Quilting Fabrics: “I Would Never Do That”

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.

neverdothat11 Quilting Fabrics: I Would Never Do That

I love teaching quilters. This was one of QM’s Block Party events.

But occasionally a student will say something that baffles me. It’s usually about combining quilt fabrics. Let me give you a little background.

neverdothat3 Quilting Fabrics: I Would Never Do That

I combine fabrics in unusual ways to build interest. This block is a little ugly by itself.

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.

neverdothat2 Quilting Fabrics: I Would Never Do That

I’m working on this scrap quilt right now. The ugly block looks right at home when it’s together with other “interesting” blocks. Click the photo for a free tutorial from badskirt.

I’m not afraid to be different or to make something that doesn’t appeal to others.

neverdothat4 Quilting Fabrics: I Would Never Do That

I made this Merry Go Round quilt several years ago from a McCall’s Quilting pattern.

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.

neverdothat5 Quilting Fabrics: I Would Never Do That

This little basket quilt features a rather unusual collection of Christmas-like fabrics. Click the photo for a free tutorial.

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.

QMMP 140200 DIANE 450 Quilting Fabrics: I Would Never Do That

Scarlet Spin by Diane Harris for Quiltmaker’s Jan/Feb ’14 issue

My students will often come to class with a nicely matched set of just a few fabrics, something like these.

neverdothat6 Quilting Fabrics: I Would Never Do That

A nicely matched set of fabrics

There’s nothing wrong with matching fabrics.

neverdothat7 Quilting Fabrics: I Would Never Do That

There’s one focus fabric, and the others fabrics are based on that one.

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.

neverdothat8 Quilting Fabrics: I Would Never Do That

These are fabrics I might offer as possibilities to spice up the quilt.

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.

neverdothat10 226x300 Quilting Fabrics: I Would Never Do That

Beth Helfter started out with this quilt pattern…

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)

neverdothat9 216x300 Quilting Fabrics: I Would Never Do That

…and ended up making this quilt for the QM Scrap Squad.

• 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.

*     *     *     *     *

Be adventuresome with these fabulous quilt patterns from Quiltmaker:

DPQMP1514 Quilting Fabrics: I Would Never Do That


DPQMP1527 Quilting Fabrics: I Would Never Do That

Pointed Prisms

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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: editor@quiltmaker.com.
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25 Responses to Quilting Fabrics: “I Would Never Do That”

  1. Vivian says:

    While I agree with you about the “the more the merrier” fabric approach (it does make amazing quilts just check out the quilts the Australians make!), maybe another way to ease people into being a little more adventurous with their choices is to start by encouraging them to vary the scale of the fabrics they use if they are not comfortable with adding more color.

    The problem I had with that first set of fabrics was that everything but the focus fabric were all small calicos so felt a little “flat”. If some print scale variety had been introduced (making sure that the group contained one small, one medium and one large scale print) it would have elevated the look of mix by adding additional texture as well as some subtle shading variety (through the larger scale prints) so overall would have looked more interesting but would have still felt “safe”.

    Sometimes you don’t want to have to have to corral a whole herd of fabrics in a project but there are still ways to get more bang for your buck even with just a few!

  2. Janequiltsslowly says:

    I love this post! Thanks for saying exactly what I think about quilting. Where can I sign up for the Scrap Squad?

  3. We are totally on the same “be brave” wavelength!

  4. Beth H says:

    Hey! I made the blog post! So cool!

    All I did was change the fabrics. I didn’t change a thing about the block design. I think that’s really key to seeing how much adding fabrics changes a quilt – and IMO, ALWAYS for the better. And you know how I feel about quilts using one fabric line. Why? Add color! Add tone! Add texture! So much happier quilts emerge.

    I loved being part of SS so I could prove this every month.

  5. Sandra says:

    You’re my kind of quilter! First lesson when I started quilting (years ago) I was shown how not being too “matchy” with my fabric choices made my quilts sparkle and sing. Since then I’ve always tried something new in each subsequent quilt, even if it’s sometimes only an accent colour. The quilts may start out with a pattern or an idea, but always end up being original.

  6. Lorraine says:

    I started out as that quilter who chose just a couple a fabrics for each project. Now, to make a quilt like that would be downright painful. I love scrap quilts–the more fabrics, the merrier.

  7. Colette says:

    Hello Diane! Long time no “talk” to. Thank you for sharing your story. I can certainly relate to the blank stares at guild meetings. Often times it’s a pin-dropping moment when I throw my show and tell out there. And, then some kind soul will start with questions rather then comments on what they really think. That’s okay with me too since I’m kinda weird anyway. It’s my quilt; it’s my time; it’s my passion.

  8. Barb Johnson says:

    I’ve often said that patterns are suggestions, not rules. And that goes for the suggested fabrics, too!

  9. LeeAnn says:

    Thanks Diane for the shove out of my comfort zone! I don’t really like matchy-matchy but I do get stuck in a pallete type. I love all your quilts! They make me smile!

  10. Priscilla says:

    I like to make my quilts with scraps. That’s how they were originally made, with scraps from clothing, and made to keep you warm, while looking pretty. They always come out charming!

  11. Gay Reeder says:

    Finally found people that are like me on colors! I’m not a creative person and cannot visualize things like designs. So I tend to just put anything together; so far things have turned out pretty good. (I’ve only been quilting for a couple years) Some patterns I try to use the fabrics they used but that gets pretty expense sometimes so I don’t do that very often; or I try to use like my blue for theirs etc. but sometimes that gets really confusing. So glad to see I’m not the only one thinks outside the box!

  12. Susan K says:

    I taught new students a strip quilt at a local modern fabric shop. They taught me more about using pattern and colors than I taught them. I just taught them how to put a quilt together. It was a win-win for all of us. I find that teaching beginners is a lot of fun.

  13. Gwen Denluck says:

    I love it. Once went to a class that called for 3 different colors. I went with blues, lights – and the rest of the colors. Drove the instructor insane – ended up with a really fabulous quilt.

  14. MargaretK in VA says:

    Great post, Diane! I pretty much NEVER follow a pattern for color or size of the finished quilt – that’s why Scrap Squad was so much fun for me! I like to use small amounts of lots and lots of fabrics in my quilts. A favorite fabric goes a long way and can find its way into many quilts. I find this strategy easier than picking a small selection of carefully matched fabrics, because I don’t need to know up front how much to buy, and I never run short on any key fabric since I can always add in more.

  15. Anne Wiens says:

    Amen, sister!

    I try to get students to use their scrap fabrics to play around with colors, values and placements.

  16. Diane Harris says:

    You’re welcome! Thanks for your comment.

  17. Jeanne says:

    Chuckling about blank stares at show and tell – do we belong to the same guild? :)
    I’m of the “Why use one red when you can use 23 reds?” school of quilting!

  18. Diane H says:

    Thank you, Diane for such a wonderful post. A fabulous reminder to all of us to expand our fabric choices and to have more fun making great looking quilts.

  19. susan718 says:

    I have to admit that when I first started quilting I was very concerned about “matching” everything. I was not seeing the “forest for the trees.” Now I can’t get enough of quilts using what you call “ugly blocks.” I just love the quilts you show as examples in this post. Thank you!

  20. Diane says:

    Great Post. Not knowing what’s going to happen is the most fun about quilting. I just completed two tops out of the mystery quilt. I made red and white and blue and white blocks but decided instead of making it into one large quilt, I would separate the blocks into a red and white quilt and a blue and white quilt. I arranged the blue blocks with the small squares in the middle and got a very pretty star quilt but the red blocks I joined the large white triangles to the small white blocks and got a completely different looking quilt and it’s very dynamic.

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