5 Tricks For Choosing The Right Quilt Fabric

by | Apr 27, 2021

The Problem: You Love The Pattern, But The Fabrics Just Aren’t Coming Together

Sometimes you see a quilt pattern and just know immediately what fabrics you want to use for it. Congratulations! That’s amazing! On the other hand…sometimes you love a pattern but when you try to picture different fabrics, you hate every idea you come up with. If you think it’s just you, you couldn’t be more wrong. This happens to me all the time! Sometimes I find myself banging my head against the same wall over and over and nothing is falling into place. Which is when I know it’s time to back up and pick up some tried and true tools to help me find that perfect palette. Let’s walk through some of my favorites.

Trick #1: Trust The Experts

If I’ve already been staring at a quilt for a while with no inspiration, I like to start with the absolute easiest strategy first: Trust The Experts. There are hundreds and hundreds of fabric designers and fabric shop owners whose number one job and expertise is combining fabrics!

When I’m feeling stuck, I pop into a few of my favorite online pattern shops and start browsing fabric bundles.

There are three big benefits to this strategy:

  • Let’s be honest… the biggest benefit is that it’s easy. You can scroll until you stumble upon something that makes your gut say “Yes! That one! That one is going to look stunning.”
  • Fabric shopping online can be tricky. Computer screens display color differently. When you go with a bundle or kit that a shop owner has curated, you know that they’ve looked at the fabrics together in normal lighting and that they actually go together.
  • You get to support a small business, which supports the quilting community as a whole.

For the baby version of my Modern Flight quilt (grab your copy HERE), I was experiencing this exact type of fabric fatigue. I knew I wanted something soft and dreamy, but not too pink-on-pink. The harder I tried, the less everything I plugged into my design program seemed to click. So I popped over to Elizabeth Bolten Studio’s website and started scrolling fabric bundles. Within a few minutes, I saw her ‘Prairie Sky’ bundle (pictured) made up of soft Art Gallery Fabric fabrics and immediately loved it. I picked one of the bundle colors to use as the background (because I knew it coordinated!) and used most of the other fabrics for my diamonds. You can see the baby quilt here. It’s not 100% my usual range of fabrics and relying on Elizabeth’s eye let me branch out into a new fabric direction with confidence.

Here are a few of my favorite online fabric shops to get you started!

Trick #2: Look For Inspiration Outside Fabric

Think about the kinds of images you are drawn to and where you find them. Do you have a favorite home or design magazine to page through? Or a print hanging in your living room that you just love? Pick an image you like and look at the color palette within that image. Then try pulling those colors together for your quilt. I love this one because even if I don’t end up finding fabrics for this quilt, I get to spend time looking at art and design that I love and that recharges my batteries!

Trick #3: Focus on Contrast and Variety

Matt and I are currently binge watching all of the seasons of Ink Master. (Bear with me… I promise this is relevant.) If you’re not familiar with the show, it’s a competition where tattoo artists go through weekly challenges and eliminations until one tattoo artist remains and wins the title of ‘Ink Master.’ It turns out that tattoo design is a lot like quilt design. It’s all about layout and shapes and color choices and precise execution. At the end of each challenge, the contestants are critiqued on their work. And one of the most consistent comments is about contrast. If a tattoo has a lot of contrast, the design pops and feels alive. If there isn’t enough contrast, it feels flat and washed out.

The same is true for a quilt. Bright, bold colors lose their vibrance if they’re not paired with some neutrals. Too many small-scale prints next to one another fade into one blur. Instead, focus on having a variety of colors or hues (bold versus neutral versions of colors) or scales of prints. Don’t feel like you need a variety of all three! Sometimes a pop of a single large-scale black and white print thrown in with all your bold, bright fabrics can change the entire dynamic of your quilt.  

Trick #4: Shop Your Scraps and Stash

How do fabrics end up in your scrap bins or sitting on your shelves? Because you saw them and couldn’t NOT buy them, right? Perfect…you have fabric to start with that you know you like. Now we just have to narrow things down to the perfect mix. To do that, let’s focus on contrast again. Pull some similar fabrics. Maybe a few fat quarters from a favorite designer or a pile of scraps in two differnet colors. Now let’s look for something that provides a contrast to those.

For this exercise, I pulled out a bunch of bright fat quarters and scraps in pinks oranges. Most are by Alison Glass so they have a similar brightness and tone and go together naturally. I decided to add variety and contrast by adding a new color and some fabrics from other designers. I went back to my stash and pulled a range of yellow fabrics. In this group, I intentionally included some other designers that use more muted tones. You can see from the photos above that when I added these to the first batch of fabrics, they got more interesting. I’m going to pair these with a light, low-volume background fabric for a bright, summery picnic quilt!

Trick #5: Mix Textures

If you’re just feeling bored with your fabrics, try something with a new texture to mix it up! If you’ve never held a linen quilt fresh and crinkly from the dryer, now is the time. My favorite linen collection right now is Forage Fabric Collection by Anna Graham. This collection already has a variety of scale and color and the linen texture rounds out the variety you want. 

Not ready for linens? Try mixing solids with prints (like in my Modern Flight baby quilt above!).

Love solids but ready for some variety? Try peppered cottons or shot cottons!

Look at the fabric you usually love and then ask yourself: What’s to the left and right of this? 

The Bottom Line

As with so many creative problems we run into, it helps to step back and open our eyes to the world around us. Creativity feeds on inspiration that comes from outside of ourselves. Use these tips to help direct you to resources outside yourself that can breathe new life into your creativity and help you create a quilt you love.

Happy Quilting!

– Kate

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