How do I pick the fabrics for my quilt?

What kind of fabric should I be using in my quilt?

Buy the best quality fabric you can afford. It will handle better, look nicer, and wear longer than cheap fabric. Quality fabric does not have to cost a lot. Don't confuse "cheap" with "on sale". Cheap fabric is thin, you will see your hand through it; it may be loosely woven, or have irregularities in the threads (slubs), and it is often not woven "square". When washed cheap fabric will often shrink, and since it has probably been stretched to it's final width, it may also realign itself so the printed pattern is no longer "straight". Cheap fabric often has muddy or dull printed colors, and the printing may be skewed so the design is not printed clearly, but overlaps in areas.

A good quality fabric will have a smooth, even weave, with no irregularities in the fibers. The cloth itself will be soft to handle, and heavy enough that you can't easily see through it unless you hold it up to a light. The printed pattern will be clear and crisp and show no flaws. If the fabric contains a metallic print, the metal should not brush off on your hand.

Quality fabric selections are often best at specialty quilting shops. Because these stores buy in smaller volume than the national retail chains, their prices are usually higher. If you are budget conscious, you can find similar fabrics at the chain stores. Some chain stores have tables of flat fold goods at clearance prices -- be cautious in shopping here. If you recognize the brand name on the selvedge of the fabric itself, and have seen the material on a bolt before, then it is probably a good buy. Very often what ends up on the clearance tables is irregular or misprinted goods. If you need a small piece an irregular spot may not be a problem, but you could have trouble finding suitable lengths for a backing. In any event, you never know what's there until you look, and if you have the time and inclination, you can find some terrific deals.

But I have lousy color sense. How do I pick the right colors for my quilt?

The Safe Method : A good place to begin is with a printed piece of fabric that you like. Look closely at the pattern and try to pick out the different colors. If you have a large enough piece, you may have part of the selvedge that has colored dots on it. These are the manufacturer's dye markers. There is a marker for each color used in the print. You can use this section to match to coordinating prints and solids.

Look at the quilt pattern you have chosen. How many parts are there that need to be different colors? Many traditional patterns look good in just two or three colors with high contrast --for example, red and green on white, or shades of blue with white. Using too many colors can quickly result in a busy, garish, unplanned look.

Look at the size of the pieces you need to cut. A 2 inch square is probably not the best place to show off a large floral print. Plan to use a solid or very small print in this area.

The Interesting Method : Look at the individual colors that make up the print and pick shades that are lighter or darker than the original. Overall, choose one to be the "dark" fabric and one to be the "light" fabric and use the rest, including the print, as your medium choices.

The Bold Method : Pick out four or five fabrics that don't match. Pick colors you don't think go together, light blue, orange, that weird pink stripe. They should all have differences in not only color, but pattern, size of the print, and theme. Mix plaid and calico with designer prints and novelty fabrics. Got one or two really strange fabrics? Use them in small quantities for an added spark. Put all your selections together in the quilt, keeping your darks and lights separated for good contrast.

I want to make a scrap quilt/crazy quilt. Why can't I just use a piece of everything I can find?

A really good looking quilt is planned, even if just a tiny bit. Sure, you could make a scrap quilt using everything in your basket. However, you could make a really stunning scrap quilt with a little attention to the color scheme. Choose all your fabrics in two coordinating colors, like red and brown, or blue and green. Or, select only the pastel scraps, or just the bright pieces. Maybe you could use only your calico scraps, or maybe only the designer leftovers. Another approach is to use very high contrasting fabrics, putting all your light scraps to use in the backgrounds, and all the very dark ones as the design elements.

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