More color direction

I’m so lucky. Not only do I really enjoy the process of choosing colors, but I have the advantage of familiarity with several computer programs that allow me to play with colors until I find a palette I like. Not everyone has that, so the first “choosing fabrics” step can become overwhelming. Jeanne and I have already provided a lot of info in the Skill Builders that I recommended earlier, but here’s a bit more for those who have an idea of the direction they want to go but need some help fleshing it out.

Suzanne said:

…in the next few days I’ll be heading to a fabric store for my backing fabric…I’m planning Navy blue but can’t decide the other colors…whether they are creams, greys, blues, ???I was thinking twinkling stars, but I’m going to need more contrast than white white white.

I wrote a looong reply in the comments and sent her an email, but she suggested that this might be worth sharing in a new post.

If you’d like some help choosing colors, try looking at color schemes that have already been created. Here are a few places to look:

Color Schemer Gallery – click Search Schemes (top center), enter the word Navy and click search. This brings up 51 color schemes that include navy, and one of them might trigger an idea for you.

If nothing jumps out at you there, try Kuler. Again, enter Navy in the search box at the top left and you’ll get 1,616 (!!) color schemes.

Design Seeds is a very popular site with beautiful color schemes inspired by photos. Click on Palette Search (top left) and scroll down to the column of colors. Click on the blue one and you’ll see pages of palettes with blue in them. (When you get to the bottom, click “Older Posts” to see more.) Not all contain navy, but you can look for darker or lighter versions of the colors in the palettes.

Similar to Design Seeds is Photo Card Boutique blog. They post other things, but if you click on Cool Colors under Categories at the left, you’ll see all of their color palettes. Again, click Older Posts to see more when you reach the bottom.

Are you familiar with Pinterest? I have a pin board devoted entirely to color palettes that I’ve found around the internet. You can also click in the search bar at the top center and type in Color Palette. When you get the results, click the #### Boards link at the top left to see a collection of all of the color palette pin boards that others have created. Click on a photo mosaic to open the board and see all of the individual palettes. Try the search using the phrase Color Swatches to get even more.

There are a ton of resources out there – you’ll find something you love in no time! Remember, though, this just helps with color. While the sampler will be gorgeous made from solids, don’t get so caught up in color that you forget pattern. Small to medium scale prints, tone on tones, even an occasional larger scale print in certain blocks, will add another dimension to the quilt.

Remember my fabrics?

Initial Fabrics

I’ve gone through and eliminated a few. I kept more than I expected to and may not use all that are left because there are only so many blocks, but I’m mostly satisfied with my choices.

The ones I eliminated have black Xs on them. Here’s my reasoning:

Top row:
Dark green with dots – I love this fabric, but a) it’s part of a line that I’m already using several of in the quilt, and I don’t want it too matchy-matchy, and b) it’s quite dark and doesn’t show up as well against the navy background.

Blue print – I like the idea of incorporating touches of blue into the quilt, but this fabric doesn’t have any green or yellow in it, so it’s out.

Floral print – It isn’t green or yellow enough, and the print is very soft and pretty, which doesn’t really work with the rest of the fabrics.

Bottom row:
Green print – I LOVE this fabric, but the shade is just a little too green (not enough yellow/olive).

Floral print – This has the right background shade, but again, the print is too “pretty” for the rest of the fabrics.

Stripe – Colors are fantastic, but it brings in another color (the rusty brown) and I don’t want that. Besides, stripes can be difficult to deal with in block piecing.

Yellow – It’s awfully yellow. The other yellows are either softer or broken up a bit with a print. Also, there’s not a hint of green in it, unlike the fabric immediately to the left of it. It leans more toward a yellow-orange, which isn’t the look I’m going for.

I’ll be posting the next block this weekend, so if you haven’t had a chance yet to make your nine patches, there’s still some time. They go quickly, I promise!


TYSS: Nine Patch fillers

Ready to sew your first blocks? We’re starting with a very easy block, the Nine Patch. It is a great way to practice accurate cutting, quarter inch seams, and matching seam intersections. You will make four blocks that finish at 3″ square. Remember, “finished” size is the size it will be once it’s sewn into the quilt. The blocks will be 3 1/2″ square when you’re done making them, before putting them in the quilt.

Jeanne and I provided instructions for three different ways to make this block. Read the two posts and decide which method you want to use. I’ll post the cutting information here, but you’ll need to go to the Skill Builder post(s) for the assembly instructions. Regardless which method you choose, I strongly recommend you also read through the Quarter Inch Seam Skill Builder post.

Skill Builder Series: Post 6A – Nine Patch

Skill Builder Series: Post 6B – Nine Patches and Strip Piecing

If you are using the “white and bright” illustration as a fabric placement guideline, this block is pink. Regardless of assembly method, you will make two blocks that have background fabric in the corners and center, and two blocks with block fabric in the corners and center. You may choose to make all four blocks from the same fabric, or make them from several different fabrics.

Option 1 – Strip Piecing

Skill Builder post 6B
Best for all blocks made from the same fabric.
Cut (1) background strip 1 1/2″ wide. Subcut into (3) 10″ pieces (plus leftover)
Cut (1) block fabric strip 1 1/2″ wide. Subcut into (3) 10″ pieces (plus leftover)
Sew strip sets, then subcut into 1 1/2″ segments.

Option 2 – Two Large Squares

Skill Builder post 6A – scroll halfway down
Best for all four blocks from the same fabric, or two different fabrics.
Cut (2) 4 1/2″ squares of background fabric
Cut (2) 4 1/2″ squares of block fabric
Follow post directions. When you measure and cut from the sides, the measurement is 1 1/2″.

Option 3 – Traditional (Individual Squares)

Skill Builder post 6A
Best if all of the blocks are made from different fabrics. Can also do each individual square in a different fabric.
Cut (18) 1 1/2″ squares of background fabric
Cut (18) 1 1/2″ squares of block fabric

Wow, this post is deceptively short! So does referring to the Skill Builder posts make sense for everyone? We put a lot of detail into those posts, and it just doesn’t make sense to repeat it in the sampler posts. Still if anyone has questions, let me know!

Skill Builder Series Part 5A: Fabric Preparation

I’m publishing the first Test Your Skills Sampler post right after this one, but first I wanted to cover a few things about fabric preparation, pressing, and squaring your fabric.


Elizabeth’s question in the last post brought up the eternal quilting question: To wash, or not to wash?

As Jeanne discussed in her Skill Builder post, the answer is simple: It depends. Please check out her post for much more information about prewashing (for stash or for projects), as well as pressing and grain lines vs. bias.

I’m going to weigh in a bit here as well. (Ooh, “weigh in” – what an awful phrase… but I digress.) There are three reasons to prewash:

  • colorfastness
  • shrinkage
  • chemicals

I do not pre-wash my fabric. There have been a few exceptions (when working with flannel, batiks or hand dyed fabrics), but so far I’ve had no problem working with unwashed quilting fabric. I’ve been very cavalier about it – I don’t even test the fabrics! However, if you’re working with darker colors mixed with white or very light colors, you might want to test the darker fabrics for colorfastness. There are a few ways to do this.

  1. Soak a piece of white fabric in hot water with a little detergent in it. Remove the fabric and squeeze out most of the water. Rub the white fabric on the questionable fabric. If the white fabric picks up any color, you should pre-wash.
  2. Get a piece of white cotton fabric wet then place it on a piece of your questionable fabric and press with a hot iron until the fabric is dry. If the white fabric picks up any color, you should pre-wash.
  3. Cut a small piece of the questionable fabric, maybe 2″ square, and place it in a clear or white dish with hot water and a touch of detergent. Swish it around, then let it soak for a few minutes. Remove the fabric – if the water is colored, you should pre-wash.
  4. Follow the steps in #3, but after soaking, remove the fabric and blot it with a piece of white fabric or paper towel. If the white fabric shows any color, you should pre-wash.

If you decide to pre-wash because of colorfastness issues, you may decide to treat the fabric when you wash it. I mentioned Synthrapol and Retayne in the last post. They have two very different functions, so be sure to use the correct product at the correct time. Many quilt shops are carrying these products (JoAnn’s has it online, and possibly in stores), but you can also order them online.

Retayne should be used when you pre-wash fabric. It is a fixative that keep the dye in the fabric. Retayne does NOT work in front loading washers, so you would have to hand wash your fabrics if you use it. It doesn’t work on every kind of dye, so you should test your fabric again after using it. You should NOT wash a completed quilt with Retayne!
Synthrapol keeps any loose dye in the water from attaching to the fabric. You can use it when pre-washing, especially if you have a multicolor print fabric. You can also wash a completed quilt with Synthrapol to keep the loose dye from migrating to light colored fabric.

There are other products you can use when washing the finished quilt. Shout Color Catchers are disposable sheets (similar to fabric softener sheets) that soak up the loose dye in the water and prevent it from migrating to other fabrics. Some people use several sheets in the first washing; we use a couple of color catchers the first few washes (we even include them with instructions when we give a quilt as a gift). They are commonly available in stores in the US, and right now you can receive a free sample from the website. Carbona Dye Grabber is a similar product, but can be used up to 30 times before it loses effectiveness. It looks like a small terrycloth wash cloth.

Some fabrics shrink more than others. The better the fabric quality, the less it will shrink. Very cheap quality fabric not only shrinks more, but may shrink inconsistently (top/bottom vs. left/right). This is one of the reasons I’m picky about the quality of fabric I use. If you work with flannel, you should always pre-wash because it shrinks considerably more than regular quilting cotton. If you mix fabric types, again, pre-wash everything so your finished quilt will not turn into a misshapen mess.

You might have heard that not pre-washing your fabric gives you an old-fashioned puckery look when you wash your quilt. That’s not entirely true. The puckery look comes from the batting shrinking. If you use batting made from polyester (or batting made from recycled plastic bottles), the quilt stays very flat and smooth because the batting doesn’t shrink much – less than 1%. Cotton and wool (and other natural fibers) will shrink as much as 5%.

Read Jeanne’s post – there’s some important stuff there! Chemicals are not necessarily a bad thing when you’re storing your fabric. If you find that your hands get painfully dry or itchy, or you have trouble with sneezing or a runny nose when you’re sewing, then pre-wash the fabric and avoid the misery. I really like working with fabric that still has the sizing in because it is firmer and sturdier. Some people like to wash the fabric to remove the preservatives, then add starch or sizing back in either in the wash or with a spray when ironing.

Pressing and Straightening

Now that you’ve pre-washed (or not) and dried your fabric, you need to press it. (Check out Jeanne’s post for an explanation of pressing vs. ironing.) Unfortunately, I believe you need to press it even if you didn’t pre-wash it. Fabric isn’t always put on the bolt perfectly straight, and it’s best if you find the grain before cutting. Jeanne explains grain lines in her post, as well as how to make sure the edge of your fabric is on the grain.

I square up my fabric a little differently. First I iron the fabric to remove all creases and wrinkles. (When I’m working with yardage, I “iron.” When I’m working with cut pieces and block components, I “press.”) I keep a spray bottle filled with a mixture of water and vodka handy to mist the fabric as I iron.

Wait – VODKA?!!

Yep. Some of you have heard this from me already, but I’ll share it again for the newer readers. You can buy spray starches and sizings and fancy Best Press. Since I don’t pre-wash my fabrics, the sizing is still in it and all I really want to do is refresh it. The vodka seems to give it a slightly crisper finish, and I think it makes the fabric smell a little better. (It doesn’t smell at all alcohol-y.) My mom has trouble with scents so my vodka/water mix is straight, but you can add a drop of essential oil – lavender, rose, ylang ylang – whatever you have on hand. You can even add a couple drops of your favorite perfume if you like. According to my friend Amber, costume designer extraordinaire (and soon to be quilter – hi Amber!), it’s good for removing odors from fabric, similar to Febreeze, only a heck of a lot cheaper. I mix approximately 1 part vodka to 3 parts water. I use a 16 ounce bottle, so I put in half a cup of vodka and fill it up with water, then shake. If you’re adding oil, mix that with the vodka first to emulsify, then add the water.

If the fabric piece is larger than a yard, I usually cut off a chunk so it’s easier to work with. This results in a little fabric waste, but it’s worth it for ease of handling. I iron the fabric so it’s nice and smooth, opening it so I iron a single layer and press out the fold line. That’s where the spray really helps. Once it’s smooth I fold it with the right side out, lining up the selvages.

The next photo shows that the cut edges are also lined up – this is how the fabric came off the bolt.

Look at the fabric – if it looks warped and bubbled, that means the fabric was a bit crooked on the bolt. The arrows point out the ripples.

Slide the front half of the fabric left or right as needed until it hangs straight. You may lose as much as a few inches of fabric in the squaring up process.

As you can see, even though this is a very good quality fabric, it was still a little crooked. I lost about an inch of fabric once it was trimmed.

Once it hangs straight lightly press the fold to keep it from sliding around.

Squaring Up

You probably already have all of the tools and supplies you need (and many you don’t, if you’re like most of us!). If you’re just getting started, check out the Basic Tools Skill Builder Post for a guide. Three very essential tools are your self-healing mat, rotary cutter, and acrylic ruler. I believe that when you’re cutting fabric, you should measure with either the ruler OR the mat – never both. I prefer to cut on the plain back of the mat.

You’ll use the ruler to find the straight edge and measure, so the lines on the mat just create confusion and extra work.

That’s my preference – others may prefer to use the lines on the mat. Try it both ways and find what works for you.

Place the fabric on the mat, making sure the edge you will be cutting is completely ON the mat, not hanging off an edge. Cutting off the edge of the mat not only causes skips in the fabric, it can permanently damage your blade. Place the ruler on the fabric so the cut edge of the fabric extends past the edge for the full length of the ruler.

Align a ruler marking with the lightly pressed folded edge of the fabric. That fold is straight and on grain now, so you’ll use that as your guide.

Your first cut will trim the excess, off grain fabric away. If you are left-handed (like me) the part you are trimming away should be to the left of the ruler (above). If you’re right-handed, it should be to the right (below). You’ll switch sides when you start cutting strips for the quilt – this is just for squaring up the edge.

Place your hand on the ruler to hold it firmly in place. If it slips around, you may want to consider adding anti-slip plastic (OmniGrip), adhesive sandpaper dots, or even just a smear of rubber cement (let it dry!) to the back of your ruler. Make sure your fingers are not too close to the cutting edge – that rotary cutter can cause serious damage. Using firm, even pressure at the front edge of the blade, cut the fabric. Think “forward” when you’re cutting, not “down.”

(And here’s the right-handed version:)

You’ve squared up your fabric, and are now ready to cut strips for the blocks.

Charm Pack winners

I tried a new random number generator this time, and the winners are:

Number 14 was LeslieC, who said,

Its a Hoot!, Peas and Carrots, and Faded Memories. Currently juggling several projects, most emphasis on a strip exchange that I’m making into a spools quilt for my studio – design by Edyta Sytar with a few personal tweaks!

Number 16 was Two Hippos, who said,

What great finds! I’m working on a big quilt for my bed and will hopefully baste it in all its largeness tomorrow! Of the charm packs, my favorites are It’s a Hoot, Plume, and Peas & Carrots. Congrats on reaching 2000 comments!

And number 26 was ryan@abigail*ryan, who said:

I hope i’ve been here long enough to be eligible! I love the look of “Plume”, “It’s a hoot” and “Peas and Carrots”. I love the “ugly” green fabric, too…you could get some really cool patterns forming with unusual fussy cutting.

Currently i’m working on a million and one things for abigail*ryan’s new heirloom range- patchwork quilts and cushions…but i’m pretty sure one or two of those will end up having homes at chez a*r 🙂

Winners, I’ll be emailing you for your addresses, and I’ll get the charm packs sent out early next week. Thank you everyone for entering!

TYSS fabrics

So how are you doing with fabric selection? Do you have an idea of the direction you want to go, or are you overwhelmed with choices?

I settled on Navy with Ugly Mustard and Ugly Green, and then I ran into a few snags. First, I don’t have 6 yards of navy fabric! I have more than enough light gray and putty and berry – even a lovely pumpkin color – but no navy. I pulled fabrics from my stash and looked it over, and finally decided to stick with my original color scheme. Tonight I ran out to Hobby Lobby and picked up the Kona Navy that I wanted. Here’s the navy with my first round of fabric picks:

Initial Fabrics

There’s a lot of fabric here! I won’t use all of these, but because I have such a (ridiculously) large stash, I usually pull more than I need and then thin it down. I grab a few fabrics that might not work, just to see what happens. Some go back on the shelf, but some bring a little extra interest and I keep them in. I need to mull over these for a couple of days, and I’ll show you what I eventually end up with.

Elizabeth (no blog) has chosen to go with a red, black and white theme, and is waiting for her Kona Rich Red to arrive. Meanwhile, she asked this question:

Now I hate to prewash, and I’ve had good experiences with the Shout color catcher, but I don’t want to be foolish, either. I’ll test a sample, and I’d love input. Have you, or anyone reading this, had red fabrics bleed even with a color catcher?

I’ve had good luck with the Color Catchers, but I haven’t worked with a red and white quilt. Testing is a very good idea! There are special products you wash the fabric with before using to fix the dyes (Retayne) and then to keep any remaining loose dye from migrating to other areas of your quilt (Synthrapol).

Take a moment to share your fabric choices or questions, and any advice you have for Elizabeth!

Edited to add: Jeanne over at Grey Cat Quilts just pointed out that has a bunch of Kona solids on sale for $4.66 to $5.85 a yard.

Test Your Skills Sampler Fabric Requirements

Okay, admit it, you just said, “FINALLY!” It’s okay, so did I.

Test Your Skills Sampler FINAL (for real this time!)

The sampler will finish at 70″ x 86″. Your fabric requirements are as follows:

Background: 5 1/2 yards minimum
I recommend 6 yards just to be safe. If your background is anything other than white, you may want to get an extra yard in case of emergency. You don’t want to find out you need more two months from now and end up with fabric from a different dye lot. Trust me, just because it’s the same name doesn’t mean the color will be identical.

Blocks: Total of 2 yards assorted fabric
If you want to match the layout of the illustration exactly, you need:
Aqua – 1/2 yard
Purple – 3/8 yard
Pink – 3/8 yard
Orange – 3/8 yard
Green – 3/8 yard
Yellow – 3/8 yard

If you’re comfortable being less organized with the fabrics, you can choose 10 – 12 fat quarters or a variety of scraps instead.

I do not recommend precuts (jelly rolls, charm packs, layer cakes, etc.) for this project. You might be able to do some of the blocks this way, but the overall quilt isn’t really precut friendly.

Binding: 3/4 yard

Backing: 6 yards
You can get away with 5 1/2 yards if you’re good at piecing backings, but 6 is easier. You may also choose to do a pieced back with extra fabrics, additional blocks, etc. I find that this sort of pieced back adds interest and saves fabric. I often create a pieced back with two main fabrics and a row of extra blocks set between the two.

As I said in an earlier post, I recommend you check out the fabric selection posts from the Skill Builder Series.
Skill Builder Series: Part 2A – Fabric (Sandi)
Skill Builder Series: Part 2A – Fabric (Jeanne)
Skill Builder Series: Part 2B – Fabric (Sandi)
Skill Builder Series: Part 2B – Fabric (Jeanne)
Skill Builder Series: Part 3C – The Use of Neutrals (Jeanne)
Skill Builders Series Part 5 – Fabric Fundamentals

Don’t forget to include your background fabric when you consider the value of your fabrics. A medium background can create a striking quilt, but you will need to select your block fabrics more carefully. Look for more darks and lights and fewer mediums.

Although the sample is shown in solids, most of the blocks are large enough to handle even a medium scale print, and all of them can handle a small scale print. Tone on tone fabrics (those that have prints in the same color as the background) will look fantastic. Be adventurous! This isn’t about making a perfect quilt, it’s about expanding your skills and having something to show for it later. Check out the Quilting Skill Builder Series group on Flickr and share your progress photos! I’ll also put a bunch of EQ mock ups out there for inspiration.

Here are some PDF coloring sheets for your use. I created a blank one, of course, but you may prefer one of the others if you’re using medium or dark background fabric. Click on the images to open the PDFs.

Finally, you have a pretty good sense of how much time and work Jeanne and I have put into this sampler and the Skill Builder Series, and we ask that you honor our respective copyrights. We’d love for you to tell people about it, but please direct them to our blogs rather than printing out information and sharing it. You’re welcome to use the instructions to create quilts for anything except commercial production.

If you have any questions about fabric or color choices, we’re here to help! Leave a comment and I’ll do my best to get back to you quickly. Remember, though, that this is about YOUR quilt, and your aesthetic. Value is important, but everything else is fairly subjective. Trust yourself!

Test Your Skills Sampler Intro part 86

So you know how I said the sampler design was set, finished, absolutely DONE? Well, I lied. I changed something. As I was prepping the Test Your Skills Sampler page, I realized that I had almost no QST practice blocks, so I had to make a few tiny changes to the design. And you know, I think it looks better. The large Nine Patch blocks have been switched to Ohio Star blocks and I think the lighter, pointier blocks improve the flow of the quilt. Well, that’s my story, anyway… So here’s the final, no more revisions by me (until next time) Test Your Skills Sampler:

Test Your Skills Sampler FINAL (for real this time!)

I’ve created a button so if you’re participating or even just following along, you’re welcome to share this on your blog.

Test Your Skills Sampler
<div align="center"><a href=" " title="Test Your Skills Sampler" target="_blank"><img src="" alt="Test Your Skills Sampler" style="border:none;" /></a></div>

The button links to the Test Your Skills Sampler page, which is a sub page of the Skill Builder Series page (hover your mouse over the Skill Builder link at the top of the screen and the Test Your Skills Sampler link will appear below it). Check out that page – it lists the order that we’ll make the blocks. As we accomplish each one, I’ll add a link to the appropriate TYSS post.

The fabric info will post in two minutes…