pat S says:

    That’s what I do, too.

  11. Patty says:

    Great idea to use a frame. I used some foam board for mine and wrapped duck tape around the edges.

  12. Brilliant. I bet this would work with a large poster size as well and maybe a cool frame from a thrift store without the glass.

  13. Super easy! I’ve seen others that used poster boards.. but then the edges aren’t clean. If you have a hot glue gun you could glue fabric on the back, if the tape/batting bothers you. I just now need my desk to be clean enough to put a portable board down. :D

  14. Facetfully says:

    A great idea. I use my wall as an excuse not to be so sedintary while sewing! Same with the ironing board. Recently, I have made a small ironing station next to my machine, though, so this may well be next. Hinestly, I have only used the wall to place the finished squares, and this makes such good sense for detailed piecing! Thanjs, as always!

  15. jayne says:

    This is a great tutorial! I have one just like this except I used flannel! I also have a foam board covered in flannel that I use as well! My frame was one that I held on to for years. I bet there are others who have stray frames in their homes and could really make use of your tutorial!

  16. SusanBK says:

    Great idea! Is that your Kona color chart cut apart? Brilliant!

  17. KJ says:

    Clever idea and great tutorial. I am lucky that my design wall is immediately beside my sewing desk. But, we are moving to a smaller place in a year so a portable will likely be a great idea then.

  18. Roseline Mcintosh says:

    Neat, what a wonderful idea. Merci Yvonne

  19. Vera Negligent says:

    Neat and fast! I have covered piece of wooden desk but you need staple gun for that one. This is great!

  20. Love this easy idea! The best part? I think I have all the materials on hand already. Thanks!

  21. What a simple project. Thanks! I have three design walls. One is very large and fixed, and two are about 4′ x 4′. One of those is fixed to the wall and the other can be moved next to my machine. Your idea would be perfect to take to a sewing retreat or to use for a block based quilt.

  22. Cheryl says:

    Great tutorial! I used a similar idea with some fabric and a poster frame to make my son a boy scout patch display. The bonus for using an already made frame is that it hides the ugly edges :)

  23. I have foam board offcuts, covered with white flannel one side, and fabric the other, I made that like a pillow case then hand sewed at the top, I do like the frame, so neat, and room for all the 12 inch pieces to fit in.

  24. Tu-Na Quilts says:

    Thanks for a really great idea! When in doubt, I grab my handy dandy hot glue gun to secure things in place. I think that would adhere any batting/fabric on a piece of plywood. I have several (4 actually) design boards that my daughter made for me as a Christmas present many years ago based on a Lori Holt idea. They work good, too, except I would recommend making them at least 15″ x 15″, as you have found out. The bonuses are that these were made of lightweight foam board so they aren’t as heavy as plywood and I can stick pins in if needed. I haven’t had that need yet, just in case.

  25. This is a great idea. My design wall is small, since I have limited room in my quilting space. It’s actually an artist’s canvas that I covered with batting. It hangs on my wall but is removable, so I can move it around the room if I need to. This tutorial is perfect, especially for bringing to a quilt class or retreat when working on blocks! Thanks for sharing!

  26. Helen says:

    Even I have room for a design board that size ! I have always kept refreshing my laptop screen to keep the picture up , but get very frustrated with this . And it is so easy to “forget ” the exact layout. With my wayward transparency I laid the first completed block on the kitchen worktop and laid the new pieces on top . Then rushed in to the utility room where I sew to actually piece the fabrics

  27. Ben says:

    Neat idea to use a picture frame.

  28. anncpetersen16 says:

    Great idea! I really want a larger design wall but I don’t have space for it. I’m thinking about getting a roller shade that I can pull down when I want to use it but rolls away when I’m not using it. Or else my husband had the idea to run a retractable clothes line across part of the room and then hang batting from it with clothes pins. I’ll let you know how it goes!

  29. Elizabeth E says:

    Interesting alternative to the Lori Holt design, which I quite love because the boards are sturdy and lightweight. I made up about 10 in one afternoon, using hot glue (don’t get burned) and they are incredibly sturdy. I also use them as a backdrop for photographs on my blog, as the foamcore is white and clean. Instead of using batting, I use polyester felt, which has an even surface. In using your method, you might try this material, as you could cut it even with the cardboard and it wouldn’t get caught in your little metal tabs at the back.

  30. Elizabeth E says:

    PS. Forgot to mention I can also stack the Lori Holt design boards up to 10 high, as they are not heavy, and the slick foam core surface on the back won’t stick to, or pick up, the block pieces on the board underneath.

  31. springleafstudios says:

    Thanks for the tutorial. I also use a small design board for some of my sewing. It’s a foam core sheet with flannel adhered to the top and large enough (I think 20 x 30) that I can prop it beside my sewing table. I’ve never thought about smaller, portable ones like Elizabeth mentioned in her comment. Might be handy for taking to guild sew days.

  32. I use my little block-sized boards (made for Dear Jane) all the time.This looks like an easier method than the one I used and a really handy size.

  33. That’s a great idea. I agree…the key is getting a big enough size for a 12 inch block.

  34. Sylvia says:

    Great idea. Alas, I traded my design wall for a longarm, so now it’s the very limited floor space or sticking to the digital mock-up for me.

  35. sue7oaks says:

    What a scathingly brilliant idea! As someone who doesn’t throw things away in case tgey become useful I have a couple of frames that have lost their glass hanging around, one that is poster size! Perfect!

  36. Susan Nixon says:

    Attractive AND useful! Can’t beat that. Thank you!

  37. carrie bee says:

    Love this!!! My design wall is across the room from my machine and I use so much time walking back and forth from the wall to the machine. I have small boards and I have used batting to hold things before but this never occurred to me. Looking forward to making one sometime soon!

  38. I could definitely do with one of those. It would be invaluable for fiddly blocks where you forget which side to stitch and keep having to go back to the wall and check, or end up ripping stitches. I like that the edges are covered keeping it nice and clean too.

  39. Cocopatch says:

    great tip! I have one like this!

  40. What a super idea. I’m not sure if I have a big enough frame already or if I’ll need to stop for one. Will need to go check things out

  41. Cat S. says:

    I used an old flannel pillow case sewn down to fit over a scrap piece of foam core board left over from a child’s presentation. You can hand sew the last side closed.

I really appreciate the time and thought you take to comment, and I look forward to conversing with you. :)