I can’t count how many times I have been asked “how do you choose the fabric for your quilts?”. Most of the questions are about color and print and how to choose the right ones. So, below I will share some of my insights and hopefully those will help you in choosing fabric for your next project!
Tip #1: As a beginning quilter, your first instinct will be “I want the fabric used in the quilt in the pattern photo.” However, that is often not possible. Quilts for publications and books are usually made 6 months to a year before you see the finished product. Those fabrics are most likely are not available any more. So, my advice is to choose the fabric by the color, not the exact fabric you see in the photo.
Here’s an example. The fabric on the left is the original fabric in a quilt I wanted to reproduce. However, that fabric was not to be found anywhere, so I chose the fabric on the right.
Notice how I stuck with the similar scale in print and similar shade of red. This fabric will “read” like the original fabric!
Tip#2: Try to pick prints that don’t battle with each other but are diverse enough to keep the eye moving over your quilt. I like to pick prints with different scales, but not too drastic of a size difference. Some small, some medium and some a little bigger. But, if I have one fabric that has a very large scale print, I keep the other fabrics on the smaller scale so they compliment the larger scale fabric instead of fighting with it.
So here are the fabrics that are of a range print scale:
They are not exactly the same print size… and that helps to give your quilt a personality. Imagine if all the fabrics in your quilt had the print of the green fabric. It would be a little more “ho hum” than if you used the stack above.
Now here is the example of having one fabric with a large scale and picking fabrics that compliment that fabric:
Notice how I drew the colors out of the large scale print fabric to round out my fabric selection. But also, notice how the fabrics I chose have different scales of prints…. just not as large as the focus fabric.
Tip #3: Contrast. You may have a pattern that requires you to pick 15 fabrics: 5 light, 5 medium and 5 dark. Contrast is another way to make your quilt design stand out. Pick out a stack of fabrics and sort them into the above categories. You will notice where you place a fabric is relative to the other fabrics. That’s the fun! For example, this blue could be considered “dark”:
…. but, when I pull out the next blue fabric, look what happens:
The first fabric now is a “medium” or “light” instead of a dark fabric. As you can see, it’s all relative! This next photo shows the the stacks of light, medium and dark that I picked for a project:
You want a range of fabrics of different shades. If you make your quilt from fabrics of all the same shades, like all light, it may not highlight your design as well as if you have a variation of shades.
Tip #4: Audition fabrics for a quilt by picking them out and laying them on a table in a well lit area. Then stand back and look. If a fabric sticks out (and not in a good way), pull it out and replace it with another. Keep doing that until you are happy with your array of fabrics.
Here’s a stack that I auditioned for a quilt.
So, that’s a few of my tips. But if you still have trouble picking out fabrics, there’s always help at your local quilt shop. Take the pattern with you and they’ll be happy to help you.
Let me know if you have additional questions on picking fabric. I’ll see if I can answer them. Like anything, practice will make you better at choosing. I look at some of my older quilts and notice how “flat” they look compared to ones I make today. It shows that I’ve improved my skill of choosing fabrics.
Happy Fabric Shopping and Quilting!
Nanette Chopin Cook says
I just love your tips! When I started I always did 2 or 3 color quilts – Now I am working with changing some of that with Reproductions, but still have difficult time with random selection!
So glad I can help!
Dort Werner says
I would spend hours in a quilt shop pulling bolts and putting with others to find the right match. Then I took the lazy way out when I could and would buy the kit!! Now I can walk in the quilt shop with a little more confidence!
Kate Hansen says
I like how you mentioned picking prints that don’t battle with each other. My sister will be giving birth to her baby in a couple of months, and I want to make a quilt for her and I want to make sure that I can choose the right fabric. I’ll make sure to keep these tips in mind as I search for fabric to make the quilt for her baby.