Easy quilt patterns for large-print fabrics

Example of large print fabric

Novelty fabrics, theme prints, pictorial prints too;

What in the world will I DO with you?

Most every quilter is guilty of the scenario. You see a BIG print—gorgeous, inspiring, whimsical, sentimental, or all of the above—so you buy a half-yard, a yard, or more. You bring the new fabric home, thrilled with your purchase. You place it lovingly on the tippity-top of your stash pile. But over time, that fabric sinks deeper and deeper into oblivion.

It’s not that you’ve stopped loving the print. You’re just stumped about what to do with it.

Big-Print PatchworkIf you’ve been looking for a large-print fabric quilt pattern without success, you’re not alone. They’re few and far between. And finding just the right pattern for your particular print can be trickier than fishing a hand-appliqué needle out of a box of quilting pins. But Sandy Turner, author of the new book Big-Print Patchwork, has created a simple formula for making big prints the star of the show. The rest of the fabrics become supporting players in her quilts, acting only to make the star shine brighter.

In her quilt patterns for large-print fabrics, Sandy starts with one of three traditional quilt-block patterns: Rail Fence, Birds in the Air, and Around the Twist.

Large-scale fabrics with patchwork blocks
Examples of Rail Fence, Birds in the Air, and Around the Twist blocks in Sandy’s quilts.

Combine these blocks with small-scale patterns and solids, and you’ll create a grand stage for your big prints to take a bow.

Sandy shares several tips for working with big prints in the following excerpt from Big-Print Patchwork. Let her advice—and the slideshow of her quilts below—inspire you to dig up that beautiful yardage you fell in love with. It’s time to start your next quilt!

Sandy Turner“I love the fabric, but what do I do with it?” is a phrase I hear over and over again while visiting quilt shops.

What type of fabric are customers talking about? I call it “pictorial fabric,” the artistic and often large prints that could qualify as art. Imagine tigers lurking behind jungle foliage, beautiful Japanese ladies in their finest attire relaxing during a tea ceremony, or playful zebras enjoying a quiet afternoon on the open plains of Africa. Or, fabric printed with themes of cats, sports, cars, trucks, beautiful florals, wine country, or a bountiful harvest. You get the idea; the list of pictorial prints is endless.

During my twenty-plus years of teaching quiltmaking, I have been attracted to and inspired by pictorial fabrics. I enjoy experimenting with them by combining them with simple, traditional block designs to make stunning quilts. Sometimes I add broderie-perse appliqué to blur the hard edges of a block and reunite a tail with a bird or leaves with their flowers. The results are both unexpected and breathtaking.

Now, let’s take a closer look at pictorial fabrics. They are essentially conversational prints with large motifs that are featured either in an allover print or in a panel of very organized blocks or units. There are a few simple tests that will help you choose a perfect fabric.

Be wary of white. Any time white appears in an otherwise colorful fabric, the eye is drawn to the white area and distracted from the design as a whole, as seen in the examples below. [Ed. note: If you’re in love with a white-splashed, colorful print, keep this in mind and make sure your overall design works with your fabric.]

Examples of large-print fabrics
White areas draw the eye and can distract from the overall design.

Examine the scale. Step back so you’re about 10 feet from the fabric. If you can clearly distinguish the print’s central figures and determine what they’re doing, the scale of the print is good for  making these pictorial-style quilts. In general, the smallest appropriate measurement for figures is 2″. In any quilt using pictorial fabric, the main objects in the print must be discernable from 10 feet away. There’s no limit to the largest measurement except the size of the quilt itself.

Consider contrast. Contrast refers to changes in color or value (lightness/darkness) between the fabric background and the pictorial figures. A lack of contrast produces uniformity across the fabric and makes the pictorial print less interesting to use in the quilt. While it’s fun to look for a cute little kitten in the pictorial fabric, could you find it from 10 feet away? High to medium-high contrast between subject and background is the key.

Low-contrast vs better-contrast fabrics
Low-contrast vs. better-contrast fabrics

Avoid monotony. Fabrics with monotonous overall repetition or a lack of diversity in their printed designs limit variety in a quilt. Look for variations in color and motif as well as scale and contrast.

Too much of the same image
Too much of the same image

Good contrast, but not enough diversity
Good contrast, but not enough diversity

Better variety
Better variety

The specific fabrics shown in Big-Print Patchwork may not be available since new ones are created and older ones retired each season. But you will always find gorgeous new prints for making your own masterpiece: new floral beauties, fun fish, exotic or cute animals, sports themes, and more. Choose what appeals to you.

Sandy, thanks for the tips—you’ve inspired many quilters to make that first cut into their “just can’t cut it” fabrics!

What pictorial print have you been saving for the perfect quilt pattern? Tell us your stash story in the comments and you could win a copy of the Big-Print Patchwork eBook plus this gorgeous bundle of big prints from our friends at Michael Miller Fabrics! We’ll choose a random winner one week from today and let you know by email if you’ve won.

Comments are closed for this post.

Thanks to all who entered the drawing! The randomly chosen winner is Sherry, who writes:

“My husband and I play Texas Hold ’Em poker. I have at least 30 fat quarters of poker fabric, and yardage of money fabric, and more poker fabric. Some of the fabric has poker hands, and some is just cards. I want to make him a poker quilt, but have no idea how to arrange the prints.”

Sherry, we’ll email you about your free eBook and fabric. Congratulations!

Cosmos Collection bundle
See more from the Cosmos Collection by Laura Gunn

Outside the Fence

"Outside the Fence"

Jungle Hooves

"Jungle Hooves"

Feathered Friends

"Feathered Friends"

Butterflies in the Moonlit Garden

"Butterflies in the Moonlit Garden"

Snowy Slopes

"Snowy Slopes"

Around the Orchard

"Around the Orchard"

Harvest Time

"Harvest Time"

From the gallery:

From the gallery: "Oriental Rose Garden"

From the gallery:

From the gallery: "Mythical Horses"

From the gallery:

From the gallery: "Under the Sea"

From the gallery:

From the gallery: "Girls Just Want to Have Fun"

From the gallery:

From the gallery: "Christmas Floral"

From the gallery:

From the gallery: "Pretty Bird"

From the gallery:

From the gallery: "Fenced-In Zebras"


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