At left: Butterfly quilt, Clare. Below, where I mention using too many fabrics, this is an example. I felt like they all went together, but it was really too much. The quilt turned out fine, but it is kind of busy.
Admittedly, fabric choice happens at a couple of different stages. I often do a reconnaissance mission to the fabric store to see what’s there, and if there is any impulse of YES for a particular fabric, or if I get a sudden inspiration for a design. I also examine my own shelves of material very carefully for inspiration or to check off what I already have available.
I have a few favorites that I keep on hand, and a few lengths of oddball fabric I’m not sure how I’ll use, as well as smaller sections of fabric I’ve picked up along the way. One of my favorites is a light blue fabric with bluebirds all over it. I always have to keep some of that. There is also fabric that I am saving for myself, as in lengths that have been gifts that I’ve set aside for my own projects. (And, as it happens, my old special occasions fabric quilt, made for my college years in 1997, is falling apart, so I actually do need to start forming plans for my own quilt.)
It’s helpful if I already know colors for a baby’s room, or if I have some idea of what colors the parents like. I also think about what tastes generally the parents have; for example, one father friend enjoys gingham, so obviously his daughter needed to have gingham involved. Another father friend enjoys the Colorado Avalanche, so I had to involve those colors as well. These days, my friends’ parents usually know what’s coming, and they know I like at least some information, so they will let me know what their plans are for the nursery, or the gender of the baby.
I don’t usually allow myself actually to buy fabric until I have the design phase completed. Then it’s on! It’s a well known fact that I love the fabric store. On one of my recent visits, I planned to stay maybe an hour or two, and I ended up in there for something like four hours (though only some of that was quilt-fabric buying). I’m addicted to fabric, to the textures and colors, to the color exchanges and the feeling of absolute wealth. Wall to wall bolts of fabric, with any number of creation possibilities, creations that will last. It’s richness. I want to swim in it, like Scrooge McDuck in his money.
When I’m buying quilt fabric, I usually have a list. The list contains blocks and colors I need for the blocks. I have usually checked off whatever I already have fabric for. Sometimes I have a fabric already in mind, maybe one I’ve seen or used before. Other times I’m baffled.
Take orange, for example. For some reason, orange is uber difficult for me to find—unless I don’t need it (and yes, I now pick up good orange if I find it). So much orange quilt fabric is really neonish and really not easy to match with other colors. I’ve made some mistakes before with orange.
Blues and greens, on the other hand, are easy—I’ve found lots of blue and green that I love, and sometimes I have a hard time keeping myself from putting them in the basket. Light blues and greens make awesome background fabric, especially for outdoor scenes, as many of my pieces are.
At left: One of my favorite collections ever. This was for the fantasy counting quilt for my nephew, and the colors came together really well. I felt like I finally brought together my understanding of colors and what I wanted to do with them, and some of the choices are my favorites. The owls were made out of ivory/brown/black clockwork fabric. The lake was the bluebirds fabric. The fish was a great orange fabric. I had fabric for the stonework of the castle and for the ladies' patterned dresses. It all came out right!
No matter the color, I’ve learned over time that I need to check my fabrics against each other and limit the number of fabrics used together—and not to get something if it really doesn’t match. I have a tendency to make quilts too busy, or to pick things with not enough contrast. I’m still learning. I do know a little about color theory and various quilt principles as far as fabrics are concerned, but I don’t make “educated” quilts—I don’t make it a point to use that knowledge. I use what feels right.
I have quite a lot of pictures of this stage. For several quilts I’ve done a photograph of all the fabrics together, once I’ve tested out different combinations and determined more firmly what I will use for what. I’m not sure why I’ve recorded this, and I’ve never before examined my motivations. Maybe I just like to see the folds of fabric together? Maybe I like to record my choices, for better or worse? Maybe, since this is the first stage where there are really colorful elements, it where my photography starts? I don’t know.