Tuesday, March 11, 2014

The value of fabric choices

Marny here…we strive to provide depth and focus in our quilts through the use of color and value.  It makes our quilts a bit more special and adds a taste of the unexpected…yes, we've discussed this before, but it really is the first step we go through when auditioning fabrics for our new pattern ideas.   The Spring Quilt Market is just around the corner, so join in our process for a bit.
Here is a grouping of eight fabrics.  There are seven folded and they are lying on the eighth.    It is good to see that a variety of textures and scales and patterns are represented.  See Step 1.

Steps we use for auditioning fabric for specific spots within a quilt.
  1. Recognize which fabrics work together well looking at color, scale, intensity, value and pattern.
  2. Sort by value, that is, sort from light to dark.  You may need to do this for all the fabrics overall and again within color families depending on your pattern.  Almost all quilts benefit from a range of values being represented.  I used the black and white effect in iPhoto to easily show the range of values among my fabrics.  (You can also step back and squint, use a viewfinder on a camera, or a "ruby beholder" if you have one.  I've heard the little "eye" you stick in a door to see who is knocking also works.  Using iPhoto was just my method.)
  3. Make sure any desired effects, like transparency, are possible with your chosen fabrics.
  4. Make sure the focus is understandable and/or the pieced shapes you want to be seen are noticeable. 
  5. All that being said, there should be some energy and excitement among the fabric, design and quilting or the end product will be too bland or boring. 

Proof there is also a wide range of values from light to dark here.  
Also part of Step 1.  

The fabrics are arranged from the lightest to the darkest. (Step 2)  The solid creamy yellow background is underneath.  Right from the get go it is easy to see the values of the background and the folded light green solid shot cotton are too similar to be used side by side effectively.  

The dotted fabric at the lower edge of the photo is darker in places than the solid light green, but unfolded it appears lighter on the design wall.  There are large areas of cream in its overall pattern.

If you are in a quilt store you can line up your bolts from dark to light on a table, cart or even the floor to get an idea if you are on the right path. 

These photos represent checking for effective transparency in the intersection.  A vertical band of dark valued teal and a light valued horizontal band of green intersect with one another.  The intersecting fabric does share color characteristics of both the other fabrics so intellectually it seems like a good intersection.  But the values of the dark teal and the intersection print are just a bit too close to one another for a transparent effect to work for the planned design.

The green horizontal has remained, but a medium dark valued vertical teal and a darker valued print with green have been substituted.  It is believable.  Not necessarily what we'd hoped for, but it works.

Then the medium dark textured tries its turn as the intersection and the darker print becomes the vertical.  Now the horizontals seem too close in value.  

This illustrates too much competition between prints,
 distracting from the intersection concept.

(Step 4)  This is a great Joel Dewberry fabric that we wanted to use in pretty big pieces.  As much as we like this fabric and how it looked cut up (awesome) it didn't give us the focus we needed in our design.  Its overall print did not stand up against the graphic lines and intersections that were planned for the rest of the quilt.  Hopefully it will find its own special home on a quilt in the near future.

So Step 5.  Kind of tricky to give any guidance on this one, bland and boring is in the eye of the beholder.  Go with your instincts, it is you quilt afterall!  Just keep the thought that sometimes your least favorite fabric is the one that gives life to the quilt, or the unplanned juxtaposition of two fabrics you were sure wouldn't work adds some energy, or a turned block lights the quilt up, or whatever.  Surprises are sometimes the best part of quilt making.

Till Tuesday…


  1. The black/white photos are a great tool. BTW, very nice trunk show display in the window of the Quilted Windmill.

  2. Great demonstration of how fabrics work or don't work together. I'm guilty of not always working with value as much as I could to improve a design. Thanks for the post.


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