Easy Design Wall Tutorial


A few weeks ago I moved my sewing “stuff” into a new space. In the process I rehung my design wall so I wanted to show you how quickly, easily and inexpensively it was made.

dw10 Easy Design Wall Tutorial

A design wall is indispensable. I use it every single day. Before I had it, it was hard for me to imagine why I needed one. Now I can’t imagine life without one.

I use it mostly for auditions. Don’t let that word scare you. It just means “to try something out.” I audition fabrics. I audition units like Flying Geese or Nine Patches. I audition blocks, sections and especially borders.

It’s impossible to see how something is going to look unless you can put it up on a vertical surface and stand back from it. Once you begin doing this, your creative decisions become easier and you become more confident. Your quilts improve!

There are just four things you’ll need to make a design wall similar to this.

dw1 Easy Design Wall Tutorial

Foamcore, also known as foam board

#1. Large sheet(s) of 1/2″-thick foamcore, also known as foam board. I bought three and they were 40″ x 60″ but they come larger and smaller, too. (More on that below.)

dw2 Easy Design Wall Tutorial

Another view of foamcore. It comes in various thicknesses. The 1/2" thickness works great for a design wall.

I found them at an art supply store, but don’t let that scare you off—it’s just lightweight paper-covered styrofoam. It’s inexpensive.

dw4 Easy Design Wall Tutorial

I used the back of a gray cotton knit, similar to a lightweight sweatshirt.

#2. Gray (not white, black or tan) flannel or stretchy cotton knit, large enough to cover foamcore plus about 6″ extra length and width. I found a wide gray print that was the perfect color on the back. The pink flowers on the front don’t matter at all! Prewash the fabric to remove any sizing (so things will “stick” to it more effectively).

#3. Duct tape

#4. Tiny finishing nails about 1.5″ long (they don’t have much of a head)

Decide how large your design wall can be. I recommend making it as large as you can, within reason. There’s no need to make it higher than you can reach. Make it only as wide as the widest quilt you’ll make. If you’re unsure, go big. If you have limited space, just make it as large as you have room for. You’ll still use it and love it.

dw31 Easy Design Wall Tutorial

Foamcore pieces can be joined with duct tape on both front and back.

Buy enough foamcore to fill the space you’ve chosen. You can patch together several pieces to get the size you need by butting them up and using duct tape on both sides to secure. I bought three pieces that were 40″ x 60″. Two went side by side and the third was cut up and added to the bottom. My finished size is about 80″ x 80″. (I can’t reach the top but since I learned that the hard way, you don’t have to.)

dw5 Easy Design Wall Tutorial

Lay the foamcore on the floor and spread the gray material on top, right side up. Pin the fabric to the sides of the foamcore with straight pins, stretching as needed to cover it.

pin111 Easy Design Wall Tutorial

Push straight pins into the sides of the foamcore to secure the fabric before taping it to the back.

Pull the gray fabric to the back of the foamcore and use duct tape to secure it. It doesn’t have to be pretty—it probably won’t be. Remove the pins if necessary (depends on how stretchy your fabric is).

dw7 Easy Design Wall Tutorial

Position the design wall where you want it and attach to the wall with the finishing nails. The heads will kind of disappear into the fabric because they’re so small.

dw8 Easy Design Wall Tutorial

It doesn’t take many nails because the foamcore is very lightweight. I used four or five on each side.

dw9 Easy Design Wall Tutorial

Stand back and enjoy the view!

*     *     *     *     *

Have you created a design wall for your sewing space? Have you purchased one? Tell us about it, or just tell us how you think it would advance your creativity to have one. We’d love to hear from you in the comments.

About Diane Harris

I'm an editor for Quiltmaker magazine in Golden, Colorado, USA. For six years, I wrote pattern instructions, product reviews and how-to articles. Then I spent four years as QM's Interactive Editor, working to generate much of our online content. Now I'm back to patterns and how-tos, which is a great fit for me. I still love writing about quilt-related topics for Quilty Pleasures, and I always have my finger on the pulse of the quilting world. I teach a variety of quilt classes and give guild programs, too. Reach me by email: editor@quiltmaker.com.
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49 Responses to Easy Design Wall Tutorial

  1. Janet says:

    great idea. my friend does this.

  2. Marie says:

    I have a curtain rod mounted above the closet in my “sewing room” with felt. I use this as my design wall.

  3. Samira Cabral Furtado says:

    Adorei a forma como você fez a sua placa. Achei bem interessante. Gostaria de saber se podes enviar uma foto para que ver como fazes para dobrá-la. Parabéns pelo trabalho.
    Agradeço a atenção e aguardo resposta.

  4. Elaine says:

    I use a flannel backed tablecloth with a casing for a tension curtain rod to fit a 40″doorway. Easy up and easy down.

  5. Cher says:

    Way too complicated!!! I just staple a vinyl tablecloth with flannel back to the wall with the flannel out. These are very inexpensive and come in a variety of sizes. You could cut them to any size/shape you need. Design wall in just a few minutes! Easy to remove also.

  6. Jeanette Kercheval says:

    My last design wall was very simple. I put a large piece of batting on the wall using tacks. I would make blocks and arrange them on the batting. I assembled all the blocks, returning them to the design wall. When finished, all I pulled it all down and added a back to complete the sandwich.

  7. Serena says:

    I bought a Fons &Porter quilt wall a couple years ago. I use it every time I design a quilt. Just recently I used my camera and took pictures of different lay outs of one pattern. I wanted to compare different lay outs. Was amazed as to how different they looked. My room is small . So with the camera I could enlarge, the image.

    • Janet says:

      great idea. i lay out my quilt then take pics to see if i like the layout. also if you’re doing a certain pattern like trip around the world you can see if you made any mistakes because they would definitely stand out. its like trying to proof read your own term paper or what not.

  8. Jamie says:

    so making my hubby do this for me this weekend! this is an awesome idea! and flannel is on sale this week!

  9. marci357 says:

    Only space I had was against a 2 ft walkway between foot of my bed and the wall…6 ft wide wall space there – so I just hung an old queen sized flannel sheet (garage sale find) from a piece of molding over 2 nails. I stretch it out and tack it in a couple places to the door frame, and a 6 ft tall shelving unit on the other side. Colors are cream, pale green, and pale pink big floral, which looks ok in my light green room, but I did also put the back side out so the floral is barely visible. Not perfect, but it works, and the price was 50 cents for the sheet. :)


    I purchased checkered vinyl table cloth with the cloth backing by the yard and stapled to a wall with vinyl side toward the wall . You can see the checks to lay your blocks square.

    • Deana Shiplett says:

      Vinyl table cloths as the cloth backing really works. You can also roll the table cloth up and store should you need to. Works great at quilting retreats.

  11. Nadine Stupelli says:

    Thank you. I think I need one!

  12. Lori M. says:

    Hi , i just recycled the cardboard that come with Dishwasher cartons at the local hardware store, it is already trifolded, I just add velcro strips on back so if I have to move it, and have batting on it, holds blocks like static cling, can open up to crib size, largest I make, and I put up a matching window curtian so it looks like my room has more window……

  13. Susan Paxton says:

    Having downsized into my Motor Home I don’t have any walls. I like the idea of using a cardboard folding cutting mat that someone suggested. I think that would work great for me. I do have my sewing machine set up in the living room and still have room for a bookcase that holds most of my stash and my computer desk and a couch that makes into a bed. I like the idea of using grey instead of white. I am going to get busy and make this next week.

  14. Jayne says:

    Thanks for the tutorial! I recently decided that the key tool I missing is a design wall — I can’t believe I’ve quilted for so long without one. I’ll be making one in the next couple weeks, so this was very timely. It’s much easier than I anticipated. Thank you!

  15. Linda Baird says:

    I have been using a “PINK” 4 ft x 7 ft 6 inch (had to cut a little off to fit) of 2 inch foam insulation as my design wall. Usually it lays on its side (4 ft tall) but when I’m doing a bigger quilt, I turn the foam to its full height. I bought flannel to cover it, but decided to just pin things up. Not ideal, but it has worked for many quilts. I’m moving to a new house and my design wall was the first thing to be planned for my sewing room. I’m going to just use the flannel and grommets to hang from hooks near the ceiling to the floor. I’m not that tall, but figure to get the grommets up high enough to be out of the way.

  16. Adrienne says:

    I took a mystery quilt class at our quilt guild three years ago and when we were at the “reveal” stage we were asked to bring our batting along to lay our pieces on. I pinned my pieces to the batting to bring the quilt home, but I had no place to hang my batting. We were not using a closet at our front door so I used painter’s tape and hung my batting there. The space over the closet and from behind the front door all the way to the end of the wall turned out to be a great out-of-the-way place for my batting design wall. My husband thought it was very funny to come home, open the door and find a quilt hung in the entrance way! The great thing was that when my quilt was ready to layer I already had the right sized batting and just had to cut a backing fabric. I have used this idea with other quilts too.

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  18. Ruth says:

    Unfortunately, I don’t have a spot for a design wall since we downsized. I have walls in my sewing room but there are cutting/sewing tables in front of all of them, it’s a tiny room. I use the carpet in the living room, it is a mushroom color so works well for colors and layout. If I really need to see the whole thing from above, I take a digital photo (standing on a chair) then upload it onto my computer. Sometimes, just looking at the photo on the camera window is all I need for color matching/design.

  19. Jan White says:

    I bought 3 pink insulation boards 25″ wide & 2″ thick. I had the 8 ft sheets cut down to 72″ then covered all 3 separately with grey flannel on 1 side & tan on the other. I sewed them like slipcovers then sewed Velcro dots along the sides to connect them to each other. I live in a condo so I can store them behind a door until I need to use them. I kept the three 2 ft tops to use for small projects.

  20. Gloria Pietruszka says:

    I am in the process of making a wall . I am using foam insulation board. I have to hinge it to be portable untin I move into my bigger sewing room and can hook it to the wall. I will get some gray flannel instead of white to cover it. I had used the floor for years, but a wall upright is so much better. thanks for all the info.

  21. Debbie says:

    I made a design wall a couple of years ago and I use it all the time, can’t imagine not having one now. Mine is very similiar to the tutorial, but I put duct tape between the foam boards so I can close it up when not in use,(like a hinge) as I used 3 boards to get it wide enough. I tacked flannel on it, in 3 sections so I could fold it and wouldn’t have to take it all apart. I did such a good job, my friend borrows it all the time, when I’m not using it.

  22. Maria Rosa Gonzalez Hernandez says:

    Very good idea!!!

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  24. Joy S. says:

    I hung a flannel backed table cloth up on the wall on the far side of my bed. It was the only place in the house big enough for even that as a design wall. I really like having it and like to keep something on it. Like someone else said it looks naked without something up there. Then I can even look at in at to imagine how I will go about doing this or that to the project or even dream up more projects. Like we do.

  25. Lily Stilo says:

    For class when I need to piece or look at a block I have a old patio chair cushion (the thin kind) covered in whatever left over fabric usually white or off white and use pins to hold the block. The teacher can then advise me of any corrections needed. I also use this when I have alot of seams to match up. Portable and lightweight.

  26. Kitty says:

    I made a design wall out of the pink insulation they sell at Home Depot. I needed one that I could move around because I have very limited space. I covered it with cotton batting and wrapped it around and fastened it with pins. It works pretty well and was pretty cheap. It is only about 48″ wide and 72″ tall. Since I read that someone else had a hinged board I think I will try that for mine.

  27. Jean says:

    With no wall space for a permanent design board, I temporarily repurpose two extra long twin mattresses that are stored in the closet much of the time waiting for kids/grandkids to visit. I secure a king sized sheet over them with T-pins, and because they are leaning back towards the closet wall, the quilt blocks really stay in place – or stick pins directly into the mattresses. It takes only minutes to remove my sewing things and they’re ready for guests. Wish I’d have thought of it years ago!

  28. Mary C in WA says:

    I have a design wall made of “Sound Board” It is sold in sheet of 4′x8′ at Hardware big box stores like Home Depot. I covered mine with Muslin that was 108″ wide. It covers most of the the wall from floor to ceiling in my basement. I also have a portable piece of White Flannel that is attached to the doors of my Fabric cupboard with big Binder clips from a Office supply store.

  29. Diane Harris says:

    The foam will last indefinitely. I’ve had mine for many years and it’s in great shape. I do pin into it when the project becomes too heavy to “stick” to the fabric. Pinning doesn’t hurt a thing!

  30. michele picard says:

    thank you very much for sharing this idea .How long will last the foam if i u am using it very often?May I pin my pieces of fabric on it ?
    have agood day

  31. june says:

    I created a design wall using a Cardboard Pattern Sewing Cutting Board. Using flannel, I created a ‘pillowcase’ the size of the board which is about 36×60. Then just slipped the pillowcase over the carboard. It’s light and when not in use I fold it back up and use rubber binders to hold it together. I move this around from room to room. When my friends are over we prop it up on a couple of chairs so everyone can see what we’re working on.

  32. Mary says:

    I use an inexpensive “faux” bamboo roll up shade with a flannel back tablecloth attached. When i want to put the design wall up i just roll it up with the shade pulls..

  33. Cely says:

    Finally getting around to making a design wall and appreciate all the info on how and what to use. I have used the floor as design space much too long. Thanks to everyone who made suggestions, it will help many fellow quilters.

  34. deb C says:

    I have an 8′x8′ design wall in my studio. It’s made from two of sheets of insulation stuff (shiny silver on the outside, styrofoam inside) duct taped together to form the larger piece. I stitched two lengths of white flannel together along the long selvedge, and hot-glued the overlap on all four sides onto the backside. I mounted it in my studio with “cheapie” pins. (These are pins you can buy at Wal-Mart that are about 1.5″ long and have a flat head – they’re like mini-nails. They’re so strong I even hang pictures with them!) By using the “cheapie pins”, the hole left in the sheetrock is nearly invisible should you need to take the wall down. I also bought another 4′x6′ sheet of the same stuff and made three portable design walls in various sizes: one 4′x4′ to use when I teach, one 24″x24″ for block auditions, and a 18″x18″ for use by my machine when piecing blocks. I mostly prefer the white flannel because there is nothing to interfere with the colors of my project as white is the absence of all color. I did, however, sew a piece of white flannel and black flannel together (a la pillowcase style) and slipped that over the smaller 4′x4′ design wall. I then whip-stitched the edges of the fourth side to fully enclose the insulation stuff. That gave me a portable design wall perfect for any project I might have. ;-D I’ve been using this type of design wall for 20 years and it’s cheap…useful…and I don’t know what I’d do without any of them!

  35. Susan says:

    You may not be able to reach 80″ standing on the floor, but a stool will get you up there to place that project that has to be thought about and still leave room for the current project…… bets you end up using the “high” part

  36. Ruth Shelton says:

    I made my design wall from the flannel back of a 72 in oblong table cloth and reinforced the the top edges with duck tape for hanging. It works wonderful but I am finding I need a bigger one. It seems my quits keep getter bigger and bigger.

  37. Diane Harris says:

    Great info, Vivian. Thanks for sharing it.
    In response to the question about why gray is best: Deb M is right—it’s because white or black adds starkness and sometimes even becomes a design element. Tan adds color so it’s not a great option either. Gray is truly neutral in this case and will let your fabrics speak their true language as you stand back to observe. All that being said, a flannel-backed tablecloth is a great temporary/portable design wall option, even though it’s usually white. Work with whatever you have!

  38. Vivian says:

    This is in response to both Diane’s post and Marcia W’s comment: if you don’t have space for an “attached to the wall” design wall, try a portable one. They can be set up on the floor (or if small enough, on a table top) and taken down and folded up when not in use.

    Until now I used a flannel backed vinyl table cloth tacked to a wall. Last year I made a portable wall using the instructions found at Karen’s “Sew Many Ways” blog (http://www.sewmanyways.blogspot.com/2009/08/large-design-wall-tutorial.html) to take with me when visiting my MIL. When I moved this year, I chose to hang my portable wall up in my new quilt space using large 3M Command hooks so it can be up when I need it but still come down for travel.

    If you Google “portable design wall” or “make your own design wall” you will find a number of different sizes of portable wall to make and different ways to make them depending on the materials you have available. If you don’t want to make your own you can purchase the “Cheryl Ann’s Design Wall” that folds up into it’s own carry case.

  39. MarciaW says:

    Unfortunately, we do not have any room for a design wall or a sewing room per se – sure wish we had a wall that could reach. That’s what happens when cram furniture from 3 homes into one!

  40. deb m says:

    My design wall is light gray flannel ( i heard about this on Simply Quilts when it first aired on HGTV…eons ago. I purchased the Snuggle Solid gray from Joann’s…they don’t sell gray anymore. I even called the help line and they looked it up. I told them that they needed to start selling it again and why.) I bought all they had on the bolt, about 7 yards, cut it into two equal legnths and sewed them together along the selvage. I used push pins (with protruding heads) about every 6 inches along the top (about 1 1/2 inches down from the ceiling to avoid the metal strip that attaches the ceiling and wall drywall) I put flat head thumb tacks (boy those are hard to find these days) along the bottom with the same spacing. Then I put a flat thumbtack about every 18 inches along the sides. I used it for about 4 years and when I moved my sewing room I took it down, washed it and put it in the new room. It almost covers an entire wall, but doesn’t quite reach the base board. It works great for large bed quilts.
    I used push pins with heads along the top so I could hang clip style curtain rings on them and clip my finished quilts up to take pictures!

  41. Karlene says:

    Nancy, I think the gray has less glare than the white and doesn’t interfere with the colors in your blocks. Sometimes I notice the white background on mine changes the look so I will often photo the blocks and then crop them so all the white is gone. It would probably be easier to have gray instead.

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  43. Nancy says:

    I am just now getting to the point of getting a design wall up so your post is just in time… The one I have here is blue board from a home design box store and I covered it in white batting… Wondering why you say to use gray?

  44. Karlene says:

    I have a metal stand with a removable bar that I use to photo quilts. I got the largest flannel-backed tablecloth I could find and folded over the top edge and stitched, thus making a sleeve I could slip the bar through. It’s very easy to put up or take down.

  45. Pam in KC says:

    I love my design wall. I can’t imagine quilting without it. It’s a large flannel backed tablecloth hanging in front of my fireplace that I don’t use. I folded the excess over and stitched 7 buttonholes across the top. Then I hung it with 3M Command hooks.

  46. Claudia says:

    I have a design wall of three doors hinged together (zigzag style). Used to be a room divider. Because they are hinged, I can move them to get to the closets behind them (that have stuff I don’t use often). I put a light batting over that and then three lengths of flannel (that match the folds in the doors). They were white in the beginning, kinda grubby now. I periodically vacuum them. I couldn’t live without my design wall.

    I just sent a twin size project off to the quilter today, and it was running off the bottom and onto the floor in its completed stage. It isn’t unusual to find parts of 5-6 projects on my wall. I tend to pin things on the sides I don’t want to misplace–border pieces, applique pieces, fabric dedicated to the binding. When there is nothing on it, the place (sewing room) looks kind of naked.

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