How to Combine Quilting Fabrics: Let Go!
I wrote this post for Quiltmaker in 2015, and it is reposted here with permission.
I love teaching quilters. A day in the classroom with like-minded souls brings out the best in me. We learn, we laugh and we have fun.
But occasionally a student will say something that baffles me. It’s usually about combining quilt fabrics. Let me give you a little background.
I use a lot of weird, strange, unlikely and ugly fabrics in my quilts, and I use them together with beautiful, elegant, popular fabrics that everyone loves.
I’m not afraid to be different or to make something that doesn’t appeal to others.
When I show my quilts at guild meetings, I sometimes get blank stares. I’m okay with that because I make quilts that I love and that’s what matters to me.
Even when I make a quilt that’s totally planned and of just one color, I keep it interesting. See my Scarlet Spin for Quiltmaker, below. I am easily bored with just a few fabrics so I use many, many fabrics instead.
My students will often come to class with a nicely matched set of just a few fabrics, something like these.
There’s nothing wrong with matching fabrics.
But since my strength is in using many fabrics, if you’re in one of my classes, I’ll try to help you see the possibilities—how you can add more quilt fabrics in various shades, in different scales, in other values.
I come prepared with a big stack of quilting fabrics from my stash, which is healthy enough to share. And this is when I hear the most perplexing statement from a student:
“I would never do that.”
She says it with absolute certainty, like it’s death or taxes.
“I would never do that.”
And it’s all I can do to keep my jaw off the floor. Because I can’t imagine stating with certainty that I wouldn’t try something different on a quilt, or experiment with adding more fabrics, or venture into unknown territory because you never know what might happen.
For me, all of the magic happens when I am willing to play and to try something different. Quilting would hold no interest for me if I knew exactly what the quilt would look like before I started sewing.
Words like new, interesting, odd, quirky and unique are what make the world go ’round for me, whether it’s quilting or something else.
And my goodness, what is the worst that can happen? I see the possibilities as:
• You waste a quarter-yard of fabric (that’s about $3 worth) making a test block
• You use up precious quilting time (this is absolutely true; it’s always more time- consuming to be creative than to copy)
• You feel frustrated because you no longer have a clear plan (again, absolutely true; it’s the price of being an artist)
• The quilt police actually show up (what a great story you’ll have for your friends)
But what is the possibility of payoff?
• You end up with a more interesting quilt
• You have the satisfaction of making something totally unique
• You exercise your creative muscles, which leads to more creative thinking, more adventure and more unique quilts
Because we’re all wired differently, some quilters need more of an up-front plan than others. It is harder for these people to veer off in an unexpected direction. And that is totally okay. Even in my “be brave” scenario, they might decide to stick with their original plan, which would be fine. As Lori Holt says, “You are the boss of your own quilt.”
But I would encourage you to try and let go a little. Because if you never play, never experiment and never ask “what if,” you’re missing out on most of the fun.