As a full-time municipal traffic engineering technician for the city of Ventura, California, Derek Towers is constantly creating patterns that impact the public. He controls where striping divides the streets, how sidewalk curbs are painted, traffic sign placement, and even where red-light enforcement cameras are deployed at busy intersections.
But at the end of his shift, Towers focuses on dramatically different patterns: the kind you find at your local fabric store.
“I recently found out a large number of fellow engineers are into quilting,” says Towers, who dove into the hobby just six months ago. “Quilting has such a similar feel to drafting. It almost feels like drafting on cloth.”
“I like to mess around with geometric shapes and love experimenting with different layouts,” he adds.
Towers first connected with his engineering colleagues, most of them female, on the online Los Angeles Modern Quilt Guild forum. He attends monthly “weekend sew” meetings at a Santa Barbara community center to share ideas and learn new techniques.
His recently completed first quilt — nine panels of spirals composed from squares and triangles — was designed in DraftSight, a professional-grade free 2D CAD product from Dassault Systèmes, before the first stitch.
“DraftSight helps me envision the final product better before starting to invest in the materials. I enjoy the precision of it. I must have tried 10 different configurations before making up my mind. On my next project, I’ll mess around a lot more,” Towers says.
“When I first tried DraftSight, I was sold on it right away. All my previous knowledge of AutoCAD seamlessly translated over, which I really appreciated,” he adds. “I was considering spending between $50 to $100 on a home version of a basic CAD program. The fact that DraftSight was free was just icing on the cake.”
Another major factor for the municipal engineer was finding a CAD program that worked on his Mac.
Although he jokes that he used to think of quilting as solely a “pastime for grandmas,” Towers says the hobby is an ideal way to relax and nostalgically flash back to the days when he drafted with pencil and paper.
“For all the technological advancements, there was something special and distinctive about using a drafting table. Quilting brings that back for me. You have an actual physical hand on your creations,” he says.
Towers, who learned how to sew as a child from his mother and grandmother, previously designed “retro curtains” for his 1966 Cardinal camping trailer. His first quilt project (3.5’ x 4’) was a gift for his two-year-old niece, and his future plans include making one to spread across a king-size bed.
“I’m aiming high,” the engineer says. “But I’m not ready to go there yet. I need to take lots of baby steps in between.”