Tuesday, January 22, 2013

helpful fabrics

So, I know that lots of folks have trouble choosing fabrics for a sewing project.  I'm often asked for advice on this subject, but I'm really not sure how to give it.  I think this is mostly a trial and error game, because it's so personal and so nuanced.

That said, I was reminded this last week that I have lots of help.  Yes, I have lots and lots of helpful fabrics.  Let's talk about that.

choosing fabrics

Helpful fabrics are...

Present.  So, whether you have to go to the fabric store and play color schemes there or you are lucky enough to have a stash of sorts at home, either way you have to play with physical fabric to get very far.  When making a bundle like I did last Monday, I pull out and put away so many fabrics (sometimes the same ones over and over again).  It's seeing them together that allows me to make a decision.  And, whenever possible, I do this in natural lighting so everything shines true.

Simple.  When mixing fabrics from different collections, you're mixing art from different artists.  The more personality a fabric holds, the less likely it is to blend with ease.  Really helpful fabrics are often geometrics - dots, stripes, interlocking patterns, etc.  In contrast, floral prints can easily fall into categories (vintage, abstract, super-detailed, etc.) that don't always merge well.  And, novelty prints (birds, bathtubs, bears) take personality to a whole new level, usually requiring that a fabric assortment be designed entirely around them.

One-color.  The fewer colors in any given print, the more versatile it will be.  That's why people are often buying "textures" or "basics" that feature one color paired with a neutral.  And, when you find yourself smitten with a geometric basic print that's available in lots of shades, it can be smart to invest in all the shades.  Or, to be more precise, all the shades that you like and do not already have plenty of "basics" in at home. 

In 2012 I was pretty good about buying mainly helpful prints.  In fact, my stack of "multi-color" prints is waning.  And, when I notice a hole in my fabric color palette (like emerald green, at the moment), I buy a few one-color simple prints to fill that hole so that I have a stocked palette on hand.

Take a look at the fabrics I included in my assortment last week.  See how most of them are "helpful fabrics"?

Fabric Playtime

After putting this together, I realized I wanted to add some low volume prints in ivory and pale gray to my future quilt, neither of which I have much of in my stash.  Shopping around, I discovered a lovely taupe stripe called Ostara by Dear Stella at Intrepid Thread.  It's sandwhiched between the colorful prints in the photo below.  I've already used almost the entire half yard in my work.  I should have ordered more!

from Intrepid Thread

I also ordered these three Kukla prints, which I've had my eye on for some time.  These are decidedly unhelpful prints, with lots of color and personality.  But, I've been sketching ideas for a Scandinavian motifs quilt.  I think these colorful prints will fit in nicely.  Plus, since they are small scale, they're realistic for quilting.

Ok, I hope that was a teeny bit useful for some.  Bottom line is keep trying and be free to love what you love!  Fabric wants to have fun. 

20 comments:

  1. Very useful! I think I will forward this to a friend that is interested in getting started with quilting.

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  2. Seems this is a current issue.
    My all time favourite fabric is a helpful one Joel Dewbury herringbone.
    I have it in 4 colourways, it's a great binder too x

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  3. Love this post! For so long, I bought fabric with tons of "personality," but they are still sitting in my stash. I find myself now choosing more helpful fabrics - so much more versatile!

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  4. I love how you've explained this. I tend to buy lots of bold multi's those are the ones I pine after, and they definitely need lots of helpful fabrics around them! My friend Emily has created a term for those multi's - "Bossy fabrics" and they certainly are bossy! :)

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  5. This is exactly how I "work" too!
    When I first started buying fabrics, I was usually buying "unhelpful" fabric and then I realised I wasn't using those precisely because they were hard to mix with more basics fabric.

    Very wise advice to buy more than one color when you love a print :)

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  6. Very good advise here. I try and buy more helpful fabrics, but I always have trouble since I'm naturally more drawn to bolder, unhelpful prints. if only those beautiful multi-color prints weren't so tempting!

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  7. I think in addition to playing with your fabrics, you have to make things too. I find that a fabrics characteristics change as their transformed through the quilting process. I'm inexperienced enough that I'll get nervous at each step, afraid I will ruin in some way what I love in that instant. Fortunately, I'm finding my instincts point me to my personal aesthetic fairly well on their own. I'm learning not to overthink too!

    Ha! That's a whole paragraph that contradicts itself, but it does reflect what I think is an organic part of quilting for me.

    I also found my stash lacking in low-volume neutrals after I plowed through all the ones that happened to come as side notes in bundles I've bought along the way. I'm making up for it though. Yesterday I found myself at my LQS with only one fabric of ten being a bright print I couldn't resist. I'm starting to feel like my stash is getting to the right size. I can work from it and compensate for the holes that I have while I'm waiting for the right fabric to come along.

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  8. I agree entirely, and yet not: I normally buy neutral fabrics. But I have, much to my surprise, found mysel using the same very bold fabrics, with lots of colours and movement in so many different projects, because they fit into so many of these projects precisely due to the versatility of the many colours in them. And the fact that their personality change in different settings.

    Did that even make any sense to anybody but me??

    I tend to buy so many safe fabrics that my stash sometimes bores me until that bossy fabric comes along :) But I find it very hard to buy them. For instance Anna Maria Horne and Kaffe Fasset fabrics scare me :)) Yeah, very mature, I know...

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    1. Haha, funny! I'm so glad you shared your twist. Yes, we do have to step out sometimes with those bossy fabrics. In a sense, they are the beginning and the helpers are just the supporting players.

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  9. I love hearing how people come up with their fabric combos. Jacey once told me to try pairing things that you think don't work together, and seriously, this has been so helpful to me! I have had fun experimenting with things that I don't think go very well initially, and am delightfully surprised by the result!

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    1. Oh, thanks for sharing, Valerie! What fun advice.

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  10. Thank you - almost all my favorite prints are big bold prints, and that might be part of the problem I'm having whenever I try to choose fabrics for a project.

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  11. I've been using prints from the same collection to make quilts in the past and only started mixing/pairing fabrics from different lines recently and it's not easy with my limited stash! (mostly bold prints and a minimal amount of helpful prints). I've always love seeing how you'd pick fabrics for your projects and thank you for sharing this useful info with us!

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  12. So helpful, I know when I started building my stash I bought the bright, bold prints and thought the quieter prints/solids were boring. Now I buy the quieter prints and solids as I have found that is what balances those louder prints.

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  13. Too funny. I was just thinking about a post like this. Your writing is so good!

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  14. Very Helpful, this is an email I saved to read when I had time to soak in the info and I pinned it for future resources.. Thank you

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  15. I love stashing posts like this! Thank you for sharing! I think your advice of buying helpful fabrics added with keeping and open mind to love what you love will lead to a great stash! :-)

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  16. I know this post is from back in February, but is it possible that you still know the name/manufacturer of one of the fabrics in your top photo? It's the light blue fabric in the bottom row, with a funky sort of check pattern in it. I think I've seen it elsewhere in a mushroom or taupe color but I haven't found the manufacturer name! Thanks. :)

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    1. I think you're after a print from Chicopee by Denyse Schmidt!

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