Quilting tips and advice

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quilted ironing mat

I have been a quilter for nearly 30 years, and have made some quilts I am quite proud of.  I have also made some quilts that were better suited for a dog bed or to be used as a quilted ironing mat.  Why?  Because I did not do a good job choosing the fabrics for the quilts, either based on putting fabrics together, fabrics that were too busy close together or fabrics that just did not show up well in a quilt.  As time has passed and I have quilted the years away, I have learned a whole lot about choosing the fabrics that I use for a quilt.  Here are some tips that should help you in choosing fabrics to quilt with or even just to sew, craft or decorate with:

  1. A full set of fabrics from one quilt designer is called a colorway.  I make many quilts with a fabric designer’s colorways, as a way to show off all of their fabrics.  If you do this, make sure you choose colorways that have dark, medium and light fabrics.  It is very difficult to make a colorific quilt with all the same shade of fabrics.
  2. Work in batches of three.  For instance, choose your quilt pattern that you would like to use.  Then, choose three fabrics that will really show off the quilt block details.  Try choosing a dark, medium and light to begin with.  Once you have your three main fabrics chosen, you can just stick with them for the entire quilt, or you can find more fabrics that are in the same color tone as your three original fabrics.
  3. Never choose your fabrics based on fluorescent lighting.  If the store or shop you are in does not have any natural light, take the bolts outside to see what the color really is.  Florescent lighting adds a green hue to everything!
  4. A wonderful tip I learned in cosmetology college years ago was that all color is either based with red or green.  I suggest you put two fabrics together, one with a red-based hue and one with a green-based hue and then you will really be able to see the difference.  You do not want to mix the hues of fabrics up.  If you choose a main fabric (called focus fabric) for your quilt project in a red hue, make sure the other fabrics you choose also have a red hue.
  5. Try to choose fabrics with varying degrees of the printed pattern on it, i.e. large flowers, medium leaves, small accents.
  6. If you are unsure of fabrics, buy just a fat quarter (18” x 22”) of it and take it home and make a sample block.  If it looks good, go back and buy more.   If it does not have the desired effect you are searching for, at least you have not spent a lot of money with a lot of fabric you cannot use.
  7. I always buy at least one-half of a yard of fabric more than a quilt requires.  Many times if you run out of the fabric, the store or shop has also run out or there is a slight variance in the colors.  By having a little extra on-hand, you can rest assured that if you mess up a cut or have an issue, you will have enough fabric to fix it.  If you do not use it all, either keep it for your fabric stash or use it for the backing of your quilt.
  8. If you are choosing fabric for a specific recipient, keep their tastes in mind.  Research has shown that babies see black, red and white first so although it is fun to match a quilt to a nursery design, explore the purpose of your quilt.  If you are making a quilt for a man, does he really want big flowers in it and does he want pink in it?  Know your subject!
  9. Be sure to open a bolt of fabric up so you can at least see a whole yard of it.  Sometimes a repeated pattern needs to be seen in large quantities to see all of the details of the fabric pattern.  An example would be I purchased fabric for a quilt without opening the bolt up, and when I got home I realized it had little birds in it.  I was fine with it, but I probably would not have chosen it for myself if I had known it contained birds.
  10. Beginning quilters should never purchase symmetrical and geometric fabrics such as straight stripes, lined-up dots or ginghams.  If you are not experienced in cutting fabrics, your lines will likely go crooked and you will end up with a quilt that looks funny because your lines are not straight.  If you do choose this type of fabric, you will probably need to fussy-cut (cut one piece at a time with scissors) your fabric so your lines run straight.

I hope these fabric color tips will help you make a beautiful quilt, worthy of showing off to friends and family.  If you would like more information on quilting, please visit my blog at http://www.QuiltTherapy.com or if you are interested in beginner-friendly quilt patterns, visit my website at http://www.BOMquilts.com.

Quilt On!

Tammy Harrison is a wife, mother of four children (still in school) and passionate quilter.  You can email her at info@bomquilts.com.

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