I’ve been cutting out several projects and this is what the edge of my cutting table looks like:
Oops! Looks like it’s time for me to do some sorting and organizing again. Does this happen to you? Since I’ve been looking at this pile all week, I figured I would do a blog post about the essential quilting tool… fabric! Besides the pattern, that’s where it all starts. If you don’t have fabric, you don’t have a quilt. Well, at least not a traditional quilt! Here’s my random musings on fabric stashes, my thoughts on choosing background fabrics and some ideas on color and print contrast.
As a scrap quilter, I like to have a stash of fabrics of many different sizes, from strips up to half yards. Of course I do often buy fabrics in 1 and 2 yard cuts for backgrounds, but I have been known to scrap piece my backgrounds too. Here’s how I store my smaller cuts of fabric in one of my cabinets:
Most of them are actually in there when not stacked on my counter. I have the tubs labels with size and color. This makes it easy for me to “shop” my stash. As those of you who are familiar with my quilt patterns know, I collect a stash and chose fabrics for my projects from there instead of shopping specific lines. So, when people ask me “what fabric is that in this quilt?” Sometimes I do not know unless I still have some left and I can refer to the printing on the selvage.
So now on to how I fill these tubs:
I will often shop the pre-cuts when I am in a quilt shop to stock my tubs but, if I really like a particular color print fabric, I buy a one yard cut. Then it’s time to cut it up into my own “pre-cuts”. I cut that yard piece in half for two half yards.
In the last photo, you will see I have folded up one of the half yards to store away in my tub of red 1/2 yards.
Next, I cut the remaining half yard in half on the fold to make two fat quarters. Like with the half yards, I fold up one of the fat quarters and store it in the fat quarter red bin.
Finally, I cut the remaining fat quarter in half to make two fat eights. Because fat eights are so small when folded and are hard to store that way, I roll those as I show below (photo on right).
Now, if I don’t want two fat eights of that particular color, I will cut that last fat eight into 2 1/2″ and 1 1/2″ strips. That’s what I will be doing with that mess on my cutting table… cutting it into strips.
And how do I store strips? In these tubs below that are shallow and divided with acid free cardboard.
I like these shallow tubs because they are easy to stack and store in one of my cabinets. As you can see, they are labeled with the color and size strips inside.
The reason I keep only 2 1/2″ and 1 1/2″ strips is because those are the sizes I use the most, especially for scrappy blocks and for bindings. However, you can use these shallow tubs for any size strips you collect. These can even be set up to store charm squares and even layer cakes, if you collect those.
Choosing Fabric for Backgrounds and Playing with Contrast
Something I don’t see covered a lot when people talk about how to choose fabric, is how to choose the fabrics for your background. Whether it’s for sashing, borders or for the background in the blocks themselves, the fabric you choose can make a big difference.
Here’s some things to consider. First, dark background or a light background? Here’s an example of the same quilt pattern made up with the two different backgrounds:
With the lighter background, the whole motif is more subdued and subtle. When you choose a black or dark background, that gives you the opportunity to choose colors for the appliqué motif that are brighter and will “pop” off the background. It makes the quilt more vibrant. Amazing that you can change the look of the same quilt with just the background choice.
Another consideration is the print on the background fabric. If you want the background fabric to fade into the background, you choose a subtle, small print. If you want a bold background, you can choose one with a larger print. However, when choosing prints for your background, you need to consider the prints on the other fabrics in the block.
Here’s an example. I chose these three fabrics for a block:
Now I paired them with 3 different backgrounds of various print size:
The background on the left has a large, bold print that I feel will clash with the prints in the color print fabrics. If you want to use this background, I recommend choosing color prints with less prominent prints. Recognize that the background fabric will be the “star” in your quilt with such a bold print so make sure that is your intention.
The middle photo has background fabric that is a little better with a more subtle and blended print and, finally, the background fabric in the last photo has a smaller print that’s even more subtle so it does not clash with the large prints of the color fabrics. That’s probably the background fabric I would choose for my blocks.
Here’s an example in two blocks that shows how the print sizes on the fabrics play together.
In the photo on the left, the prints on the background fabric and the color prints are about the same size so no particular fabric stands out. To create more contrast, for the block on the right I chose color print fabrics with different size prints. I also made the middle color print darker to create more contrast so the larger print on the purple fabric doesn’t completely overwhelm the block.
How about changing the background within the quilt by having blocks with contrasting backgrounds? Here’s an example:
I alternated between a light background and a dark background for the blocks. And I also changed the star points within the blocks to the opposite of the block’s background. Lots of interesting contrast in my quilt, Marbles & Jacks!
So, that’s some of my random thoughts on fabric as the essential quilting tool. Share your thoughts below in the comments for a chance to win the Marbles & Jacks pattern above. The drawing will be on Monday, November 7th. **We have a winner! Congrats, Debbie!**