All About Scale: Not the Weighing Kind

bathroom scale All About Scale: Not the Weighing Kind

Not this kind…

Let’s talk about scale. Not the bathroom variety, but the scale in fabrics we use for our quilts. What is it anyway? Why does it matter in your quilts? How can you use it more effectively? Let me see if I can help you answer these questions.

24360 mul1 All About Scale: Not the Weighing Kind

A print from Illuminate by Flora Bowley for Red Rooster Fabrics features medium-scale circles.

What is scale? Simply put, scale is the size of the print on a fabric. It refers to how large or small the motifs are.

24089 blu1 All About Scale: Not the Weighing Kind

A print from Attic Treasures by Gerri Robinson for Red Rooster Fabrics features small-scale circles.

If they are circles or flowers or butterflies, are they 1/8″ across, or are they 10″ across, or are they somewhere in between?

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Stripes from Mia by Kathy Brown for Red Rooster Fabrics.

If they are stripes, are they very narrow bands of color or are they very wide? You get the idea.

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The small-scale flowers in this print from Red Rooster are spread apart with plenty of space in between them.

Another factor is how the motifs are spaced—how much area there is between them. Some fabrics have the motifs packed tightly together, while others seem to breathe freely by having lots of open (also called negative) space between them.

Let’s use some King’s Crown blocks to learn more. I chose this block because it has small, medium and large-size patches.

scale1 All About Scale: Not the Weighing Kind

This is an 8″ King’s Crown block. I have used only small prints, tightly packed together.

Because the scale of the fabrics are all similar, the block isn’t very interesting.





You can see that just by replacing one set of patches with a fabric in a larger scale, the block improves quite a bit.


scale2 All About Scale: Not the Weighing Kind

But I’m pretty sure I can make it even better, so I change out another set of patches. This time the green patches get a makeover.

scale3 All About Scale: Not the Weighing Kind

Even better! But I still think it’s a little boring, so let’s continue.

There is just SO much of that yellow with the tightly packed little stars. Let’s fix that by adding a medium-scale yellow fabric in the center.

scale4 All About Scale: Not the Weighing Kind

I like this much better. Now I think the block has some interest, some pizzazz. I’d call this a keeper. Notice that I didn’t really change any of the colors, I only changed the scale of the fabrics.

scale5 All About Scale: Not the Weighing Kind

I had another green I wanted to try, so I did, but the scale was too similar to the center patch, so I reverted to my first keeper.







You might be wondering about the time it takes to make all of these sample blocks. The truth is I don’t actually make the blocks, or units, or borders, or whatever I’m trying out. I use a design wall and I audition the fabrics, playing and changing things up until I’m happy.

A design wall is indispensable! It need not be fancy but it should hold fabrics without pinning and be on a vertical surface. A flannel-backed tablecloth works for many people! Read about how to build your own design wall.

Now, back to scale. The block you’ve seen so far has been 8″. Here it is with a ruler for visual reference.

scale6 All About Scale: Not the Weighing Kind













I want you to see that scale is relative. What seems like a medium-scale print in one design will read as large-scale in a different design. I made the same block in different sizes so you could see what I mean.

scale7 All About Scale: Not the Weighing Kind


Here is King’s Crown, the 4″ version.

Notice how differently the scale of the fabrics appear in this smaller version! Not quite as effective, is it?





And just below is the 12″ version of King’s Crown, same fabrics. What do you think of this one?


scale8 All About Scale: Not the Weighing Kind














The point is that when you think about the scale of your fabrics, you must consider it in light of whatever you’re making and how large or small the patches are. What works for a 4″ block may not work well for a 12″ block.

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About Diane Harris

I'm an editor for Quiltmaker magazine in Golden, Colorado, USA. For six years, I wrote pattern instructions, product reviews and how-to articles. Then I spent four years as QM's Interactive Editor, working to generate much of our online content. Now I'm back to patterns and how-tos, which is a great fit for me. I still love writing about quilt-related topics for Quilty Pleasures, and I always have my finger on the pulse of the quilting world. I teach a variety of quilt classes and give guild programs, too. Reach me by email:
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15 Responses to All About Scale: Not the Weighing Kind

  1. Linda Christianson says:

    What you called ho-hum is not to me for the other reads too busy!

  2. Jules says:

    Great well thought out information that is very well illustrated. Much food for thought and design! The design wall tip to use the flannel back of a vinyl table cloth is a good one. Thank you.

  3. Denise W says:

    Thank you Diane for the great information. I consider myself a confidant beginner. The more you know and learn the more you can use the information to step outside the box and make those quilts you thought you never could make.

  4. Pingback: A Quick Quilt Label Method | Quilty Pleasures Blog

  5. Pingback: Interesting Info . . . | Pieces to Patch

  6. Tami Chaulk says:

    Thanks Diane! It’s always easier to understand with pictures!

  7. Eagle Scale says:

    Great Information…looking a very nice all image.

  8. Pingback: Understanding Scale: A Little Trick | Quilty Pleasures Blog

  9. DianeH says:

    Thank you for a wonderful lesson, Diane. Looking forward to the next one.

  10. greeta says:

    Good show. Literally. Looking foreward to the next lesson.

  11. Sandy Gray says:

    Great show and tell. We all need to be reminded, you do such a great job. I look forward to “weighing in” tomrrow, lol.

  12. Good tips, and great illustrations. I have a lot of really large decorator florals in my stash that I’ve been given, and I always keep an eye out for designs where I can use them up. Patterns which use plain alternate blocks are good, as are snowball blocks.

  13. Lorraine says:

    Great information and perfectly illustrated! Thank you!

  14. Susan Paxton says:

    Thanks, Diane for that informative lesson on scale. As a fairly new quilter it has answered some questions I didn’t even realize I had.

  15. Karen W. says:

    Thanks so much for the helpful info. Your pictures made your comments very clear!

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