January 29, 2016

Which Comes First; the Fabric or the Design?

Toward the end of 2015, I went through most of my stash sorting and trying to purge. To say the least, it was therapeutic to actually handle all my fabric. It made me realize just how many quilts I should get started on. But where to begin. Should I start with the fabric and come up with a design specific to that fabric? Or should I come up with a design first and then choose fabric that works? I've been considering this 'fabric first vs design first' question for awhile now.

Then Cheryl of Meadow Mist Designs asked the same question as part of her Pattern Writing Series. Today I'd like to look at the question more closely to analyze how I work and why. I'll also share what the other designers in the series have to say. Here's the question Cheryl asked us:
  • Do you tend to start with a design and then find fabrics and colors that work or do you tend to start with a color scheme or fabric collection in mind and design a pattern for the fabric?

I'll start with my thoughts . . .
I buy fabrics because I love them. I love the colors. I love the prints. I just love fabric. Cleaning my stash helped me realize a few things. I've always thought of myself as a color person, but in reality I now realize I'm a colorful print person. When I go into a quilt shop, I'm drawn to the prints more than the solids, especially large scale prints like Kaffe Fassett and Amy Butler. In this photo of my studio, only one of the five cubbies is for solids. Two have mostly modern tonal prints. One has neutral prints and one is stuffed with Kaffe Fassett, Amy Butler, and Tula Pink. That's my favorite!!

As you can see, I have a wonderful, colorful stash of fabrics from which to begin a design. And yet when I am creating a pattern I rarely start with the fabric. Why is that? You would think I'd be pulling fabrics right and left. I certainly have enough to play with.

What it comes down to is this. Intention. If my intention is to create a pattern for sale, I want the design to be the primary factor rather than the fabric. I want the quilter to have the freedom to make it with fabrics they love rather than simply copy the fabrics I've used. I want them to 'make it their own' as I say in my patterns.

For this reason, a new pattern usually begins with the design first. I start by exploring composition and structure. I might play with a graphic element like line or a shape. I might play with a traditional block. I might translate something non-quilty I've seen into a design. But the bottom line is the design. It establishes the foundation and structure for the quilt.

As the design takes shape, I introduce color and value and really start playing. How color and value are applied can have an huge effect on the final look of a design. That's the part I like the most . . . exploring all the options and looking at how even small changes in color placement or value can completely change the feel of a design. That's one big reason I share optional ideas in the patterns. Here's an example from my Matrix pattern.

As I'm playing with color, I start to consider the fabrics. Does the design work best with solids? Will it work well with prints? What scale or type of prints work best? Fabric is chosen based on color and value rather than any particular print. Even with a design that uses large scale prints, like the Kaffe prints in my Cascade pattern, it's more about the color, value, and scale than the specific prints.

Sometimes I might have a color scheme in mind. Sometimes I might even have a type of fabric like a large scale print in mind. These things simply influence my choices as I design. For example, if I'm wanting to try a larger scale print, I'll evaluate the size of the pieces used in the blocks. If it's a color scheme, I'll still consider how alternative color schemes will work. In other words, the design still comes first.

Here's what the other designers in the series had to say:

Yvonne of Quilting Jetgirl
80% of the time I start with a design and then find colors / fabrics, but I have also worked to create a design based on fabric bundles or with a particular color scheme in mind.

Christa of ChristaQuilts
I usually start by designing the pattern first. Early in my quiltmaking career I remember hearing “a great pattern works well with any fabrics” and that idea has really stuck with me. I usually design in solid colors to get the basic idea down first, then add print fabrics, or change colors later. When designing, I am always aware of where the lights, mediums, and darks will go to create contrast in the design. I (Anne) might add that I usually start with solids too. I work in Illustrator, so importing actual fabric swatches isn't something I regularly do but it would certainly be helpful. The visual texture of a print can read quite differently than a solid. Having the option of importing fabric swatches is something to consider if you'll be choosing a computer quilting program to design.

Soma of Whims and Fancies
I mostly design patterns first, then decide on suitable colors and prints.

Lorna of Sew Fresh Quilts
Both. I have been known to start with a backing fabric in mind and design a pattern for the front to match the backing. 

Amy of 13 Spools
I constantly try to start with fabric - and I’m pretty horrible at it! Sometimes things end well, but I find I work best when I start with a pattern. When I see the right fabric, I just know it.

Cheryl of Meadow Mist Designs 
I typically start my design using just a few solid colors (lights, mediums, and darks) and focus on the design elements first.  Once the design elements and blocks are set, I start playing around with colorations and different fabrics.  This route tends to be the easiest and most natural for me.  

Occasionally, when I am designing for a fabric company, I start my design process with a fabric collection or precut size.  I find this tends to be more difficult for me, but it can produce some interesting results.  Having a design and idea library is sometimes very helpful for me when starting a design based on a fabric collection.  I can go “shopping” in my library to see if I already have a design that might work with some tweaking for the particular fabric collection.

You don’t have to start exclusively going only one direction.  You could start with a design and then as you add fabrics, you could decide to go back and change the design.  My designs very rarely are linear and straight forward, they are usually iterative and go through many changes before I reach the final design.


As you can see from the designers answers, most start with the design and then choose fabric. As I think about the various ways I design, I can summarize my approach into three different strategies.
  1. Design first, then fabrics based on color, value, and scale of print that will best support and enhance the design.
  2. Fabrics and design worked simultaneously. This is similar to what Cheryl refers to when shopping her design library for something that works with a given fabric grouping. I will be using this approach a lot as I try to use my stash this year. 
  3. Fabric first where the design is dependent upon a particular fabric. For me, quilts that fall into this category are usually because one specific fabric sparked a very specific idea. 

So what about the fabric first approach?
I agree with Cheryl that beginning with the fabric can be more challenging. It seems counterintuitive not to start with the fabric. We're quilters after all. We love fabric. I'm sure we've all fallen hard over a certain line of fabric or perhaps one particular print. Probably more than once . . . maybe even on an ongoing basis. That's why we have the ever growing stash right?

Starting from a fabric first approach just means a different set of criteria. If you're designing a pattern for a fabric manufacturer, then the objective is to sell that fabric line. You will have a specific set colors, values and scales to work with. You'll also have the same limitations if you're working with a bundle or precuts. These limitations can be challenging but they can also produce interesting designs that have a lot of potential as patterns. Think jelly roll or charm pack patterns.  If you're curating a bundle from your stash, you have more control over these variables. You can select a certain color scheme, value range, or use of scale.

Here are a few things I would consider when starting with fabric first.
  • Does the design require specific fabrics in order to work?
  • If so, will these fabrics still be readily available to the quilter by the time the pattern is published?
  • Is the design flexible enough that different fabrics can easily be substituted while still maintaining the integrity of the design?
  • Can I demonstrate alternative fabric choices?
These questions are also good to ask if you are submitting a design for publication in a magazine.

Now that I am trying to sew from my stash for 2016, I will definitely be trying to start with the fabric more often so I can use it. In reality though it will be more like the fabric/design simultaneously strategy. I will probably 'shop' my pattern library like Cheryl suggests to see what might work with these groups and branch off from there.

The two photos below are a couple of fabric groupings I recorded while cleaning my stash. I love them but will they become patterns? Both have possibilities but I will need to consider a few of things.

First, both groups include larger scale prints. Nothing wrong with that. I would just find a way to demonstrate that alternative prints can also work. The biggest problem with both these groups is that the primary print is older and therefore not readily available any longer. If I were to design a quilt with these I'd probably not make it into a pattern without considering more current fabrics for the final pattern cover. That might lead to a great variation, another quilt, and a whole new pattern idea.

The grouping above is based on a Carolyn Friedlander print. I am inspired by the grid in this print and have pulled some possible companion pieces. The idea I have is based very specifically on that center fabric. For that reason, I wouldn't make the design into a pattern because of limited fabric availability now. The concept is too specific to be a viable pattern. But who knows where this idea might lead. I'm always open to one quilt evolving into a second quilt and maybe new pattern ideas.

Be open to where your work leads you.


As Cheryl said, "You don’t have to start exclusively going only one direction."
There is no right or wrong to the process. Hopefully this has given you something to think about. Most likely you'll find that you'll switch back and forth depending on the project. The important thing is to start.

Be sure to check out Cheryl's post this week on Quilt Design and Inspiration.
And Yvonne's post on Design Inspiration.
Both have really good thoughts to help you get started.

Now begin and see where the journey takes you.


January 27, 2016

The Evolution of a Quilt

Do you ever have an idea for a quilt and then just never get it started? I'm talking years here. Maybe it's a rough sketch. Maybe it's just in your head. Or maybe you actually start the project and it evolves into something completely different? That's how I feel about my current project. It sat around forever and then evolved. For the better.

The initial idea sat around for years in the form of these leafy fabrics in my stash and this sketch. I don't buy traditional fabrics like this anymore but I still love their leafy goodness. After all, I love all things leafy.   : )

My intention was to make a wall quilt to use in the family room during the winter months when my decor goes mostly white with a touch of green. See my white post for more on that. I planned to use my leafy print collection including these great large scale leaf prints that I've saved just for this project. I love them!

I've also had another idea tucked away that was inspired by a lovely blue and white checkerboard quilt in a home decorating magazine I saw years ago. One of those images that's makes an impression and stays with you. It was so simple. So clean and crisp. I thought one day I'd make a checkerboard quilt with white and one additional color.

Then along came the scrappy trip quilts everyone was making not all that long ago. I learned Bonnie Hunter's clever technique for making these blocks. Love the technique. Love the look. Here are a few blocks made for a baby quilt.

After seeing numerous lovely Scrappy Trip quilts online, I had an aha moment. Why not use this technique to make the checkerboard blocks. Instead of a random placement of leafy prints they would appear somewhat clustered and create movement within the checkerboard look. I liked how it looked.

I started making blocks for the wall hanging and the idea evolved into a quilt for our master bedroom instead. True confessions . . . I call myself a quilter but I don't actually have a quilt on any of the beds in my house. Go figure. I think it's finally about time I make a quilt for a bed. Since leaves play a role in my bedroom decor, this idea was the perfect fit. Here are some of the blocks laid out on the bed. Checkerboard look I feel in love with. Leafy prints I love. Perfect.

I've been making these blocks on and off now for months, mostly at various guild sew days. I need about 68 give or take. Truth be told, I'm really tired of taking the same thing to sew day over and over, month after month.

This past weekend was the last time I'll be doing these at a sew day. Yeah! I spent the day cutting the final batch of strip sets into segments and then unsewing as the tutorial calls for. Here's a batch of them all ready for the next step.

See this post for my tips on how to keep the segments organized so you unsew the correct seams. Believe me . . . it's quite easy to make a mistake.

As I worked on the blocks for my bed quilt I had another aha moment. I should just bust out the wall quilt too. I only needed 9 more blocks plus some strips for the checkered edge. Why not make both? It seems like a no brainer and yet I hadn't seriously considered it once my thinking shifted to making a quilt for the bed.

Now I'm well on my way to having the wall quilt almost done and the bed quilt is getting closer and closer to completion too. All the blocks should be done by the end of the week. Then I just need to sew them into rows. WaHoo!!! It feels like two quilts in one.

Next month I hope to have two finished quilts to share. Two projects that have been on my to do list for way way too long. That's a really good way to start the year.

Do you have projects that you've wanted to make for a long time?
Why not move forward on just one of them this year?

Linking up with a few parties this week. Another of my 2016 goals.
Let's Bee Social, WIP Wednesday and Needle and Thread Thursday.


January 20, 2016

Pattern Writing Series

Cheryl over at Meadow Mist Designs just started a new blog series about how to write a quilt pattern. She'll be covering all you need to know over the next several weeks concluding with a free pattern and some great pattern giveaways.

If you've ever thought about writing your own pattern or are just curious about how it's done I hope you'll follow along with Cheryl. It's going to be an excellent series. You can find the posts here.

As part of the event, Cheryl invited 6 other pattern designers, including yours truly, to weigh in on various topics each week. We'll be discussing things like inspiration, design tools and software programs as well as many other topics. Next week I'll be writing a special post for the series on which comes first, the fabric or the design. I hope you'll join me. Hop over now and learn more about the panelists. Meadow Mist Designs.


January 19, 2016

White: A Good Place to Begin

White brings to mind gentleness, softness, purity, cleanliness, innocence, perfection. White feels fresh. White is considered the opposite of black or darkness. It represents light and all that is good and pure in the world. We can always use more good in the world.

White also marks new beginnings and it's where I'm beginning 2016.

I like to think of white as a clean blank canvas . . . a perfect place to start the new year. Here's my design wall, all cleared and ready for new quilty goodness to develop . . .

I especially identify with white in winter, but not for the obvious reasons of it being the color of snow. Although living in Colorado we do get our fair share of white stuff in the winter. Thankfully our house doesn't look like this very often . . .

During the Christmas season, my home is decked out in holiday decorations. It's colorful and full. Very full. But with the start of the new year I enjoy putting all those decorations away and being left with a simplified space. A clean slate.

White frees my mind from the clutter and distraction of all the color I usually surround myself with. White calms, refreshes, and renews my soul.

For years I have replaced all the colorful holiday decor with simple white dishes. They have a calm, quietness about them.

I also have other white-scapes throughout my home, like this collection of white pitchers . . .

And these vintage collections . . .

The glass vases below are filled with mementos of my Mom. Her white lacy blouses. Her white gloves. Strands of her pearls.

My husband used white for his sculptures titled "Together Again" that pays homage to his parents.

This a Chihuly glass piece from the Denver Botanical Gardens show.

White is readily found in nature too. Besides snow, there are fluffy white clouds . . . next time you look at the sky take notice of all the colors in the 'white' clouds. Grays, blues, yellows . . .

White sandy beaches . . . and some pale white skin to match.

We may not have white capped waves here in Colorado but we do have plenty of white water in our rushing mountain streams . . .

There are beautiful white blooming trees and flowers in spring . . .

Spring also brings plenty of fluffy white dandelion seed pods . . .

I realized I have always had gray and white kitties. Both Opal and Leo have white paws, chins and bellies. I almost tripped over this one as I headed down the stairs. It's not his usual spot and he had no intention of moving . . .

White comes in many colors. If you've ever tried to choose white paint you know what I mean. Warm whites. Cool whites. Bright white. Antique white. Whites with a touch of blue, pink, yellow, green.

Whether you think of white as a color or not, no one would deny it certainly is associated with many positive qualities. If you care to learn more about whether white is even considered a color or not this article looks at both sides of the argument and is worth a read.

Here's to my clean slate. It's time to begin . . .

When I started this color series, my intention was to really look for the color in my own personal world. To see the color around me in my house, my environment and my experiences. For that reason I've chosen to use my own photos rather than rely on the abundance of beautiful photos and color schemes available through sites like Pinterest and Design Seeds. These sites are wonderful places for inspiration on color but I want my series to be personal . . . representative of the color I see around me. You can see all my other color stories under the Color Inspiration tab at the top of my blog. If you'd like to see additional beautiful color images, you can follow my Pinterest color boards here. Just look for the specific color boards or my Color Scheme board.

I challenge you to look around your home, your neighborhood, your work and really see the colors in your world. Go look for some White in your life. Thanks for reading.


January 8, 2016

Reality Check . . . Starting with a Clean Slate

2015 was a year of purging at my house and while I still have a ways to go I got a good start. It feels sooo good to simplify and actually have less.

However having less in my studio is entirely another matter. I've been quilting for nearly 20 years so there's a lot of fabric in my stash. Too much. Much too much. It's been quite a reality check to acknowledge just how much fabric I own. And I'm finding it hard to let go.

During December, I scheduled in time to go through my stash with the intention of sorting, reorganizing, and purging. In an attempt to regain control, I spent time clearing things I knew I wouldn't use and it was much harder than I imagined. The frugal side of me kept saying, "but I could make a charity quilt or some placemats or or or . . . "   You get the picture. Bet you've even had the same experience.

These are just 2 of 4 tubs of floral fabrics. I love flowers. Would I buy these now? Probably not. Can I part with them? Not yet. I'm hoping to make a scrappy trip quilt and perhaps one or two other quilts with them. Then maybe I'll be able to let go of what's left.

Below are mostly realistic leafy prints and fruit/veggie prints. Can't part with these yet either. I'm using a lot of the leafy prints in this quilt. And I'm thinking napkins and/or placements with the fruit/veggie prints will go nicely with my fruit/veggie dishes.

In the end, I managed to fill a couple of boxes with fabric. Not as much as I had hoped but at least it's a start. Some I will sell at a local resale shop that buys by the pound. Other stuff I'm giving away.

I also spent time ironing and refolding pieces so they would fit into the cubbies or cabinets I use for storage. Over time I had shoved a lot of stuff in here and there and it didn't fit. The edges were being smashed. Not good for the fabric. It might seem like a waste of time to iron and refold but I actually found the process very therapeutic.

In some cases, opening up a bigger cut and seeing the entire piece was totally inspiring. When you only see a little edge you can forget how beautiful the fabric really is.

I found new groupings that got me excited. I even took quick photos of some of them for future quilts.

Sadly, I also found a piece here and there that had faded along the fold lines. No rhyme or reason. They weren't in direct light. They weren't all stored in the same location. Thankfully this didn't happen too much.

The biggest benefit to handling most of my fabric was the conviction it gave me to use it. That's why I bought it in the first place, right? All that handling also strengthened my conviction not to buy anymore in 2016. I simply do not need another piece of fabric added to my stash. With the money I save from not buying more fabric I'll be able to send more quilts out to be quilted. That means more finished projects and that's a very very good thing.   : )

So today I am formally putting it out there that one of my 2016 goals is to use my stash. To make those quilts I've had in mind for ages using as much of this glorious stash as I can.

Granted I have more ideas and more fabric than I have time to make in a single year but at least I can make a dedicated start.

I have unsubscribed to most online shops. Not because I don't love what they offer, but simply because I don't need the temptation.

I vow to only buy the occasional fabric absolutely necessary to complete a project. Binding, backing, or enough yardage to make a design work. I know myself well enough to admit that I won't be satisfied with a binding or backing that isn't just right. But I will always try to find it in the stash first.

What's the condition of your stash? Overflowing or under control? Full of what you love or things you're clinging to from another time?

When making decisions about what to keep, I tried to come back to the question of whether keeping it was worth my time and effort. Am I keeping it out of guilt over spending money on something I haven't used? Yes. Does it still inspire me? Sort of. Is it really where my heart is? Not really.

When I step back and think about where I really want to go with my quilting, a lot of the older stash simply has no part to play. The time it would take to use it would be time I could spend making all those ideas that are filling my brain and inspiring me.

But for now, I'll settle for baby steps. The things I want to use are right here in front of me. All organized. Awaiting the projects they are meant to become.

Here's my newly cleaned stash . . . I'm ready to go.
Just need my sewing machine. It's out being serviced.

Wishing you happy times in your sewing room playing with your stash.