Quilting Basics: Choosing Cotton to Match Your Style

When searching for cotton fabrics to use in a particular quilting project, keep in mind the look you want to achieve. Is the project a casual country quilt or a more formal Victorian design? A simple pieced block can take on many different moods depending on the style of fabric you choose. Soft pastels in tiny prints can give a project a feminine feel, whereas deep browns, rusts, and blues may give the quilt a country flavor.

For a high-end, decorator look, choose coordinates for your quilt. Coordinates are a group of fabrics that complement each other, or coordinate. They can be as diverse as a large-scale floral with a wide matching stripe or as similar as a softly shaded, sweet little calico with matching solids and tiny little prints. Most fabric stores display coordinate fabrics together (usually on end-of-the-aisle displays), making it easier to pick and choose the fabrics that best fit together . . . and best fit your style. You can also find bundled selections of coordinating fat-quarters and fat-eighths in many stores. These bundles are the favorite weakness of some quilters, who purchase them on a whim or to fill out their fabric stashes.

To get started on matching your quilt style to your fabric selection, use Table 1 as a guide.

Table 1: Fit Your Fabric to Your Style

Quilt Style

Fabric Suggestions

Victorian or feminine

Realistic florals mixed with small- to medium-scale coordinates

Cottage

Bright pastels in small- to medium-scale prints mixed with solid off-white

Lodge

Medium- to large-scale deep, woodsy-colored solids and plaids, all in shades of brown, green, rust, red, ochre, tan, navy, and sometimes black

Country

Muted, dusty-toned prints in all scales, plus solids or two-color schemes such as red with white or blue with off-white

Scrappy

Go crazy, pal! Anything goes here!

Traditional Amish

Deep jewel-tone solids and black; no prints

Contemporary

Colorful novelty prints, especially geometric prints

Juvenile

Bright crayon colors in solids and prints

Pay close attention to the color values of the fabrics you select. Your projects need some contrast so they don't look washed-out, so for the best results, gather an assortment of light-, medium-, and dark-valued prints. In a well-designed quilt, light-value fabrics recede, dark-value fabrics pop out prominently, and medium-value fabrics hold the whole thing together. Without this variety, your quilt doesn't look like much from a distance — just a lump of fabric with batting in between the layers!

Some fabric stores carry a nifty little tool called a value finder, which is simply a little rectangle (about 2 x 4 inches) of transparent red plastic that, when held over printed fabrics, allows you to see the color value without the clutter of the print getting in your way! It works by changing the color of the fabric to gray-scale, allowing you see with ease which fabrics are light, dark, or somewhere in between. The value finder's small enough to fit in your purse or pocket, so it's easy to keep on hand.

In addition to value, scale, which is the size of a fabric's print, is also very important when choosing fabrics for a quilt. Just as with values, small-scale prints recede in a design, and large-scale prints can be real eye-poppers!

Try to avoid using more than one or two large-scale prints in your quilt. They tend to look too "busy" and are hard on your eyes when cutting, stitching, and quilting, not to mention when you're trying to enjoy your final product.

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