Sunday, April 16, 2006


I recently received a wonderful e-mail from a quilter who's been playing around improvisationally. She asked the following questions, which I'm going to attempt to answer. Anyone who can help me with answers, esp differing opinions, please leave a comment.

My biggest question for you is how do you plan the colors/fabric choices for a quilt like your Blue and White houses? And how do you know how much fabric you need? I have started on a lap-sized housing project made from leftovers, supplemented with a few fat quarters here and there, but I’m worried it will look too scrappy, that I’ll over buy, or that I’ll run out of a fabric that I want to use again. I guess these are the risks you take when doing a liberated project. I’d love to see you share your opinions on planning fabric choices for a liberated project (yardage, as well as number of different fabrics) in your directions or on your blog.

Okay, here goes.

As far as I'm concerned a quilt cannot be "too scrappy." The more fabrics you have the better they play together. One of my absolute favorite books is Scrap Quilts by Roberta Horton which looks like it's out of print. (Why does this happen to my favorite books? At least you can get it used for very reasonable prices - act now before it's too late.) Roberta addresses questions like how many fabrics do you need in a scrap quilt (no upper limit and she shows an example of an 11-print quilt that she considers scrappy).

I don't plan what fabrics I'm going to use, necessarily. I'll decide on a color scheme, or perhaps a focus fabric and gather together all the fabrics I have in those colors. (Again Scrap Quilts is a wonderful book to help with this step.) I start with all of them and then toss some aside because they don't work well with the other fabrics I have in the pile. And sometimes I'll have many fabrics that look similar (like all those tonal, hand-dyed-ish fabrics I have) and I won't need to use each of them.

As I work, depending on what colors or fabrics the quilt seems to need I'll add fabrics back in or buy some new ones. I also frequently will end up with many that never get used at all. There's no exact science to it.

Picking fabrics for a quilt like Blue and White Houses is easier than a quilt with many different colors. You know you need just two colors: Blue and white. Have to admit I have a problem with lights, so I had to force myself to use the lighter tones of blue - the quilt really needed them and they do look good in there. What I didn't use was fabrics where the blue seemed to have too much green in it. It had to be true blue.

One fabulous fabric-type to look for if you're making a monochromatic quilt is the kind that uses one color, starting out at its lightest tone at one selvage and getting progressively darker until the other selvage. I noticed an ad for Moda Ombres which would work well. (I found the Moda Ombres at this shop, which I've never used and is in no way an endorsement. But they do have quite the collection of them.) Other manufacturers have done some that run even darker to even lighter than these Modas appear to.

I never know how much fabric I need. It's always a surprise. If I like a fabric, I'll buy a quarter yard or a 1/3 yard, which is actually a great size. Really like it will bump me up to a half yard. Love it = 1 yard. Love love love love it and I know it's something I can use in many different quilts (such as my gorgeous hand-dyed Bali Fabrications batiks) then I may buy 2 or 3 yards. I don't necessarily buy fabrics ahead of time for borders, tho it has happened.

Having said that, I'm more discriminating in what I buy now cuz I have such a large stash. So my threshold of liking a fabric has changed from where it was several years ago. I rarely buy novelty or busy fabrics any more. My tastes have changed.

I have a huge tendency to overbuy. I still buy fabric for quilts that I've already finished. It's a curse (tho I'm improving). I can't help you out with that particular question. It's not a problem so long as you love the fabrics and those colors and can use them in other quilts - that's how you get a stash. Overbuying fabrics for a quilt in colors you'll never use again.... Trade, sell, or donate extra is my recommendation there.

Unfortunately it's entirely possible to run out of a fabric. I bought the orangey-yellow fabric that surrounds the Pumpkin Pie letters during my trip to Florida. At the time I thought it was rather obnoxious, but interesting, so I only got a 1/4 yard. Got it home, washed it and discovered that I love how it feels. More importantly, I love how it worked with the other colors. It's almost all gone now. I have a few short strips and squares and that's it. That's what happens. There's no way around it unless you have unlimited funding and storage space.

So in the end, I guess what it comes down to is: buy fabric you love. Don't worry about running out - just accept that it's gonna happen. You can always buy more fabric (just maybe not the same one). Too many fabrics in one quilt is not a problem...

Does that help?


Jan said...

Excellent advice, Tonya!

Sharon said...

Great advice, Tonya - my sentiments exactly. The one thing that I always add, though, when I am making a really really scrappy quilt, and I don't want to plan how much or how many pieces of different fabrics is one largish piece in the color range so I can make sure it gets scattered here and there if I need to.

And it's not a BAD thing to run out of fabric - someone once told me it's a design opportunity!

Finn said...

ok..give me a hand up from the floor here...LOL..really, really a great answer Ton !

Like Roberta says, a quilt could have 50 fabrics and not look scrappy, and another could have 11 and be a scrap quilt. Much is in the eye of the beholder, as well as the maker.
When I read the comment, my first impression is that she was hoping for a formula or "recipe". I think, as with great cooks, working without specific measurements is what gives a creative spark...more to some than others.
If we can lay aside the rules and worries about running out, or having left overs, we're one step my opinion. And maybe to also forget to worry about whatsome else will think of our effort.
Love the Egypt pics!! Yes, definite Mona Lisa smile...*VBS*

Judy said...

Great explanation Tonya, I'll throw in a few cents of advice too. First, I have ordered from The Glass Thimble before and they were great, everything came quickly and was exactly what I ordered...also not an endorsement, but just putting that out there. I would order from them again..those ombres look really good!*VBG*

I've made 2 completely "improvisational quilts", the first being Cafe au Lait that you can see at my blog, or not, and I did about the same thing Tonya said she did. I picked a group of related and just got about 1/2 yard of each. While I was designing I bought a few extra and added them in, then started sewing the sections and blocks seeing what looked good and then what worked with any block that was near. For example, I didn't want black in two blocks side by side. About 1/2 way through the top I needed something new to spice it up and ordered a few new ones from online that really added extra zip. I do have left overs, but I just cut them in strips and use them in scrap quilts. If it's a big piece that I can use in another quilt I will put it back into the stash. If I run out, I search all over the internet for it, otherwise just find something equally as great. Oh, I also buy 1/3 yard pieces for my stash. I think fat quarters are cool but you never get a full long piece that you get with 1/3 yards. Besides, most FQ's are $2.25 and that makes the fabric $10.00 a yard, when they might sell it at $8.50 off the bolt. Better value.

Hope that helps!

ForestJane said...

Very good advice!

I've had great luck ordering fabric from e-bay... getting FQ's for $1 each or less, including shipping.

Tonya, if I were rich enough, I'd have been VERY tempted to get one strand of EACH of those beads hanging in the background, then make something like an 'under the sea' treasure chest kind of quilt. Fishies with little beaded scales, a real coral colored beaded coral reef, etc. :)

lois r. said...

Tonya, thank you for your excellent answer and for opening it up to the others for more great advice. Each of your tidbits and the tidbits of your commenters is so helpful. I'm a newbie, so I just don't have the experience, confidence, or stash to feel really prepared for this yet.

I have several large scraps (slightly larger than FQ) of fabric left over from a gift quilt made for a dear friend. I decided to make the group of fabrics (greens, reds, blacks, and creams) the focus of the quilt. My goal is to come away from this quilt with a reminder of my dear friend, the quilt I made for her, and nothing more than snippets of the original fabrics. I'm well on my way.

Thank you all for your advice!

Anonymous said...

Fantastic advice Tonya - should be in a book!