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Choosing Fabrics for a Quilt

Remember this stack of fabric?  They are for a quilt for my son’s bed.

Although I sew quite a bit, I am not a quilter.  I am lucky enough to have a mom who is a very talented quilter.  She has taught quilt classes for years.  And it’s always so tempting to let her “help” me… with her accurate seams and points.  And her flare for color and fabrics.  Her talent for color is quite wonderful.

But this time, I want it to be my own project.

Choosing fabrics for a quilt is more than just putting together a stack of fabrics that you love.  And knowing this, I called my mom and asked her for her best advice in choosing the fabrics for Ben’s quilt.

She stressed that she really doesn’t believe in hard and fast rules.  She thinks rules are often meant to be broken.  But that said, these are the precepts that guide her creative process:

1.  Start with a fabric that you love.  This can be a starting point to build the rest of your fabric collection around.

2.  Choose fabric that have contrast in:

  • Color value- the degree of light and dark
  • Scale of the print – large and small
  • Intensity
  • Color

3.  Every quilt should have “blender” fabrics.  These are the fabrics that might not be as exciting, but they work to harmonize the rest of the fabrics.  A blender may be a fabric that has all the colors in the quilt.  It may be a “chameleon” fabric that looks good with all the other fabrics.

4.  Every quilt needs a few “zinger” fabrics.  These are those intense, maybe unpredictable fabrics that really stand out.  A zinger to me maybe isn’t to you.  Let your own style guide what you choose.

5.  She tries never to make a quilt using fabrics from the same collection.  The fabrics may be harmonious, but the quilt will often feel predictable.  She loves to bring in fabrics that are unexpected.

6.  Once you have your fabrics.  Stack them together.  Stand back and look at the fabrics as a whole.  What do you need?  More light?  More dark?  More contrast?  Now is the time to add what you need to the quilt.

7.  My mom usually waits to buy her sashing.  She makes some of her blocks, and then chooses a sashing, by laying the blocks on her top choices.  A sashing can change the whole look of your quilt dramatically.

8.  She follows the same process when choosing her border.  Once the whole quilt is put together, she chooses the border.  Again the border can have a dramatic impact on the look of the quilt.

I know my mom would say, let your own style be your guide.  Do what you love.  In the end the quilt be yours, not your teacher’s or your friend’s or the quilter’s from the quilt shop, or even your mother’s, it is yours and you are the one who must love it.  Choose fabrics that make you happy.

My mom shared this quote with me, that I want to pass along:

How much piecin’ a quilt is like livin’ a life! You can give the same kind of pieces to two persons, and one will make a “nine-patch” and one’ll make a “wild goose chase, ” and there will be two quilts made out of the same kind of pieces, and jest as different as they can be. And that is jest the way with livin’. The Lord sends us the pieces, but we cut them out and put ‘em together pretty much to suit ourselves, and there’s a heap more in the cuttin’ out and the sewin’ than there is in the caliker.  -Eliza Calvert Hall in “Aunt Jane of Kentucky”

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10 Responses to “Choosing Fabrics for a Quilt”

  • Katie:

    It’s kinda strange that you wrote a post about quilting today. It’s like you wrote it just for me…I have been thinking about making my first quilt but didn’t know how to start or pick my fabrics. Thanks so much for writing this, it made my day : )

  • I love fabric, and I am a wannabe quilter. I have just finished a quilt for my daughter using fabric and colors from her wedding. The mistake I made was using ALL zinger fabrics! I have taken a few classes but obviously paid no heed to the rule about looking at the “motion” of the fabric, and fabric does have motion.
    Thank you the great advice and tips, I’ll keep reading.

    P.S. Can’t wait to see what you make for your son.

  • Lori:

    I just went to a quilt class this week with a good friend of mine. We are both beginners and really enjoyed the little tips and tricks we learned about cutting and sewing. I loved your mom’s advice though about the different fabrics and colors. That is why I started this, I love fabric and love how different patterns and colors come so beautifully together (and a little ric-rac on a quilt doesn’t hurt either)! Thanks for sharing the quote and all of these helpful tips Calli! Good luck with Ben’s quilt! I can’t wait to see how it turns out!!!

  • Your quilt will turn out so great. I love what you have already. Great advice, I agree 100 percent! Especially the choosin’ what you love and what makes you happy. That’s the great thing about quilting – the possibilities are endless! I love the quote you had at the end here. Thanks for sharing!

  • That is a fabulous stack of fabric! I’m terrible at picking out fabrics for quilts and I’m trying to finish a quilt for my daughter. I think the ‘zinger’ is what is lacking I’ll have to see what I can find.

  • [...] who can benefit from the lessons I’m learning from my mom as I make a quilt for my son.  Choosing fabrics was the first in my series of posts on beginning [...]

  • Dannielle:

    Hi Thanks for the tutorial! I am an artist and sew pretty well , but have not quilted. So like you I am trying to
    learn. Dannielle

  • Sandy:

    Is there a computer program that allows quilters of pick fabrics and view them in a pattern before purchasing the fabric?

    • Melissa Faulkner:

      Block Fab -HD is an app I downloaded on my iPad where you can see different patterns with different colors.

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