Fabric-selection tips! + 40% off quilt books

Posted by on October 29, 2012, in quilting & sewing, ,

How long does it take you to choose fabrics for a project—several hours? Days? Are you still deciding and you’ll get back to us?

Tammy KellyWhen choosing fabric for quilting seems overwhelming, try the following ideas from Tammy Kelly, excerpted from her book Snowball Quilts. You’ll find tips about everything from selecting fabrics that add movement to how much to buy when you don’t have a project in mind. Of course it might still take awhile to do your shopping, but Tammy’s ideas can help you sort out the options and enjoy the process.

Many quilters find that fabric selection is their greatest challenge. This is the aspect of quilting I love the most. However, I do spend a considerable amount of time choosing fabrics. It’s not uncommon for me to spend a couple of hours at the fabric shop making my initial selection for a project, and then go home and make additional changes by incorporating pieces from my own stash.

I prefer using many fabrics. For example, in “It Talked to Me,” I could have used just one green fabric in the Snowball-block corners. Instead, I chose four different green fabrics, which added visual interest.

It Talked to Me
“It Talked to Me”

I chose several different black fabrics for the connecting blocks of “Marching Band in the Pines” for the same reason.

Marching Band in the Pines
“Marching Band in the Pines”

People often ask how much they should get when they come across a fabric they like but don’t have a specific project in mind. My answer is ⅓ to ½ yard. This may seem less than what you’d imagine, but I prefer using a lot of different fabrics instead of a lot of the same fabrics. Now, if it’s a focus fabric, I may purchase 1½ yards so that I have enough for the border.

When I find a bolt I like, I lay my fingers on the fabric so they form a square or triangle. That way I can see how the fabric will look when cut up into smaller pieces.

Of course, I tend to gravitate toward the fabrics that I like, such as batiks. Batiks tend to be priced a little higher than printed cloth, so I’m careful about spending. But again, I usually get only ½ yard, so it isn’t a large expenditure.

I also enjoy fabrics with unusual patterns. Spirals, coils, and swirls all have movement, which I feel enhance my designs. Stripes can also be counted on for outstanding results.

Stripes and Geometrics from Snowball Quilts
Stripes and geometrics create movement and excitement.

Below, you can see the effects of a uniquely striped fabric in the extraordinary border of “Pink Lemonade.”

Pink Lemonade
“Pink Lemonade”

Brights and metallics are also good choices and will almost always produce something outstanding.

I try to avoid being too “matchy” when I’m selecting fabrics for a specific project. I’ve found that I’m often disappointed with the results when a project is too coordinated.

I like to vary pattern and scale in my fabrics, such as combining a small print, a medium print, dots, and swirls. Also, tone-on-tone blender fabrics are necessary so that the eye has a place to rest as it travels across the quilt.

Value, which is the degree of lightness or darkness in a color, should also be considered when you’re gathering  fabrics.

Light value fabrics

Medium Value Fabrics

Dark Value Fabrics

From top to bottom: light-value fabrics, medium-value fabrics, and dark-value fabrics.

“Snowballs and Spools,” below, is a  lesson in selecting fabrics based on value. The light-value fabrics were strategically placed in the Nine Patch blocks to form diagonally striped lines.

Snowballs and Spools
“Snowballs and Spools”

Besides fabric-selection tips, you’ll find fun projects plus great ways to use leftover triangle pairs in Snowball Quilts40% off, this week only!*

For more easy quilt patterns that make great use of color, check out Four-Patch Frolic40% off, this week only!* “BFF” features a fun black print in the Pinwheel blocks and a black-with-white dots print in the inner border.


Or let your creativity blossom with the flower motifs in Fast, Fusible Flower Quilts40% off, this week only!* Speaking of variety in quilt fabrics, “Pink Dogwood” includes nine different pink prints in the flower appliqués.

Pink Dogwood
“Pink Dogwood”

Ready to go wild with color? Find this “Hot!” quilt and coordinated pillow plus many other exciting projects in House Party40% off, this week only!* Raw-edge machine appliqué makes this combo quick and easy to stitch.

House Party

What’s it like for you on a typical fabric-shopping spree? Tell us in the comments!

*Sale ends midnight, November 4.

8 Comments (leave a comment)

  • For a specific quilt I start locally. If I find fabrics that I like here then that is it but if I don’t then I shop online. And in the end I shop my stash. I buy fabrics I like when I see them. I know they will not be there later if I think I want them. I have been doing so all my life so it is a sizable stash by now and sometimes it is the only place I shop. But lots of fun when I can go to the shop for new fabrics especially with all the choices we have today.

    —Nancy on October 29, 2012
  • Appliqué is my passion so I am always on the lookout for interesting fabrics to use. My mantra is that you can never have too many greens. As I look out my window I see trees and shrubs wearing many shades of green, with shadows bringing life to the palate. Yes, pink is my favourite colour, but it is the greens I seek to add life to my projects.

    —Lynne Anderson on October 29, 2012
  • Oh, don’t I wish "shopping spree" describes my fabric shopping, but I try to be very deliberate when I am shopping for fabrics. When I get to the fabric store, I, too, spend lots of time looking at everything before I am able to narrow down my choices. Then I have to fuss to be sure each selection has the right shade, pattern, and color. But I love every minute of it!!

    —Margaret on October 29, 2012
  • Before I go on a fabric acquisition retreat trip (FART) I check out my basic whites & off-whites in the event there is a sale on those colors.
    I also check out my already pieced tops to review what I might need for backing & binding, then I check the sale tables. These are ways that I lower my cost and also help the store move their sale table goods. Everybody wins!

    Dorothy I. Dishman on October 29, 2012
  • "Shopping Spree" doesn’t happen very often! When I buy fabric, I tend to "buy for the stash" rather than by project, picking up fabrics in different colors, values and scale of print. Then I almost always have what I need when I want to start a project. Occasionally I have bought "project" fabric only to have the project fade away and the fabrics wind up in the stash – which is OK if the fabrics weren’t too "specific" to begin with. I’m bound to use them somewhere. My standard cut is 1 yard, because I like having fabric left over for my stash. I love to use a mixture of prints to fill a color/role in a quilt; I adore scrap quilts! Choosing fabrics is my very favorite part of the process. Sometimes pulling fabric for one possible quilt isn’t enough; I’ll go through the stash again for an alternate colorway and then decide. It’s a great exercise, tons of fun, and has improved my color confidence.

    —Carol Barringer on October 29, 2012
  • I look for my favorites first, consisting of greens and autumn colors, followed by reds, blues, and light to medium greys at my local quilt shops and fabric stores. I learned "the hard way" to buy more than what I needed for any now or future project because it never failed, I’d "get creative", make a mistake, or wouldn’t have enough in my stash to complete a quilt, and the fabric would no longer be available. One such fabric, I needed an additional 3 yards and after exhausting my local quilt stores and manufactor, I learned, this fabric was over 2 years old and no longer available, I found 2 yards in London, England and 4 yards in Michigan on http://www.missingfabrics.com.

    The best fabrics are the ones when you walk into a fabric shop, you’ll hear tiny voices crying out to "take me home," and it’s those fabrics that make the absolutely most beautiful quilts. Look for me, I’m the lady, who from a distance, is eye balling the wall of fabric bolts and will walk over, pull out 2 or 3 bolts and go to the checkout counter. Sorry girls, you’ve got to be quick around me.

    Keep smiling,

    Lynnita Shipman on October 29, 2012
  • When I am to choose a fabric in one of my favourite fabric stores in Toronto, I always chat about my ideas with staff. They can be very helpful as then I do not need to spend much time by going through piles of fabrics. In addition, they can direct me exactly to fabrics I look for even though at times I am not aware of that. That is what experienced staff is about. I really recommend chatting with staff about your fabric!

    —Lucianna on November 21, 2012
  • I love going to different shops and picking out a unique print I have not seen before ,something special to be a note of interest on a future project . I find that exciting

    —Karen a on October 14, 2016

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