How to Quickly Doodle (or Quilt) a Mandala Using Echoes

It's Day 8 of the #freemotiondoodleschool doodle challenge and the prompt for today is: echo.

There are so many things you can do with echoes when you're doodling and free-motion quilting. It seems like I use echoing, in one way or another, on every free-motion quilt that I quilt. Really. I love them.

Echoes seem to love me back, too. They make whatever I am doing look even better. There's something about the repeat texture that echoes create that's just so pleasing to the eye and to the touch.

I use echoes to emphasize shapes or objects in the quilt top; I use them to travel; I use them to fill up space; I use them to create patterns..... They're just so versatile.

Today, I'm going to show you how I use echoes to create an impressive-looking mandala. It looks complex but, honestly, most of it is made up of echoes. One thing I love about these mandalas is that they never turn out exactly alike. It's fun to see them grow and take shape. I'm always surprised by the outcome.

Echo Mandala

If you want your mandala to end up looking round and even, you are definitely going to need to start out with guidelines. You can draw them yourself but the types of guidelines you need are easy to find on the internet.

Google "polar grid" or "polar graph" and look for an image similar to the photo to the right. I got mine from, where I have a subscription, but I'd bet that you could find a free one somewhere online. Just make sure it's got several concentric circles and that it has lines on the X and the Y axes and lines at 45 degree angles.

Once I had my grid, I brought it into Illustrator and lowered the opacity so that it would print out in a light grey. I didn't want the lines on it to be too distracting. You might want to play around in your drawing app of choice and see if you can do the same thing or change the colors of the lines to something lighter.

Once I had a printout, here is how I built my mandala over the guidelines:

  1. Start out by making a design in your center circle. I used a simple petal shape but there are lots of things you could do. Just make sure the shapes you repeat all meet at the center of the circle and reach out to the outer edges of the circle.

  2. Us a short line to travel a small distance away from your first shape and then echo the outside lines of the shape.

  3. Draw another pattern that repeats around the center shape. Use the lines of the polar grid to keep your repeat shapes a consistent size, to keep them evenly spaced, and to keep them a consistent distance away from the center shape.

  4. Using a short travel line, come out from the last pattern you made and echo it.

  5. Echo again, if you want.

  6. Use a short travel line to travel out from your last echo. This time, when you echo, incorporate one or two new shapes into the echo. In my example, I added loops on the inside of the arches.

  7. Echo your new shape.

  8. Echo again, if you want.

  9. Repeat steps 6-8 until you've reached the outer borders of your polar grid guidelines.

Here's a photo of the completed mandala again:

Do you agree with me that it's simple to make but looks quite fancy and complicated? Designs like this are the best kinds, in my book. You get the "Wow!" factor without all that much effort.

Before I sign off, I'd like to share one method for marking out the polar grid guidelines inside a square of a quilt.

For this method, you'll need a blue water-soluble marker, a long (6" x 12" or longer) rotary-cutting ruler, a sturdy quilting pen, and a permanent marker.

  1. Start by using your blue water-soluble marker and your ruler to mark the diagonal lines of your grid. Draw from one corner to the opposite corner, across the center of the square. Do the same for the other two corners. Where the two lines cross, that's the center of your square.

  2. Mark your "X" and "Y" lines, making sure they meet at the center of the area, in the same spot where your diagonal lines meet.

  3. Measure the distance from the center of your "X" and "Y" axis to one of the sides of the square.

  4. Cut a piece of string that's at least four or five inches longer than the measurement you got in Step 2.

  5. Tie one end of the string to your marker.

  6. Starting at the point where your marker is tied to the string, measure the length you got in Step 2 and make a mark using your permanent marker.

  7. At the mark, tie a knot in the string.

  8. Fold the string in half, lining up the knot you just made with the point where the string is tied to the marker. Make a mark at the half point.

  9. Measure the two halves and divide them up equally. For example, if each half is six inches long, either divide the halves in half again by making marks at 3 inches or divide the halves into thirds by making marks at 2 inches. The number of times you divide up the halves depends on how many concentric circles you want in your polar grid. More circles are better if you want to create a complex design; fewer circles are better if you plan to keep it simple.

  10. Poke your quilting pin through the knot you made and then poke it through the exact center of your "X" and "Y" axis.

  11. Making sure you hold the pin straight up and don't let it move, bring the marker out away from the center axis as far as the string will let you go. Don't stretch the string, just hold it taut. Make sure you are also holding your marker straight up and down.

  12. Keeping the string taut and using it to guide your marker, draw a circle by pivoting your marker around the center axis where you are holding the pin.

  13. Tie a knot in the next mark you made (the next one closest to the first knot.)

  14. Repeat steps 10-12, this time poking the pin through your second knot.

  15. Repeat steps 10-14 until you have made concentric circles using all the marks you made on your string.

And there you have it. Of course, if you have a stencil that suits this purpose, you can always use it to mark your space. You can draw inside the lines with your water-soluble marker or use a pounce pad with the stencil.

Another option would be to print out a polar grid to the size you need and then use a transfer paper, like Saral or C&T's Essential White Transfer Paper and a tracing stylus. Maybe I'll show this in a future blog post.

Finally, if you liked this tutorial, check out the books "Doodle School: A Daily Design Challenge to Up Your Free-Motion Quilting Game," and "Doodle Notebook for Free-motion Quilting: 150+ Inspirational Motifs." Dara Tomasson and I co-authored them and they're packed with more great doodle quilting tutorials.

Click the photos to take a look at the books on Amazon.

Until next time, keep on doodling and keep on doodle quilting!


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