How to Choose Fabric for a Quilt

How to combine fabrics. How to pick fabrics for a quilt.

Recently a good Instagram friend asked how I go about combining fabrics for my quilts and quilted pillow covers. I had to ponder that for a while. I didn’t really know how to answer her.

I don’t have an equation I follow. I looked back through lots of pictures of my favorite combinations, and I found a few consistencies in all of my stacks and best loved patchwork.

How to combine fabrics. How to pick fabrics for a quilt.

If I had to narrow down a few principals that appear to remain the same, here’s what I found. Remember, this is what works for ME. Follow your own tastes when creating your own quilt. Maybe as you read through, it will give you the encouragement that choosing fabrics is really about the loves and preferences of the one sewing the quilt. That’s YOU.

So be sure to choose and purchase what YOU love.

Alas, here’s what I love to put together when creating and sewing quilts.

1. I almost never use fabrics from the same line. I enjoying coordinating and contrasting fabrics. I do not tend to enjoy matching fabrics.

2. I always love EVERY fabric I buy and create with. I don’t buy fillers just to have plenty of solids or ginghams or stripes around. Now I do have all three of those in my stash, but they are in my stash because I liked them as an individual fabric. In other words, I don’t add fabrics into my quilts just because the fabrics coordinate well. I only ever use fabrics in my quilts that I am drawn to as an individual fabric.

How to combine fabrics. How to pick fabrics for a quilt.

3. I tend to enjoy negative space in quilts. I have learned that if every fabric has lots of pattern, I tend to get overwhelmed. You will see Kona white in almost every quilt I create. If you don’t see solid white, you’ll find a denim or linen or something blank.

4. The fabrics I choose to work with are fabrics that I LIKE. I do not try to mimic or imitate the quilts of others. As an early quilter, I used others for inspiration, but I always ended up with an in-cohesive quilt. When I’m combining my own personal tastes with preferences inspired by other quilters, I end up with a bit of everything.

One of the greatest quilting challenges I’m facing right now is sewing a quilt for my dear sister. Her tastes are different than mine, and I’m trying to sew a quilt that combines her tastes with my preferences. It’s really hard for me!

How to combine fabrics. How to pick fabrics for a quilt.

5. I may be fooling myself, but when I look back at my quilts, I see very little primary color. Don’t get me wrong. I see lots of color, but mostly hues varied away from the primaries. I don’t use true red or true blue or true yellow. Instead I see shades of pink, turquoise, and mustard yellow. See the difference?

6. I use a variety of types of prints. I combine florals, stripes, plus signs, hexagons, berries, and much more together. I never have an all floral fabric quilt, or I never use all striped fabric in one quilt. In my mind, nothing is off limits combined with another print as long as I like both the fabrics.

How to combine fabrics. How to pick fabrics for a quilt.

7. I thrive on the ‘scrappy’ look. I don’t like matchy matchy. I don’t try to coordinate or match colors. I like contrast and variation.

Friends, it took me a few years to really understand what kinds of fabrics I liked. Some fabrics I bought and by the time I got them home, I didn’t like them anymore. I didn’t quite know what I was after. Remember that learning to do anything well is a process and will take time and money and patience. I still sometimes end up with fabric combinations that end up sitting unfinished in my closet because I can’t get motivated to finish them.

How to combine fabrics. How to pick fabrics for a quilt.

Last year I experimented with using an off white egg shell color as the base of a quilt instead of a my go-to Kona cotton white. What a mistake for my tastes! I finished the quilt and immediately put it in storage. I felt so defeated. I told my husband it was such a waste of time to try branching out.

BUT, if I hadn’t tried using egg shell white, I never would have known I didn’t like it.

How to combine fabrics. How to pick fabrics for a quilt.

If I can encourage you, start small with fabric. Don’t buy a bunch at once. If you are like me and find it overwhelming shuffling through hundreds of fabric options at larger retailers, maybe start with a small fabric shop. Your local fabric shop, perhaps? Or, find a small Etsy store or blogger where you find yourself liking a lot of their fabrics. This will help relieve you of shuffling through hundreds and hundreds of fabrics at once. That can become so overwhelming…for some of us.

If you are an Instagram user, maybe shop the hashtag #thegreatfabricdestash. Find some yardage for around $8.00 a yard that you like. That’s a great price for high quality fabric.

Pick out a few fat quarters or half yards and find a small project to do from start to finish.

How to combine fabrics. How to pick fabrics for a quilt.

Here are a few small shops you may enjoy browsing for inspiration. Both of these shops have a very distinct style, in my opinion, and maybe you’ll find yourself enjoying what they stock.

Sew Stitching Happy
Sunny Day Supply
Bijou Lovely
Sojo Fabric

If you are looking for someone who puts together solid colored fabric combinations like no one else, check out this instagram feed:

Scroll down through her feed, and I’m sure you’ll find some combinations that resonate with your tastes.

My favorite quilt blogger of all times is Red Pepper Quilts. Scroll through some of her finished quilts, and you are sure to be amazed at some of her fabric combinations.

Another one I love is Nathalie Bearden. Here is her Instagram feed:

I think I recently saw she is opening a fabric shop as well. Her taste is spot on in my opinion.

How to combine fabrics. How to pick fabrics for a quilt.

How do you do it? Share with me how you go about putting together colors and patterns and textures. What have you found to work for you?

How to combine fabrics. How to pick fabrics for a quilt.

6 thoughts on “How to Choose Fabric for a Quilt

  1. Kelli, I liked your post, nice job. I usually would never take the time to post something I “don’t like” about the blog but I really mean this in the spirit of helping. It reads a bit rude to tell people “do not shop at Joanns or” etc… People should, and they will, shop where they can afford to shop. Now you may be working with an income or are being provided for at a level that myself and others are not. Just something to think about. I shop wherever I see something that I like, and I stay away from Etsy as much as possible. It’s over priced and many shops are just too “precious” for me. Most importantly, I would never buy a single thing from someone or some shop that had just told me “where not to shop”. A little humility would go a long way.

    1. Hi Irene, I’m so sorry you saw so much pride in this post. It appears as though I should re-word some things. 🙁 I frequently shop at JoAnn’s and and think they are both wonderful places to purchase fabric. I must have written some things poorly. I appreciate your insight and word of caution to always practice humility.

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