Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Quilters and Color

Yesterday I had a small group of lady shoppers who were looking for fabric to make pillowcases for pediatric patients at a local hospital--a church project.  Patients range in age from very young to teens.

I made several suggestions, pulling 3 fabrics from the large yardage stacks for sale, and the woman who was clearly in charge turned them all down.  She said repeatedly "I am not a quilter" and "our church ladies wouldn't like that".  Ummm, I thought these were gifts for youngsters, not people somewhat older than me...

This morning I thought about this while doing my 39 minutes on the elliptical trainer.  When done I am a hot, sweaty mess so as I cooled down, I set a timer for 5 minutes and pulled as many sets of 3 fabrics as I could that would make good pillowcases, using only fabric for sale, not opening the closets.  In less than those 5 minutes I had these 8 sets:

Now pillowcases are easy because they only require 3 fabrics, the body, the cuff, and a small accent strip.  I am good at selecting fabric for quilts and I love doing it.  I believe I have gotten good at it because I have taught beginning quiltmakers for almost 30 years--our first class involves helping each student select at least 12 fabrics for the quilt they will make, from the thousands of bolts they see in the shop. My job is to help them find a palette they like, not one I necessarily want to take home.

Over the years I have found the two most difficult things for quiltmakers to learn is:

1. how to pick fabrics that will make a pleasing quilt

2. how to master the dreaded 1/4" seam allowance--I'll discuss that in a later blog post on Perfect Piecing

My nice church lady shopper yesterday was making the two biggest mistakes in selecting fabric:

1. Everything had to MATCH
2. Using the preferences of the maker over that of the recipient

Fabrics that MATCH perfectly in a quilt are, in my opinion, boring.  Fabrics simply have to  "coordinate" or, in layman's terms "go with", the basic "focus" or "theme" fabric, in this case, the body of the pillowcase.   That is why I don't make quilts with only one line of fabric from one designer--new quilters are somehow being taught this is the only "acceptable" way to select fabric.  I am out to change that idea.

Since these pillowcases are intended for children, it is much more important the fabrics appeal to younger people, not those somewhat older than me.  Keep the recipient's desires/preferences in mind when making a fabric gift for someone.  The most difficult commission quilts I've made have been when I didn't like the fabrics.  But it's not about me when I'm making a quilt for someone else, it's about them.

The ladies finally settled on a few pieces, when the one quilter in the group finally had a say in what was selected.  The one in charge was not so sure about those selections.  I, however, am sure they will make great pillowcases...

And these 8 sets?  They will sit out the rest of this week on the "Pillowcase" table and if they don't sell, I'll make pillowcases to donate--win, win!

My advice:  when you see a quilt in a magazine, at a show, online, that you REALLY like, study it to find out what it is that appeals to you most--the colors, the fabric styles, the pattern?  That will help you develop an eye for what YOU like (or the recipient) and you can go forth and make great quilts.

Let's Quilt!



  1. When I first began sewing clothes as a young teen, everything had to match--that's just the way it was done. Plaids or stripes thrown together with a floral? No way!! Now, years later as a quilter, everything can be put together in one quilt and it is that variety of fabric, color and scale that can make a quilt sing.

  2. I love what you have to say. I'm wondering if the one lady was really a sewer. Pillowcases for young people who are sick should be bright fun and cherrful. This is all just my opinion. Hugs,

  3. You will have some great pillowcases there--and I recognize a few of those "aged" fabrics from my own quilts. : )


  4. Excellent blog post, Barbara. Excellent advise that will certainly help many in making better selections.

  5. Yes, wonderful advice. I usually catch myself choosing fabrics that I like, instead of thinking what the recipient would like, lol. As a whole, design rules have changed over the years, in many aspects. Once upon a time, everything had to match. Now, many people accept coordinating and even (gasp) contrasting fabrics. I love how you said you are "out to change that" matching ideology. Next thing you know, we will be wearing white after Labor Day (lol. And, that will be just A-OK :)

  6. Color lessons over the years....
    #1. I do not have to love every piece of fabric or color in a quilt but I wont' work with one I hate. That includes certain shades of yellow and green.
    #2. When "helping" someone else pick colors have them start with a fabric they love!... Then work from that. They do not always wind up with the starting fabric but its a good indication of their choice and not mine.
    3. Don't second guess myself in the middle of the project. Just go for it.

  7. Great post, Barbara! Matchy + Matchy = BORING! The church lady missed out. I still struggle with fabric selection; but, I am getting better at least picking what I like rather than what should work!