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A Quilter's Palette

Why does an otherwise rational and scientifically inclined woman become a bit of a crazed hoarder when it comes to quilting fabric. Is it the colors, the prints, the multitude of possibilities or a little bit of all these things? In all honesty, I don’t care because I am a quilter. I see it this way, if I were a painter, I would always have paints available. So, as a quilter I must have a supply of fabric available all the time. When that moment comes along and I am inspired to just start creating, I want to have materials that I need at the ready.

I was pondering the whole subject of fabrics lately and I find it quite interesting how the fabric industry has changed since my earliest experience of putting needle and thread to fabric. My fabric journey started when I was seven and my mother and grandmother thought it was time to teach me the mysterious art of cutting up lengths of fabric and turning those pieces into quilts and garments. At that time the fabric just showed up as I didn’t have anything to do with the choosing, but it wasn’t long before I was allowed to help choose the fabrics and it was like sitting me down in the biggest artist paint palette. The colors seemed almost overwhelming. I was drawn to them all. There were shelves of red fabrics, blues, greens, yellows and more, you would walk the isles and match the fabrics in order to put together the perfect combination for that quilt masterpiece that you were to create. I always found this one of the most interesting parts of the quilting process because you were in charge of the color matching and adding in just the right print. It was truly a learning experience, and I could not rush the process. I had a someone to guide me with this process, I had another quilter at my back. For me it was my grandmother. She was always ready with a listening ear. She was so adept in her ability to teach me while allowing me to make my own decisions about the colors and patterns for my quilts.

Thinking about that process also brought up the thought of how we want to make quilts that are fast and easy. Ok, the idea of things being easy is really an entirely different blog post. However, I do want to mention this idea of quilt making being fast. Quilting is an art form. It should be a process of planning and pondering and ultimately creating. I don’t think Chagall ever said, “Ok, today I’m going to paint a masterpiece in a few hours or even a few days”. Like Chagall’s paintings, quilts are pieces of art and each one deserves the time and care to become that piece that weaves its way into our hearts and our lives in a meaningful way. I suppose I just do not understand societies desire to do everything with speed. For me, speed makes me think of a factory and mass manufacturing and while for many things that is a good idea, for quilting I truly think it takes away from the joy that the process can bring into our lives. At least this is how I think about speed, but this post is really about fabric.

When I was younger there were no beautiful, curated collections of fabrics as there are today. As I was pondering this, I got to thinking, is mixing and matching your own fabrics, without the aid of a designers eye a noble thing. I know that some of us that have been quilting for decades consider the techniques of days gone by as badge of honor. I do not think that it is, in fact the artistic fabric collections of today really meets the needs of all quilters. My grandmother always told me to use the tools and materials available to make my quilting process efficient and always be ready to learn something new. Advice I still live by today.

One question that inevitably arises when I teach a new quilters class, is how “do you know “what fabrics to use. I could teach a whole series of classes of picking fabrics like we did decades ago, and some people would enjoy that process. However, this is a skill and not everyone will get to the point where they feel comfortable. Thankfully fabric collections give us a big hand up with this part of the quilting process. Beautiful patterns are designed to compliment other patterns and scale of patterns, and then solids get thrown in and all we need do is choose the collections that we like. I am personally drawn to the collections of one designer so much that I get anxious waiting for her new designs to arrive at the shop. Oh, there are some general thoughts to keep in mind, like picking a small, medium and large print or a light, medium and dark color, but the main thing is that a fabric collection has all of these things built in and for a lot of people these lovely collections can be what draws them to quilting in the first place. So, I say, “Hurrah”. Anything that brings people into this marvelous art form gets my vote!

And for those of us that have been quilting since time began, curated fabric collections just give us an even wider array of fabrics from which to choose if we still wish to do our own mix and matching. Again, I say, “Hurrah”.

It seems to me that we live in wonderful times, when as quilters we have so many lovely fabrics to work into our thoughtful and amazing quilts. Whether you are new to quilting or have an experienced hand,

remember one thing, fabric is the medium from which we create. Use it in ways that help you in your process. You might even only want to make quilts with one or two designers’ fabrics. That is perfectly okay as it is your way to express yourself. And just one more thing, if as a quilter you ever get stuck in the process of choosing fabrics, the best thing you can do is ask another thoughtful quilter for help. Have a quilting friend to be your back-up, because we are all in this together and being able to reach out to one another for help and friendship is what makes quilters the fabric a lovely community.

As always,

Sew life beautiful…


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