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.
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.
If they are circles or flowers or butterflies, are they 1/8″ across, or are they 10″ across, or are they somewhere in between?
If they are stripes, are they very narrow bands of color or are they very wide? You get the idea.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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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