From time to time, I head up north for a few days and spend time with my family. I somehow always end up wandering around my mom’s quilt store, touching, feeling, and gazing at all her lovely fabrics and notions–it’s aways a much-need time of relaxation and inspiration for me. More often than not I experience a few customers that walk in, wide-eyed and terrified of choosing the fabric for their next quilt. If that’s you, today I’m going to give you some great tips for choosing fabric for your quilt! Make sure to get the free Fabric Selection Checklist and keep it in your purse for your next fabric run.
A Fabric Selection Guide
Where to Shop for Quilt Fabric
When you’re ready to start a quilt, set aside a few hours, grab your checklist, your pattern, a buddy, and any coupons you have floating around. Head over to your favorite quilt store and get started! I generally suggest going to a store that specialized in quilting fabrics. That way, you’re sure to get 100% cotton fabrics that are meant for quilting and will wear and sew nicely.
How to Shop for Quilt Fabric
The best way to start shopping for fabric is to go in with a plan: I have to be in the right mindset before I start shopping or I feel overwhelmed and rushed! So go in with the mindset that you are going to take your time, ask whatever questions you need to (quilt store owners usually love what they do, so don’t be afraid to ask for their opinion!), and mix and match until you’re happy with your final choices.
Here’s what my game plan usually looks like:
1. Find My Inspiration
Sometimes it’s just downright overwhelming to look at all the fabrics and decide what my whole quilt will look like right off the bat. So, my second priority is finding just one fabric that I absolutely adore. I do the same thing when I’m decorating a room: I find one “inspiration piece” and pull the rest of my colors from there. It’s hard to narrow this down, but it makes the rest of the process so much easier. So grab a few of your favorite fabrics, line them up and narrow it down to one, then run with it!
2. Find Friends
Next, I drag that favorite fabric all around the store and find its friends! They might not always be in the same collection. Oftentimes fabrics will have perfect coordinates all over the store, so don’t leave any section out! Pull whatever colors you can from that inspiration fabric and see what you might come up with. If you’re having a hard time telling if the colors are the same, use the little dots on the selvedge edge to compare colors, isolating the color usually helps you see it better. Now take all these friends back to your stockpile!
3. Narrow It Down
Oh boy, somehow 50 fabrics ended up in your stockpile and you need 10. Been there, done that!
Line up your bolts so that they are standing on their sides, this will give you a small preview of all the fabrics and make it a little easier to visualize them together in a quilt.
Having troubles narrowing it down? That’s OK! First, grab that favorite inspiration fabric—there’s one. Now take a look at the pile, what are you other favorites? Pull out a few more favorites and add them to your collection. After I narrow down my must-have’s I use these rules to choose my remaining fabrics:
Color balance in a quilt is vital to how it turns out! Does your blue, green, and yellow quilt have 5 blue fabrics, 6 green fabrics, and 1 yellow? If so, it’s not going to feel very balanced, so I would generally suggest something near a 1:1 color ratio: for every blue, find a green and a yellow (or whatever your color selection may be). This doesn’t need to be set in stone, but something around that ratio will make a quilt that pleases everyone’s eye.
Contrast is another important part of quilting that, I think, often gets overlooked when choosing fabrics. Contrast is what your eye sees as dark and light. Someone once explained it to me like this: if I took a black and white picture of the quilt, would it look like one big square, or could I see the different blocks and squares because of the contrast? So, sometimes, when something isn’t right, I’ll take a picture of my choices on my phone in Black and White mode. If it’s pretty in black and white, I usually like it in color, too!
Try to make sure that you have a good amount of contrast in your fabric selections, this makes it more interesting to look at and gives every quilt a little punch!
Scale and Pattern
Scale is oh-so-important when choosing quilt fabrics. Scale is the size of the print that your fabric has on it. Typically your options are: Solid, Small Print, Medium Print, and Large Print. Quilts should always have a consistent balance of scale. Here’s a chart that I use to make sure that I have enough of the right sized patterns in each of my quilts:
Similar to balancing color, you’ll want to balance scale in your quilt; for example, too many small prints will end up looking busy busy! I suggest always using at least 1 solid fabric and one stripe. This keeps things from being too much print. For the rest of the fabrics, I like to keep a near 1:1 ratio on the print sizes, so if you’re doing a medium sized quilt, try using at least 1 solid print and 1 medium print for every small print fabric.
I’m sure this all seems like a lot of information! I’ve condensed all of this into a simple checklist for you to take on your next fabric shopping trip, so make sure to download the free Fabric Selection Checklist by clicking the image below, and keep a copy in your purse for the next time you’re choosing quilt fabrics!
Quilt Kits and Pre-Cuts
Maybe this is all just a little too much for you—you aren’t the first to think that! In fact, more people buy quilt kits and pre-cuts than from-the-bolt yardage, so don’t feel bad at at all! Most stores offer kits based on a store sample (sometimes even the pattern itself) for you to sew up. That way, you know exactly what the quilt will look like and that you already love it!
Did you know that there are hundreds of patterns made just for pre-cuts? Yep, that’s right, someone already did most of the cutting for you! Some pre-cuts that you might see are Jelly Rolls (2.5″ strips), Cuties (also called fat eighths), Fat Quarters, Charm Squares (5″ squares), Layer Cakes (10″ squares), and HoneyBuns (1.5″ strips). I love using pre-cuts because it means I get an entire collection, which usually makes for a simply lovely quilt!
What are your tips and tricks for choosing fabrics? Please share in the comments below!