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 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.

Fabric choices link

Jeanne and I will be adding two more Skill Builder Posts later this week (Diamond in Squares and 60 degree Triangles). I’m writing and sewing and photographing now, in fact. However, I wanted to share a link with you. Chrissy from Snappy Stitches just wrote a phenomenal post about color choices. She purchased a fat quarter bundle of Hullabaloo and felt that it needed something extra. In this post she explains how she divided the bundle into three groups and chose an additional solid to go with each. She includes photos of her evaluations and explains what she likes and what she doesn’t. It’s a great “hands on” example! It also illustrates something that I didn’t mention in the Skill Builder posts – value can be relative. The same fabric may appear dark in one group of fabric, medium in another group, and even light in a third group. It all depends on the fabrics it’s paired with.

PM/GC Quilts Skill Builder Series: Part 2B – Fabric

Welcome to the second half of our Skill Builder posts on Fabric Selection. This post will focus more on how to choose fabrics for a project. Jeanne at Grey Cat Quilts and I have split up some of the topics so be sure to check out her post as well.

One of the biggest challenges I hear from quilters, online and in person, is that they are not sure how to put fabrics together. What if they don’t go together? What if the quilt looks bad? Instead of taking a chance, many decide it’s safer to choose just three or four fabrics from the same line. They go together, right? And that’s what you want, right? Well, not necessarily.

Quilt fabric choices fall into a couple of different categories. I think of them as planned (limited fabrics from a single line or carefully selected), planned scrappy (large selection of fabrics in a limited color palette, not necessarily from the same fabric line) and scrappy (anything goes, the more the better).  My quilts generally fall into the planned scrappy group, although I’ve made all three. They all have their advantages. A planned quilt is more formal. This quilt, based on the pattern Mosaic Magic from the December 2006 issue of McCall’s Quilting, uses only eight different fabrics.

Meandering Paths

The next is a planned scrappy quilt, and has over 30 different fabrics. Because they are in a very restricted color palette, it still has a planned look, hence “planned scrappy.” The greatest advantage to this sort of quilt is that you don’t have to worry about having enough of a particular piece of fabric – you can just grab a different fabric in about the same color and keep piecing. This kind of quilt is great for the fabric stasher, as you can just shop from what you already have. I am most attracted to this sort of quilt because I think it has a liveliness that a more strictly planned quilt often doesn’t.

Barn Raising Stars

Finally, here are some string blocks from my UFO pile:

String blocks 2

There are hundreds of different fabrics in the blocks, and if I ever put the thing together it will be chaotic and fun. The advantage to scrappy quilts is their freedom. Forget color theory, just grab a bag of scraps and start sewing. It’s a great way to clean out your scrap bin.

You see a lot of scrappy string quilts, but any design can be scrappy. The only thing you need to think about is value placement. The design will be visible as long as the relative lightness and darkness of the fabrics is evident – but more on that later.

Color Inspiration

Here’s a phrase that some quilters find intimidating: “Color Theory.” Color Theory starts with the color wheel and introduces some guidelines about how colors relate to one another on the color wheel. Jeanne is explaining color theory in detail, so I’m not going to comment too much on that, but here are several free online color tools that can help you make use of color theory.

Color Scheme Designer – Drag the dot around the color wheel to your first hue (color, like blue, green, red, etc.). Click on the Adjust Scheme tab beneath the color wheel. Drag the dots on the two grids to adjust saturation/brightness (imagine adding black or gray to the main color, resulting in a dusty, grayish blue vs. a royal blue, for example) and contrast (widen or narrow the range of colors in the palette it provides). Above the color wheel you can choose different combinations of colors (monochromatic, analogous, complimentary, etc.) and it will display the results for you. In other words, you might start with blue, change the saturation/brightness so it is a little grayed, then choose Analogic and it will display six blues, six purples and six greens. This is a very easy to use Color Theory tool.

Color Wizard – Like the Color Scheme Designer, Color Wizard illustrates the different ways of combining colors. However, finding the right starting point is more challenging unless you have a RGB or hex code for your color. You can drag the red, green and blue sliders and then click on the color chips below to refine your selection.

If Color Theory doesn’t interest you, why not take let the professionals do the work for you? Fabric designers know their stuff, and if a print fabric really speaks to you, use it to pull other fabrics. Jeanne will go into greater detail on this one, too.

Other professional designers can help you, too. Home decorating magazines are a great resource. Pay attention to the details. This link takes you to a photo of a room at the Better Homes & Gardens website. It is decorated in shades of blue and white, but notice the touch of orange with the pillow. That orange wasn’t an accident – the designer made a conscious decision to include that color. Here’s another room, again in blues and whites, but this time with a green table. Notice the framed photo above the table – the mat leans a tiny bit toward blue, while the table is a lime green. Look at the stripes in the bedspreads – see the olive? How about the aqua stripes on the pillows? The colors don’t match, but they go together nicely. There’s one more color I want you to notice in the photo – see it? Yep, the oranges aren’t there because the set designer was hungry. That little bit of zing adds to the photo – and your quilt.

Don’t forget to look at advertisements. Old or new, as long as they have color, they have something to offer. Here’s an old Hiram Walker cordial ad with a beautiful collection of orangey pinks, aqua blues and sea greens, and a new ad for Savannah College of Art and Design in a modern palette of mustardy yellow, soft blue, taupe and vibrant orange (hmm… I’m finding a lot of examples in the same colors). The subject of the ad isn’t important, just look at the colors they’re using.

Even your cereal box can provide color inspiration. Look at this page for Kellogg’s Fiber Plus products. Chocolate brown, creamy yellow, and soft aqua, or peachy rose, or gold – any of these would make a beautiful quilt color scheme.

Photo sharing websites are a great place to look for color inspirations, but not in other quilts – look at the photos, especially photos taken by professional or semi-professional photographers. Check out this gorgeous photo, taken a few miles from where I live. I used that photo as an inspiration for my Crossed Kayaks mini quilt.

Mini Kayaks

See the barn red, the soft greens of the frosty grass, the yellow green in the tree, the peachy sky?

I’m most familiar with the photo sharing site called Flickr, but I know there are many others. You do not have to have a Flickr account to look at other people’s photos. In Flickr, photographers can add their photos to groups. When you find a professional looking photo, scroll down and look at the right side of the screen. It says “This photo also appears in…” and is followed by a list of groups that the photograph added the photo to.

That’s a good way to find a group that will have a lot of professional quality photos. You can search for groups that feature specific subjects, even search for individual photos that include tags or descriptions with a particular word. Here’s a quick exercise:

Go to the Flickr page.
In the search bar, type “nature” and click Search.
Scroll down – it shows that there are over 12 million photos with the word “nature.” That’s a lot of inspiration. (You can click on a photo to see it larger.)

If you have a Flickr account, you can use the Color Palette Generator tool by Big Huge Labs. (You can use it without a Flickr account, but only on your own photos.) You will need to link to your Flickr account, and then you can choose photos from your photostream or from your favorites. It will create a palette of fifteen colors from the photo. You do not get to choose the colors and if the photo is mostly one color (blue sky, for example) the generated palette can have an overwhelming amount of that color.

My favorite color palette generating tool is Toucan, from Aviary. You can use photos from Flickr, Tumblr, Picasa, Facebook, any URL or by uploading your own photos. With Toucan you choose a photo, then use the eyedropper tool to select colors. You are in control of the colors, not the software. I talked about Toucan in greater detail, including how to use it, on a previous post.

The earlier post also talked about design seeds, a blog that posts several color palettes every day that are inspired by photos. In addition to this blog, there are several color palette sites that allow people to share their color combos. Check out Color Schemer Gallery and Kuler to start.

Fabric Selection

Okay, now that you’ve gone blind from reading all of that text about color choices, let’s get to the fun part. FABRIC!

Some people like to start with fabric and then choose a design, some start with the design and then choose fabric. I’m a design first kind of person, although occasionally I’ll see a fabric that makes we want to find a project for it. As you’ve seen, I love my EQ7. I like to draw the quilt in EQ7 first, then start playing with virtual colors and fabrics. I described the process a bit in my Double Wedding Ring decision post. That’s just the first step, though. Once I decide on the colors, I still have to choose the actual fabric. This is an illustration of the Double Wedding Ring colorway I chose:

Dusk Double Wedding Ring

By the way, this is called an Analogous color palette, which means the colors are next to one another on the color wheel. The blues, greens and soft purples are set off by the darker purples of the rings, and the pinkish purples at the intersection of the rings.

These are the fabrics I chose:

I have a range of purples, blues and green in mostly light to medium values. The rings will be constructed of a variety of purples, although I threw a blue in there just for the heck of it. As I said before, I like a lot of different fabrics in my quilts.

Here’s the more important photo, however:

The back row shows the light fabrics that I chose for the quilt. The front row is a the fabrics I pulled but decided NOT to include. From left to right, here’s why I eliminated the fabrics:
1. Aqua with dark dot – Too bright. The fabrics I chose are softer, slightly grayed.
2. Small blue floral print – I didn’t like the quality of the fabric.
3. Medium scale light blue floral – WAY too bright and clear.
4. Light aqua circles and dots – The color is right for this, but the pattern was too distinct. I wanted the fabrics to blend together, like watercolor.
5. Aqua tone on tone with small stars – I could have used this in the quilt, but I had a lot of aquas and green already and I wanted to stay more in the blue range.
6. Darker gray/blue – This also probably could have gone in, although again the print is a little too distinctive.
7. Aqua floral tone on tone – Again, this would have worked, but I already had similar fabrics.
8. Light olive acorn print – Too brown.
9. Aqua with white flowers – Print is too distinctive.
10. Small scale blue print – Quality of the fabric wasn’t as good.
11. Greenish check – The check was too distinctive.
12. Periwinkle blue paisley – Well, that one just JUMPS out of the photo, and it would have jumped out of the quilt, too. That wasn’t the feel I wanted in this quilt.
13. Pale blue polka dot – Too light with the white polka dots.
14. Green on cream floral – Too mottled looking, not blendy enough.

As for the fabrics I did choose, you can see that colors range from a soft lilac to gray blue, to blue, to aqua and finally to green. I chose a narrower variety of values ranging from medium light to medium dark. I didn’t want a lot of light fabrics in this quilt, although there are one or two that will give me some movement. I’m relying a lot on the darker purple rings to provide the value change.

The DWR quilt is based on a very soft, blended palette. If you look at the Coin Toss quilt (which has turned into a cat hammock on my quilting frame), you can see a lot of the same colors, but with an added oomphf (that’s a technical term, by the way) of bright blue and yellow green.

Coin Toss

Because I wanted some distinction between the fabrics, you can see several fabrics that have noticeable prints.

By the length of this post so far, you’d think that color was the only important consideration when choosing fabric. If you’ll think back to the last Skill Builder Post, however, you’ll remember that value, print and scale are also important.


A quilt without value changes, regardless of the colors, will look a little flat. Remember these two illustrations?

The quilt on the right has more movement with the addition of the yellow fabric not because it’s brighter, but because it’s lighter.

Value is the single most important part of a scrappy quilt – perhaps the single most important part of ANY quilt. Not only does value change create movement in the quilt, you can create all sorts of designs just by watching your value placement. The color of the fabric literally does not matter. Check out this link for photos of quilts that use value to create pattern. If you’re familiar with the traditional log cabin block, you know that it often is made with two sides dark, two sides light. Rotating the blocks gives you literally hundreds of different setting options. My Neapolitan quilt is a variation of a log cabin:

Neapolitan quilt crop

Here are some EQ illustrations of a couple of different settings. They use the same blocks, but by rotating them different patterns emerge because of the placement of the values.

Neapolitan variation 2 Neapolitan Variation 1

Any block that is divided diagonally into light and dark halves can take advantage of these setting options. The red, white and black quilt, above, could become hundreds of different quilts using exactly the same blocks. It’s all about value placement.

Adam Star Adam Diamonds Reversed

Adam Arrows Adam Shadows

Adam Diagonals Adam Diamonds

Adam X

Print and Scale

Most of the illustrations above dealt with fabrics that appear to be essentially a single color (tone on tone, or read as solids). When you use a multi-color print, however, you need to be aware of your companion fabrics. Look at the background of the print fabric – will it blend with the fabrics next to it, making the lines of the quilt design blurry?

Maybe that’s the look you’re going for – remember, this isn’t a right or wrong situation. The point is learning how different fabrics will work together, and deciding whether they will create the look you want to achieve. When it comes to putting fabrics together in your quilt, work with what YOU like. I can give you a thousand different ways to choose fabrics and colors, but the bottom line is that it must speak to YOU.

White, grey and black companion fabrics are very popular right now, but don’t be afraid to try something a little different. Think about how the solid fabric interacts with the colors in the prints. Here it is in navy and red.

See how the red almost blends with the red zigzag lines? Also, the right seems to advance, making the pinwheels red and the “background” the two prints. Even though the navy isn’t present in either of the prints, it provides a solid contrast. Also, it recedes, so the navy is the background and the prints form the pinwheels. That’s important to remember, actually – warm colors tend to advance and cool colors tend to recede. So if you want something in the background, don’t make it a bright orange!

Let’s try some pink options. The first is a pink that is very close to the pink in the prints. The second is much darker, and the third is much lighter.

Again, see how the intensity of the pink changes the way you perceive the pinwheels? The very light pink recedes so the prints form the pinwheels. The dark pink comes forward, and the pink pinwheels are more noticeable than the prints. The medium pink blends more – the pink is about the same shade and depth of tone as the colors in the prints.

You’ll notice I paired these prints with a solid fabric. You can put them with another print that looks solid and get a similar effect. If you’re really bold, you can pair prints with prints. You will not see the pattern of the quilt design when you do this, though, unless the values are extremely different.

Okay, I’m running out of steam here! The four posts between Jeanne and I have covered a lot of info about fabric selection, but is there anything specific we didn’t address that you’d like answered?

PM/GC Quilts Skill Builder Series: Part 2A – Fabric

Welcome to part two of the Piecemeal Quilts/Grey Cat Quilts Skill Builder Series. Be sure to check out Jeanne’s post on this subject as well. We’ve decided to break this into two posts from each of us. Today we’ll post about overall fabric selection (as in, what should I buy for my stash?) and tomorrow or Tuesday we’ll follow with posts about putting fabrics together in a project. Because color and fabric preferences are so subjective, we’ll offer different perspectives. Keep in mind, though, that this is still just two opinions, and there are many, many other ways to look at fabric selection. The information below applies to all fabrics, whether you like traditional or modern. Try not to see the fabrics I chose so much as the points I tried to illustrate.

Some quilters prefer to purchase only what they need for a particular project, and there are definite advantages to that, not the least of which is financial! If you have a limited budget and a limited space, this is definitely the way to go. Other quilters like to purchase fabrics that attract them when they see them, regardless if they have a project in mind. When they do choose a project, they’ll “shop” from their fabric stash. (Or, like many of us, you may buy a whole bunch of fabric for you stash, and then buy more for a project!) If you choose to stash, don’t be like me! I have an enormous stash (this is about 2/3 of the quilting fabric):

Stash Updated

While it is nice to have such a large stash to work from, it also means that I spent a lot of money on fabric that I may never use. My tastes have changed over the years, and I also purchased a lot of fabrics that, while I still like them, don’t lend themselves to the kind of quilts I want to make. While I love all of the fabric I have, I sometimes wish I had planned my stash better.

There are five things I consider when looking at fabric: Color, Value, Print, Scale and Quality.


Many of us gravitate toward certain colors, as you can see from my stash above. I have a lot of reds, blues and greens, not so many yellows, oranges or purples. I lean toward clear colors as opposed to grayed or aged colors, but I have a few of them, too. It’s always more fun to work with colors that appeal to us. Don’t be afraid to add a few fabrics that you aren’t sure you like, though. Sometimes those fabrics that make you squinch your face up a little are exactly what a quilt needs to give it some life.

Remember, when you’re picking fabrics to make a quilt, it isn’t the same as choosing clothing – you don’t have to look good in it. For example, I love this yellow-green sulphur color…

…but there is no way I could ever wear it. I’d look like I was about to vomit. But a little bit added to other colors in a quilt can add interest, as with this purple and aqua combination.

Scattering “odd” fabrics around a quilt helps keep the eye moving, which is a good thing. Odd doesn’t just have to be about color – it is often defined by value, and sometimes by print or scale.


Value is the lightness and darkness of a fabric. When you’re working on a project, different values add “sparkle” to the quilt. The medium value fabrics tend to be more attractive when you’re buying fabric. I really have to push myself to buy lights and darks. They’re boring on the bolt, and I don’t want to think about them because I like pretty fabrics. I have to remind myself that I’m not buying fabric to hang on a wall, I’m buying it to put in a quilt. Value is so much more important than we give it credit for. In fact, I’ve often thought about rearranging my stash so it is sorted primarily by value, then by color.

Value can be difficult to see when you’re comparing two different color fabrics. You can buy red and green transparent plastic tools that help you see the relative value, but you can also use a digital camera that has a black and white setting, by editing a digital photo to black and white, or by printing a photo in black and white.

Looking at this group of fabrics, you might think you have variation in values. The aqua is obviously very different from the two reds.

But when you remove the color and look at just the values, they’re very similar.

Try adding something very dark or very light to broaden the values.

Here are a few more examples:

For this final group, you’d expect that their brightness and concentration of color would be enough, but even very bright fabrics, if they are similar in value, can seem to blend together to the eye.

Although there is a little variation in the values, you basically have three mediums, two slightly darker and one slightly lighter. With a little bit of yellow thrown in…

… you can see a marked difference in the value of the yellow compared to the others. Here’s an EQ7 illustration of a quilt using similar colors, first without the yellow:

As you can see, the orange helps, even viewed in black and white. However, when you add the yellow, the quilt seems a little more vibrant and lively. Your eye skips around the quilt from yellow to yellow.

And the black and white version makes it even more evident:

Look at the two side by side:

The one on the left, while bright, also appears just a little flat, while the one on the right sparkles a little. (I’m having a little trouble finding the right word to describe the effect, so I apologize for all of the “sparkles” and “zings” and such.)


Print isn’t just solids vs. prints. It’s also how you see the fabric from a distance. From 10 feet away, does the print fabric look like a solid or slightly textured single color, or is there a distinct multi-colored pattern to it?

While both of these fabrics are prints, the one on the left, from a distance, would look blue, while the one the right will still look like a print.

One of the survey questions was about fabric choices. The category with the most votes so far is solids and near solids such as shot cotton – about 67% of responders checked that box. The second most popular category, with 65%, is tone on tone fabrics (also referred to as “read as solids”). The advantage to these two categories is that they convey a color rather than a shape or print. This allows your quilt design to show through. As you work with more complex designs or smaller pieces, there’s a real advantage to fabrics that are a single color when viewed from a short distance. The problem is, solids and tone on tone fabrics aren’t as fun to buy. I mean, when you have a choice between a beautiful print and a piece of blue fabric, you naturally gravitate toward the print. They can be more limiting in your quilt, however. I have a lot of multi-color prints in my stash, and I wish I had more tone on tone fabrics.

Think about how directional fabrics will work in your projects before you buy them. Stripes are great fun as binding, especially when you cut your binding strips on the bias. They can be a pain if you’re making half square triangles, however. The stripes don’t always go in the same direction, which bothers some people.


Scale is the size of the print (you should also consider how closely it repeats). Here are fabrics in three different scales.

When you shop, try to keep in mind that you’ll be cutting the fabric into smaller pieces. Think about how they’ll work in a quilt. I like to block off a small area of the fabric with my hands to see what a 2″ square might look like. You can also take along a piece of paper with shapes cut out of it in the size of finished fabric pieces.

Generally speaking, larger scale prints look best if they’re cut in larger pieces. This is not a hard and fast rule, however. If you look at the pinwheels I did in the first Skill Builder post, I used a larger scale print as the background fabric.

Although very large scale prints can be gorgeous, you may find them difficult to work with in a pieced quilt. For example, I absolute adore this fabric.

However, I haven’t a clue how to use it in a pieced quilt. The print is so large that if I tried to use in 2″ or 3″ squares or HSTs, I’d lose the print entirely.

Even 10″ squares or a wide border would lose a lot of the charm of the print. I’ll eventually use it in a quilt back, where I can feature it in a single large piece.


I always suggest buying the best quality fabric that you can afford. That means different things to different people, and I recognize that the economy being the way it is certainly affects our decisions. I’ve found that JoAnn’s is pricing many of their quilting fabrics in the same ballpark or even higher than my local quilt shops. Of course, they regularly discount it as much as 30%. On the other hand, check the clearance shelves of your local quilt shop. It might mean choosing a fabric that isn’t “perfect” but that can be a good thing if it pushes you to work outside your comfort zone. Online fabric stores also regularly have clearance fabrics for prices that are easily in line with chain stores. I picked up some amazing “seconds” at Connecting Threads for less than $2.50 a yard (the bright leaf prints in the photos above), and I frankly can’t see what’s wrong with them.

I admit, I prefer quilt shop quality fabrics. I trust it not to shrink excessively, not to bleed, and not to wear too quickly. Notice, though, that I said quilt shop “quality” fabrics. That doesn’t mean I buy exclusively name brands. I’ve found a few winners at Hobby Lobby and even JoAnn’s. The green and blue prints above are from JoAnn’s, for example. (Although I’m peeved at my local store for sticking the quilting cottons in a corner behind shelves without enough room for two carts to pass. But I digress.) My decision is based on three things – clarity, texture and weight. If the printing is sloppy so the colors overlap and create a muddy look, I won’t buy it no matter how inexpensive it is, because I think it looks cheap. The texture must be smooth and fine, and it must have a substantial weight, not feel flimsy or coarse. If I can see through it, I don’t buy it. This is based on regular quilting cotton fabrics, of course. There are a number of lighter weight fabrics that are becoming quite popular. I haven’t worked with them, so I can’t give an opinion.

Several people responding to the survey reminded me that thrifted fabric is experiencing a resurgence. I’ve seen some beautiful quilts made from vintage sheets, and nothing will match the sentimental value of a quilt made from outgrown or worn out clothes. They’ve also reminded me that cotton is not the only fabric used on quilts. Try other fabrics, but be aware that different types of fabric have different wash and wear properties. Finally, don’t be afraid to create your own fabric with dyes and discharges.


The biggest advantage to precuts, in my mind, is that you can get a lot of different fabrics for a relatively small price. How fun to be able to play with the entire line of a favorite designer!

Another advantage is that they can reduce cutting time. There are a lot of books and patterns that are geared toward precuts, and many fabric companies are encouraging individuals to share their quilt designs based on precuts. When a pattern uses 2 1/2″ strips, having a roll on hand is certainly easier than cutting 40 strips yourself.

There are some definite disadvantages, however. When you figure the price per yard, precuts are often about 25% more expensive than yardage.

Also, fabric lines often have a lot of multicolor, medium to large scale prints, and as noted above, they work together differently than solid and tone on tone fabrics or even smaller scale prints. They can get very busy if you put them all together. That may be the look you’re going for, of course.

Many quilters choose to add solid fabric to break up the large chunks of prints. Right now, white is very popular, as are both light and dark gray. Black can also set off vibrant colors.

Consider other solids, though. Pull colors from the print and find matching solids. Some fabric companies are even producing their own range of solids to match certain lines. You can take it a step further and use a solid that is similar to the colors in the fabric line, but not exactly the same. It gives a bolder, more creative look because it doesn’t blend across the quilt.

Precuts can also encourage you to work strictly within a single line, which sometimes leads to a formulaic looking quilt. Don’t get me wrong – I’ve made them, and I’ll make more! Instead of sticking solely to the precuts, though, consider combining precuts with other fabrics outside the line. As I mentioned above, combining fabrics that do not quite match adds a little zing that can change a quilt from pretty to magical.

You can see that the purple and the orange don’t quite match the colors in the prints, but they are bright, clear colors with similar intensity.

If you enjoy working within a single line, try using yardage instead of precuts. Pick a limited number of fabrics, and try some less “wow” prints. Many lines come in several different colorways, and you don’t have to include every color in your quilt. See how this selection of fabrics has a less frenetic feel than the first photo, which had a lot of large scale prints?


There is no easy answer to the question of how much fabric to buy. It really depends on the quilter. As a general rule, the greater the variety of fabrics you like to put in a single quilt, the smaller your yardage purchases can be. Quilters who like very scrappy projects can make incredible quilts with only fat quarters. If you like a very planned quilt with just four or five fabrics, you need to buy much larger pieces. I tend to purchase a yard or two at a time. If it’s a tone on tone fabric, I buy larger pieces because I know I can use it more easily. If it’s a larger scale print, I get 1 1/2 – 2 yards because I know I’ll probably only use it for a border. Medium scale prints and novelty prints are usually 1/2 yard to 1 yard unless they’re on clearance. Light and dark tone on tones are stockpile fabrics for me – I buy three or four yards, and the same is true for solids. If you happen upon good quality clearance fabrics that are marked way, way down, buy them in large quantities, even if they’re not quite your thing – they make great backs.

There are so many fabric options out there it can get overwhelming. You don’t have to have a project in mind when you purchase fabric, but you should try to keep in mind what kind of projects you plan to work on and try to focus on fabrics that are suitable. Try not to let the pretty ones carry you away – the workhorses are just as important.

Come back on Monday or Tuesday for the second part of the fabric selection post. That one will focus on choosing fabrics for a project, and I’ll extend some of the examples I showed above into quilt block and top illustrations.

If you’ve made it this far, are there any tips you’d like to share? Any questions that I didn’t answer? Let me know!

Be sure to read the second half of the PM/GC Quilts Skill Builder Series: Part 2B – Fabric for information about putting fabrics together in a project.