“It is so fine & yet so terrible to stand in front of a blank canvas.”
Quilters face no less of a challenge. Painters have a couple dozen colors to choose from; quilters have hundreds of bolts, patterns, techniques & variations to throw into their decision making process! (I say this being both a quilter & a painter & knowing the challenges of both.)
So, here’s the deal; the design process is MESSY- and that’s okay! First you become a hoarder- then you flip to minimalism! What do I mean by that? Well, when I’m designing a quilt, an event, my website or anything else, I start by gathering up everything (+ some!) that I could possibly want to include in the project & then I start organizing what I have & eliminating bit by bit until I get down to the simplest form of the design that I can create & have a concrete direction to go in.
It works with shopping. You throw everything you want into your cart & head for the dressing room. Trying things on will eliminate a huge portion of the pile. Then you sort out what’s left by what you can afford in the order of what you love the most, right?
It works with drawing. You start out with the general shape & keep erasing, redrawing & making small changes until the picture becomes what you want. You change, first this line, and then that one. Sometimes a line even becomes a smudge or a smudge becomes the ghost of a shadow. You might even change the composition at some point or decide to draw something different entirely.
It works with writing. Remember elementary school when they told you to write a rough draft & then edit & re-edit? That’s the process we’re working with here.
When you’re trying to figure out where to start- you start with the most general idea & the most details/quilting materials you can gather up! And then you work backwards eliminating bits & pieces until you have a simple & clear plan/project!
STASHING/ PATTERN CHOICES
So with quilting- you start with the hobby of STASHING. Yes- it has been decided- building your stash IS a separate hobby from actually using it! When I’m designing a project, sometimes I shop my stash & sometimes I hit the local store; usually I end up doing a little of both… Either way, I start out gathering up ideas & that means first sorting patterns or pattern ideas & then sorting stash fabrics & hitting up the local store. But let’s look at pattern decisions first.
When I’ve sorted through my top patterns or ideas, I can consider:
- Is there a time line/ Is it a gift with a deadline?
- What’s my budget?
- What’s my goal? (Do I want to master a new technique, play with a favorite color palette or fabric, or run with a new design or pattern?)
It’s smart to consider that if my budget is small or my timeline is tight, choosing a big project (while unfortunately tempting & likely to occur!) is not necessarily smart.
- Do I have fabric in my stash that I can use or do I need to buy more?
- If I use fabric in my stash, make a mistake & need more- can I obtain it or will I have to change or scrap the project?
- Do I know all of the techniques in the pattern I want to make or do I need to take a class or look up a tutorial?
- If I make an unfixable mistake, is that going to affect my timeline- particularly if it’s a gift- & do I have a backup plan?
The biggest part of planning a project- & getting past the stupor of a blank canvas- of not knowing where to start- is asking yourself the right questions.
This works with picking out the fabric, too. Your eye will naturally go to patterns & colors that you like, but do they always go together the way that you want them to? That’s probably the biggest frustration for inexperienced quilters. Many companies have picked up on these insecurities & put together both patterns & colors into fabric families that work well together. The matching is done for you as long you stay within the product line, which usually includes pattern books as well. That’s a good place to start, but it’s not a good place to stay.
If you want to learn how to pick out the best colors & patterns for your quilts possible, you will want to ask yourself a few more questions
CONTRAST: Does your quilt pattern have any places where there are dark & light fabrics next to one another creating a contrast? It should tell you that you need a certain amount of a darker fabric & another amount of the lighter one.
FABRIC PATTERN SIZE: How large are the pattern pieces in comparison with the pattern on the fabric? This is important. A large pattern on the fabric will be lost on small pattern pieces. This is why I always choose a very small or blended pattern for my yo-yos. Look closely at the yo-yos in the picture above- you will see very subtle patterns- not giant, bold ones. When the fabric is gathered, any picture or large design is lost anyway, and it just looks like confetti if there are a bunch of color blocks in the fabric. So, for my Yosaic™ Quilting I steer clear of large patterned fabric. However, larger patterns for something like a block or stripping are great. They also work if you’re cutting the block out to specifically include the pattern on the fabric- such as a bird or scene.
TYPE OF FABRIC: Are you picking out the same types of fabric? Flannel typically doesn’t go next to a batik in a quilt because they won’t iron the same, lay the same or sew the same. With some things like crazy quilts, you can mix fabrics, but typically, if you’re making a batik quilt, you should be sticking with all of the batiks with the outside possibility of some cottons. Your local quilt shop can help you to understand all the different types of fabric & which one is best for your pattern or project.
WARM & COOL COLORS: This deserves a post- or several posts(!) all by itself. Warm colors vs. cool colors? How do you even know if a color is warm or cool? On one shopping trip, I was looking for brown fabric & my mom brought me a bolt that she thought would work. I shook my head & told her that there was too much yellow in it. She looked completely baffled & pointed out that it was a brown on brown print! Where in the heck was I seeing yellow? I explained that one of the dye colors in it was yellow & that it had a warm tone. I was looking for a cooler toned brown- something that was more on the blue side. It really threw her- & it’s probably throwing you right now, too.
Don’t worry! You don’t have to know THAT much about warm & cool tones to learn how to see the difference between warm & cool fabrics & to know which to use in your project.
Warm colors are the ones that you see in the fall & spring- particularly in the fall when the leaves are changing- think of warm sunshine, burnt orange, blood red, pumpkin, the hazy blues of the fall sky, the warm greens of the leaves before they change. You can also think about it as any color that you would describe as warm- like the warm sands on the beach. Conversely, cool colors we typically describe using words that denote a feeling of coolness- refreshing turquoise ocean, icy blue winter sky, etc. They’re also the colors that you typically see in winter & summer: winter white, grey skies, electric pink bathing suit, fuchsia flowers in the islands.
Now, here’s why that matters: a warm subject placed on a cool background creates a contrast that is as dramatic as light against dark! It POPS! There’s contrast that draws the eye & makes the subject more vivid. So, if you want a comforting, homey effect with your quilt, you might want to go for all warm colors- that blend & flow into one another- like farmhouse creams, browns, & greens. Use all cool colors if you want something that is as cool as the island breeze. But, if you want your medallion to stand out in the center of the quilt or your appliqué in the block, use a contrast of either light against dark or warm against cool tones.
I will write more posts at a later date that go into more depth on these subjects & give more examples…but here are 2 for right now. The butterfly below has those beautiful warm tones set against a summer blue sky. The wreath above also has those same fall oranges, reds & browns. Set against a grey wall, it pops!
To remember the difference, think about opposites: every other season we change from warm to cool colors. Winter & summer are cool & spring & fall are warm. With some practice, you will figure it out- & your quilts will thank you!
You can also print color wheels from dozens of places on the net & take those with you on your shopping trips. Anything that is at an opposite point on the color wheel is going to compliment its counterpart. For example- red is directly across from green; so red & green go together. Find one color you like & look for what’s exactly opposite it. That’s your best chance for a good matching contrast, although many other colors will work & your local quilt shop owners always have a good eye!
Quilting can be a big investment & deliberating on which fabric to pick & whether or not it’s going to work can leave you in a stupor at your proverbial blank canvas. So, if you’re not sure if what you’ve picked out is going to work, no problem! Do a colored pencil version first. Make a copy of your pattern. Get colored pencils that match your fabric & do some coloring to check your color choices. You can also cut out a tiny version of your pattern with the fabrics you’ve got to see if you like what you’ve got before you make that big commitment with the rotary cutter!
It’s not as intimidating if you break it down into questions to answer & individual steps to take. You’ll be making amazing quilts in no time!