Learning about “Line”


Line is one of the elements of art. I started thinking about line during a retreat with Mary Lou Weidman a few weeks ago.


We were considering the piece I was working on, and Mary Lou explained something to me that finally clicked—I understood it in a new way.

idaho Learning about LineIt has to do with line. Looking at the butterfly in my piece above, she pointed out that a diagonal line is active; it indicates movement.


Lines that are horizontal suggest stillness or inactivity, a lack of motion. See the dashed line just above?

Vertical lines are more active than horizontal lines but less active than diagonal lines. Vertical lines suggest upward motion or lift.


If all this sounds like artsy tartsy mumbo jumbo, I know how you feel. I’ve thought the same thing many times in a design class or an art workshop. But this time, something about line kept percolating in my brain and I continued to think about it for several weeks.

I thought I’d test the theory with stick men. ‘Cause even I can draw a stick man.

stick1 Learning about LineFirst stick man: appears motionless.

stick2 Learning about LineSecond stick man: still not much going on. He might be holding his arms out but he’s pretty static.

stick3 Learning about LineThird stick man: WHOA! I used diagonal lines for his arms and legs and I’ll be darned if he’s not dancing! This got me so excited, and I was having so much fun…

stick4 Learning about LineI drew stick men 4, 5 and 6 as if they were all out having a party! This was such a revelation to me. Just by using diagonal lines, my stick men seem to dance.

As I mulled over Mary Lou’s lesson on lines and what they suggest, I thought some more about butterflies.

11244295 1 x Learning about LineI realized that to arrange butterflies in straight rows (which are really just lines) is to suggest that they’re dead—scientific specimens pierced with a pin. Right? Of course.

 Learning about LineBut the minute you arrange butterflies at jaunty angles, they’re living, moving, fluttering things. Even if they’re specimens stuck through with a pin, you’d still get the idea of movement if you arranged them haphazardly, which is really just some disorganized diagonals.

I guess this is why I instinctively added the butterfly to my garden scene at an angle. Can you imagine how silly a straight butterfly would look? Photoshop (and Graphic Designer Denise Starck) can help us:

denise1 straight butterfly111 Learning about LineOnce you understand this, you can use line to add calmness, lift or movement to your quilts. Every time you understand a little more about some aspect of art or design, that becomes part of your quilting arsenal. Your skills fill up your toolbox and enable you to create projects that please you. And after all, isn’t that what quilting is all about?

stick41 300x192 Learning about LineAnd if all that’s not enough, now you, too, can draw dancing stick men.



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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16 Responses to Learning about “Line”

  1. maxi says:

    Thank you so much. The graphics make it add to the explaination. I will look at my designs with new perspective from now on!

  2. Carol Ann Moorhead says:

    I’m a visual learner, and your demonstration was awesome. I got the concept right away. Thank you so much.

  3. Peggy says:

    Aha moment!! Thanks for explaining that so well. One of those things that seems so obvious once you “get it” but I never would have gotten it before without your butterfly examples. Thanks!

  4. Shirley V says:

    Thanks so much for this post. Very helpful!!

  5. Nancy B from Many LA says:

    This was one of the most fun and informative posts ever – loved it so much!

  6. Claudia says:

    Your dancing stick men make me smile. Good lesson here, but I’m even more impressed with your wonderful poppies and all that neon lime green.

  7. Maria Nogueira says:

    obrigada pela ótima aula

    from Google translator: thanks for the great lesson

  8. I have thought about it a lot but never really had the graphics to help sort it all out. Thanks!

  9. JoAnne T. says:

    Aha! So that’s why the quilting class teacher told us that when you’re quilting a pieced quilt (lots of straight lines) you MUST use curved quilting lines. Aha! Thank you! I still like straight lines, though, but when I quilt this log cabin quilt I just finished, I will quilt in diagonal straight lines! Thank you! Thank you!

  10. Kaye M. says:

    I love it when you teach us a design lesson and your illustrations made it very clear! There is energy in the way your leaves are angled in your wall hanging. If the leaves went straight out horizontally they wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. Dancing stick people–what fun!

  11. Ali M says:

    Thank you so much for this, I never took art classes and this is really handy information to know, thanks for the great demo ;)

  12. Sandi says:

    Very helpful! Never thought of diagonal lines in that way before. Thanks for sharing.

  13. tammy k. says:

    i now have a strange urge to draw stick people! ha ha. thanks for the mini lesson. i do see the movement and it definitely is a difference when you change the orientation of the butterfly. thanks!

  14. It is something you instinctively know, but when you think about it you can really use that movement to it’s greatest advantage. Thanks so much for the mini lesson, I’m going to start thinking about “line” in my quilting!

  15. Oh how fun! I just learned something new!!! Thanks for helping me to see this. I am actually working on a block for something I will be sharing in a week or so, and I didn’t realize why I placed something on the diagonal until you just helped me see it. I did it without even knowing what I was doing :*) Now THAT’s fun!!! Hope you don’t mind if I share a link to your post when I post my block?

  16. Hettie Pringle says:

    What a lovely explanation – I perfectly understood the first time around. So glad I seemed to got the lesson from a good teacher (you) the first time for it made perfect sense. Thanks for this!

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