There was once a girl who only bought fabric as she made a quilt. She only bought the fabric she needed for that particular quilt. I know this to be true because I worked with her for ten years. At first I thought she was kidding. I mean, how is that even possible? But as I watched her make quilts I did not see her stash grow. It was amazing.
I am so not that girl.
Frankly, I was buying fabric at quilts shops long before I even quilted. I could sew and I would buy little fat quarters under the pre tense of making napkins with them. I did, once. They were really, really bad napkins in an odd shape because all I did was turn under the edges to hem the fat quarter. But oh, that fabric!
Fabric is probably the reason 95% of us quilt. Yes, there is the making aspect. But it is the fabric that brought us to our glorious making. And it is the fabric that gets us most excited, provides a level of frustration, and where most of our money gets spent. Fabric is awesome.
Pulling fabric for a new quilt is one of my top treats in the quilt making process. I've been known to pull fabric just because. A little shopping in my stash to create a random pile of fabric itching to become a quilt. Sometimes all its dreams are fulfilled. I find just the right inspiration, block, pattern, or concept and the quilt comes into being. Sometimes the fabric lingers or hovers on the edge of the scene (the closet shelves) slowly being picked through for other projects until I eventually return all the pieces to their rightful colour stacks.
Having a large stash makes this all possible. Never will I add up how much money I've spent on fabric, but I think it is safe to say that if I were to never buy fabric again and quilt for another 30 years I'd likely still have fabric left over. It means I always shop at home first. And usually only. Fabric buying involves getting something new that I love, just for the sake of loving it. Or picking up enough yardage for a backing or something specific for a binding. My stash fits in one normal size closet, with a tiny bit spilling over into scraps bins or the quilts under construction/batting closet. Gone are the days when it fit under a bed in a plastic bin.
When I started quilting nearly 17 years ago the advice du jour when picking a palette for your quilt was to find a large scale print you liked for the colours, then pick coordinating fabric for your blocks, add a little zinger of a border around your blocks, and make a big border of that large scale print. I still see that in action all the time. When I give trunk shows at guild meetings I will take a quilt in the room that I see made that way and fold away the large scale border to show quilters the difference in the quilt. Those large scale prints are often quite gorgeous, but they are doing nothing for the quilt. And all that piecing the quilter did is lost to the large scale border. So let them be your guide for picking fabrics, then set it aside or put it on the back. And if you are worried about the quilt being too small now, make more blocks. Or use whatever background fabric you have to be the border now.
Looking back on my childhood I've realized that I was destined to be a quilter. It wasn't the sewing of the barbie dresses or winning the Home Ec award in grade 8. It was my constant reorganization of my colouring supplies. One day it was rainbow, the next I was making colour combinations. I wrote my notes in colour order and obsessed over 4 colour pens. It was not acceptable to me to have a single box of jumbled up colours. This wasn't OCD, this was playing with colour.
Picking fabric is also playing with colour. Play being the key word there. No one is saying your piles of fabric have to become anything. Pick and repick, dig through your stash and challenge yourself to make a certain ugly fabric play nicely with others, get lost in interpreting a store window through your stash.
For some quilters picking fabric is stressful and hard. I feel for you. Getting to the point of fearlessness and confidence in fabric selection is no different than being comfortable with free motion quilting. It takes time. And practice.
The only way to gain confidence in fabric selection is to just do it. Read or take classes in colour theory, learn about value, stop obsessing over whether this particular green is the same as the green in that fabric, step away from the pre cuts. Pull fabric for the sake of pulling fabric. Leave the bundle be for a little while then put it all away and start again. Make practice blocks in your fabric pull before launching into a full quilt. Ask for advice and actually listen. It should never cause stress, only joy. It should bring excitement and possibly induce a little bit of drooling.
If you've got the inspiration, now you pick the fabric. Fabric is awesome and the root of what we quilters do.
This is the second post in a monthly series on all the steps of making a quilt. Musings and thoughts on the process.