I get a lot of email. I mean, A LOT! And it's a good thing, because I love the sense of connection around this planet of ours, the feeling of community and sharing with each other different ways of looking at different things.
In those emails come a lot of questions that I have given thought to, simply because they were asked. I never realized that there are so many "in the box" quilters who are afraid of doing a scrappy quilt. Some have "color combo phobias" they aren't comfortable with. Some only want to do things that match the decorating in their home, because they think they can't display something that "clashes" with the rest of the house. Many have an aversion to one color or another or in combining certain colors together or even crossing fabric lines or eras as in civil war repros and 1930's fabrics one with another.
I have been asked how I come up with the palettes for my quilts. Honestly? I never thought I *HAD* a distinguishable pallet! Most often its of the "Kitchen Sink" variety, which means anything and everything is thrown in, with attention just paid to the value....the light, medium or dark of the fabric.
The other kind....IS about the color, but also the value. Mostly I sew with what I think looks good to my own eyes. I'm not highly influenced by the "home dec" industry and what the manufacturers tell us are the "IN" colors now, throwing out the old and having to replace it with all new.
When choosing fabrics for any scrap quilt I start by going through my precut strips and squares or bricks first. If there isn't enough there..I move onto the Fat Quarters..then the yardage....I'm always trying to clear out at least "some" old stuff while working in some new stuff to give the old stuff new life.
When a pattern comes your way, your first glance is at the yardage requirements at the top of the page. Don't stop there! Look further down the page and see what size units you are to cut from your yardage. That is a huge clue to me what I can use that is already sliced up in my scrap bins. If the blocks finish at 8" and are based on a 2" finished grid for instance, I know that I can perhaps use up 2.5" cut squares or bricks in there, or cut triangles from strips with my easy angle ruler, etc.
I'm usually not paying too much attention to which is the prettiest, or which is what fabric line or manufacturer. I even cross genres, putting 30's prints with batiks and civil wars with brights and mixing everything up. Throw in some solids! Throw in some recycled fabric from repurposed clothing! When it comes down to it, it's just FABRIC. It all works together.
I'm looking for basically one or both of two things...color and/or contrast.
- Geometrics: stripes, plaids, dots
- Odd balls (Old stuff from the 80s and 90s to add interest)
- Even some novelty prints sewn in so it becomes an I spy....(oh look...there are cows!)
- Definately throw in some uglies...they make your pretty ones look better! (Besides, you want them out of the stash anyway..sew them into something!)
- Zinger colors. Remember that Sesame Street song "One of these things is NOT like the others". I love those. They hold my interest. They can turn the humdrum to WOW! (I see a lot of these weird color combos in antique Amish quilts and am very inspired by them.)
When I am working with a color, I usually want shadings of that color from light to dark. If I pick blues it will go from a light blue to a dark navy, and usually it will slightly blur the color lines...going from a grey-blue to a green-blue to a purple-blue. This adds depth to the surface of the quilt.
My backgrounds are usually multi-fabric backgrounds. If I run out of something, I just substitute something else and that goes for all of the above too. Mix up the backgrounds! I try to stay away from "just" white on white because even if it is many white on white prints..it still reads flat to me. It's all the same shade of white then, right? It needs more interest!
Working this way gives me a quilt that I never get tired of working on or looking at long after it is finished. I love seeing how all the fabrics come together and play with each other. Just the other day I found myself sewing a 1990's print with geese on it to a new civil war reproduction fabric. The overall effect is wonderful! (It's in the Double Delight quilt at the top of this page.)
Besides, I love looking at these old scraps and remembering what they were originally sewn into. My children's lives and memories of the past nearly 30 years are wrapped up in my scraps. I love revisiting those memories every day. When you work with older fabrics, instead of thinking "Oh man, this is SO outdated!" Allow yourself to wander back in time. Embrace those "uglies" for their place in your own history!
How to guage how much yardage I need for a project....
If I know the rough finished size of the quilt..I can guestimate how many yards it takes for backing. That helps me figure out that the yardage needed for the front of the quilt will be at least 25% more yardage than the back, due to the seam allowances in the front. The more pieces, the smaller the pieces, the more fabric is eaten up in the seams..so plan accordingly.
If a quilt takes 6 yards for backing...I plan roughly 8 yards for the top to be safe. Sometimes it's too much and I have left overs, sometimes I have to add more, but I go with a rough guestimate. So far I've never gotten to the point where I couldn't subsitute one fabric for one I've run out of, or gone with a different border than I had planned on. Sometimes a spontaneous design challenge can get our creative juices flowing.
As far as running to the store to buy something? That's a last case scenario for me. But saying that, I'd rather go buy something that I was going to sew up NOW on a project I'm finishing..than buy something that will sit in my closet for 5 years without a purpose. (Which is what happens if I binge-buy!)
I've got more fabric than I can possibly use in a lifetime. And with each piece I have brought home from the quilt shop over the past nearly 30 years comes the privilege of using that fabric. You bought it. You have the right to sew with it! I love to have my fabrics find a purpose and a place in a quilt, so when I do need to go buy more, there is no guilt associated with it! *LOL* I love the quilt shops, and I support them as much as I can through patterns, books, notions, gift items, you name it. But I will sew with the fabric I have in my stash already before I buy something that doesn't yet have a purpose and will sit there in my shelves for many years before I decide it's time to clear it out because it got old!
I look at it this way...is it our job to keep the shoe store open by buying more shoes than we ever can wear in a life time, with shoes we've still never worn stacking up in our sewing rooms until we can't see the floor or shut our cupboards? "The shoe store might close, so I better buy more shoes even if I don't like the color, and don't know which outfit they are going to go in but simplybecause they are on SALE?"
Just turn it around. USE your fabric, and buy more when you need it, and use it as you buy it. Make more QUILTS!
Most of all...have fun with your fabric. The old and the new, the gorgeous and the ugly and the down right boring. Remember, it's FABRIC. Be an equal opportunity fabric user and let those scrap quilts pull it all together!