27 February, 2015

Talking Quilts... Picking Fabric

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.


elle said...

Excellent post! I so agree with you. I just luv putting together groupings and how freeing to know that the fun of grouping doesn't necessarily mean I 'have to' make it. Just pure joy and then some extra pleasure when they actually make the cuddle crowd. It is all good!!! btw, backs have sure come a long way from 'just put plain muslin on the back. Every time I look at my first sampler I want to rip the back off!!! lol

Sandi Whitford said...

Wonderful thoughts and musings! I can so see me. I still have trouble with picking fabric for a quilt but normally it is because I have so many quilt ideas that I want to use the same fabric in. So I get stuck in analysis paralysis! "Just do it!" I keep saying. I am still new to this and think I just need to have more patience.

Anonymous said...

Hi Cheryl, love this post. I was once that girl who started with a main fabric and then matched to it lol. It was what I was taught at my quilt class. Now I never do that and look back at my first quilt and think if I'd only known. But we need to start somewhere and I have no quilty friends except for all these wonderful blogs. So through reading blog posts and seeing other people's work in progress I have learned a lot. Thank you for sharing your own thoughts and being a virtual teacher. Kimberly

felicity said...

Yes! That multicolour large scale print was "the boss" and then you matched other colours to the boss.

Most definitely the fun part is the shopping of the stash to come up with just the right combo. I also find that part difficult - too much to choose from, so much precious fabric that can be deployed only in the Perfect Project. I set myself a personal goal this year to Just Use It Already. It's not really bringing me joy when it's all folded up on the shelf.

I recently used a favourite large scale print on the back of a quilt that I knew I was making just for me and I now love that quilt even more.

audrey said...

Really great post! I love playing with fabrics and shopping my stash {first} is an absolute with me. Always a great challenge to make something wonderful out of what I've already brought home.:)

lindaroo said...

I wondered why those big, multi-colored, matching borders bothered me, and now I know. Thanks for helping us figure out this stuff!

roxi said...

Very timely post today Cheryl! After the "internet dress" took the cyber world by storm today, it has me freeking out about colour? What colour did you see ? I saw gold & white & it does have me questioning ??

Suzanne said...

My take away nugget is to make practice blocks in the fabric pulled. I like that idea a lot.

Beth said...

My very first attempt at making a quilt I bought a fat quarter bundle and used just those fabrics. Now I love picking fabrics. The problem is that I have about 10 years of projects already stashed in my drawers, and closet, and basement. LOL

The Farmhouse Quilter said...

I struggle with choosing fabric mostly because of my lack of confidence in doing so. I know what looks nice though..so I agree...it just takes time and practice. Thanks.

Ashley Calder said...

Love this! I have stacks of "quilts to be" (aka, pulled fabrics) in my stash. I love leafing through them, rearranging, moving some pieces out of one stack, maybe into another. There's nothing quite as nice as wonderful quilting cotton.

Andrea R said...

I *love* posts like this because I also tend to think hard about the entire process. I share a quilt stash with my mom, and for years she bought fabric with no rhyme or reason. If it was on sale and she liked it, she bought it.

I occasionally added my own - partly fabrics I could not resist (very small quantities) and party fabrics for specific projects.

So, we have a very unwieldy stash. I've been sorting and focusing and planning multiple quilts (the list topped 40) and doing as much as possible from stash. Since the first of the year, with focus and lists, I've made a top a week, including 2 completely finished baby quilts. And and unplanned Daydream from "Sunday Morning Quilts". ;)

This week I ordered all the fabrics needed to complete most of those on my list and some client quilts and declared the the husband that I was SO DONE buying fabric for a while.

(Well, until Tula Pink's Elizabeth line come out, because that is pretty irresistible and all for me..)

But after THAT. I swear. So done. :D

p.s. - my mom moved into a smaller place which is why most of the stash is at my house and she's really cut back on buying. She focuses on scrap quilts, so as I do tops, I toss scraps in the bin and send her a bagful every so often. She gets her new fabric that way or revisits old friends. Win-win for both of us!

Cathy L said...

This is a great post. I am trying to build a stash and sometimes I'm afraid of buying just one fabric I love because I worry that it won't fit in with other things and fabric is expensive! I also see so many bloggers making quilts from quilt lines or quilt bundles so it makes me wonder if I should be buying more from a certain line. Your post makes me feel a little more comfortable to just buy single fabrics I love. Thanks!

Lauren said...

Hot damn, I knew I liked you!
I just have to learn that it's not quitting if you put a pulled stack back into the stash.

house on hill road said...

Between this post and your newsletter this weekend, I am inspired to reorganize my entire stash. Must be done!

charlotte said...

Great post. I like the idea of taking an ugly fabric and making it play nice with others from my stash. I think I'm going to try that.