6 steps to picking fabrics for your next quilt

If you’re like many quilters, you may be overwhelmed when it comes to picking fabrics for your quilting projects. But for me, that’s one of my favorite parts!! I just LOVE digging through my stash to find the right combination of fabrics or hanging out at the quilt shop piling bolts of fabrics onto the cutting table until I find just the right ones that I just can’t live without! When I’m teaching quilting classes, we almost always end up discussing tips for selecting fabrics. Here are 6 steps to picking fabrics for your next quilt that will surely facilitate the process.

Start with one fabric you absolutely LOVE!

You know you have them in your stash – those fabrics that you just had to buy, but had no project in mind. Well, here’s your chance – grab one of those favorite fabrics and let’s find some others to go with it!!

Here’s one of my favorites from my stash. I have always loved Laurel Burch fabrics and over the years I have acquired a little collection of them. I thought that this cute elephant fabric would be a great place to start for my summer project.

Laurel Burch elephant fabric

Oh the possibilities!!!

Pick out fabrics that are the same colors as the print in your fabric

Next, pull out some fabrics in the same colors as the print in your fabric.

Audition” them by laying them down on top of your main fabric to see if they “work”. Don’t stress about everything being “matchy-matchy” but try to keep the colors the same vibrancy. Usually, you would keep clear, bright hues together or dusty, muted hues together.

Stand back as you add each fabric and evaluate it. If you don’t like it, don’t use it! Here are some of the fabrics that I auditioned for my project.

A perfect match for the purple elephant!

A beautiful blue that matches perfectly!

Make sure there is enough contrast between the fabrics

When you’re picking fabrics, you want to make sure that there is enough contrast between the fabrics so that you’ll be able to see the piecing when it’s completed. Although these two fabrics matched my elephants, they were too close in color and didn’t provide enough contrast to the main fabric.

Fabrics that didn’t make the cut.

Making the final selection

Once you found a bunch of fabrics that will work, you’ll probably need to take out a few so that the number of fabrics you’re working with is more manageable.

Try to have an assortment of fabrics with different scale prints to make the quilt more interesting but make sure that there are some solids or tone-on-tone fabrics that will give the eye a place to rest.

…Too many prints in the same scale will make the quilt too busy and will distract from the piecing.

Different scale prints in a selection of coordinating colors

Determine the “feeling” of your quilt

For my table runner, I decided on a ‘more modern’ feeling. In order to accomplish this, I selected hand dyed fabrics by fellow quilter Elaine Quehl. I’ve been saving these for a special art quilt project, but since I’ll only need a little strip from each, I’m going to use them for my table runner. If I wanted a more playful feeling, I would have used the selection of fabrics in the above picture. If I had wanted a more traditional, or country feeling I would have selected fabrics with a more dusty or muted hues.

My final fabric selection

Still struggling? Try pre-cuts!

If you’re still struggling with fabric selection, why not try one of the many pre-cuts that are now available? Pre-cuts come in a variety of sizes and contain a whole collection of fabric cut by machine, stacked into piles or rolled up, and tied together. The fabrics are all co-ordinated and are ready to be pieced into a quilt. There are also many patterns available to use pre-cuts. Here are the main pre-cuts available:

  • Fat quarters – 18” x 22”
  • Layer cakes – 10” squares
  • Charm packs – 5” squares
  • Jelly rolls – 2.5” strips
  • Honeybuns – 1.5” strips

Fat quarter bundle

Charm pack of 5″ squares

Still stuck – get professional help!

Don’t forget that your local quilt shop is a great source of help for selecting fabrics. Or get a quilting buddy to help and then perhaps have tea together!

But remember, these are 6 great steps to pick fabrics for your next quilt, but it’s YOUR quilt and if YOU like it, that’s what is most important. Try to select fabrics that make you feel good about your project.

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Jane Burt September 11, 2019 - 10:14 am
I found it very interesting how the article explains that when you are getting fabric for your quilt, you should start with a fabric that you love but haven't had a use for yet. Recently, I have been wanting to start a quilt but I didn't know what fabric I should start with. It is nice to know that I should start with a fabric that I love.
Sarah c October 14, 2016 - 5:27 pm
Thanks for the great tips
Margaret September 14, 2015 - 8:36 am
This is an excellent reference for those who struggle with choosing fabrics.
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