Fabric prints can present a challenge to many quilters, but can also be fun to play with. I thought about that this week while I was going through my fabric stash picking out fabrics for my next project. At times I come across a piece of fabric with an unusual print and wonder… why did I buy that? and how will I use it? I’m going to talk about fabric prints in this post, including how to use them to their advantage in your quilt. Let’s get started.
The prints in a fabric make a difference. I like to pick prints based on where on the quilt I’d like to draw attention. If I want to emphasize a border, I choose a larger print. If I want a part of a block or the quilt to be more of a backdrop, I use a smaller print. That’s sort of a simplistic explanation so I will show some examples coming up.
Here are three fabrics of the same color with different types of prints
Three pink fabrics, but with very different looks based on the print scale and size. The fabric on the left has a small print, printed closely all over the fabric. The center fabric as a print that is a little larger but it’s more spread out, which makes it a bit less prominent. Finally, the fabric on the right has a very large print.
I would not use these fabrics the same in making a quilt. The fabric on the far right will definitely be the “star” where ever you put it in the quilt. It would make a great border. If you chose to use it in a block, it would need to be paired with a solid or a very small print fabric for a background fabric so as not to clash with it or distract from it. Here’s what I am talking about:
Which fabric would you pair with that pink print? Of course, the one on the left makes the most sense because it fades into the background and won’t upstage the pink fabric at all. The one on the right doesn’t look bad though. The grey looks good with pink and the print is a different scale. This would tone down the effect of the pink fabric and if that’s your goal, that would be a good choice.
Here’s an example using blocks from one of my quilts.
Where does your eye go in each block? The block on the left is very harmonious. My eye may be drawn more to the dark blue star points because it has a more subtle, spaced print and it’s not a light shade. But that might be it. Now, the block on the right as more print contrast. The big print on the purple fabric helps to draw your eye outward. See what a print difference can do?
Finally, a background fabric print can make a big difference.
The background fabric on the left is a large, bold print that I feel will probably clash with the prints in the color print fabrics. Recognize that this 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 works a bit better with the color prints because of a more subtle print even though it’s still prominent.
Finally, the background fabric in the last photo has a smaller print that’s more subtle due to the tone on tone color scheme and the smaller scale of the print. Because of this, it does not clash with any of the prints of the color fabrics and truly acts as a background.
Sometimes, a fabric will have a print that goes in a single direction. You’ll hear these fabrics referred to as “directional prints”. Directional print fabrics can present a challenge and, many times, quilters will shy away from using them. But don’t be afraid of using these types of fabric. It can actually be fun to play with directional prints.
How do you identify a directional print? A fabric has a directional print, sometimes referred to as a “one-way” print, when there is a clear up or down to the pattern on the fabric. Here are a couple of examples of directional prints:
Notice in the fabrics above, the print runs in one direction so it would look different in a quilt block based on how it was pieced into it. Compare the two above fabrics with the two below:
The design on the above fabrics are considered not directional because which ever way you turn the fabric, the print looks the same. You can see it clearly in the fabric on the left. The “starburst” design is symmetrical and looks the same no matter which direction you turn it.
There can be one-way, two-way, three-way and even four-way directional print designs. If I use a directional fabric and want the design to all go in the same direction within the block, I try to stick with a directional fabric that isn’t too complicated.
So that’s it for this week. Next week, I’ll share tips on how to use directional prints when making some simple block units. Leave a comment or ask questions below. See you next week!