Picking Patchwork

comments: 36


I’ve been working on cutting new fabrics for the new quilt-top kits, coming soon. The fabrics are still so exquisite. Maybe it’s just me, and I’m in this weird zone about them. It’s hard to account for what appeals to anyone at any particular time. With me, my interests almost feel like obsessions, and they’re sort of weirdly capricious and weirdly timeless at the same time. Like, I love these fabrics, and I’ve always loved these fabrics, but why wasn’t I obsessed with them, say, last year? Or the year before? What accounts for anyone’s interest in any particular thing at any particular time? My interests have always been white-hot. Ever since I was a child, I have gotten deeply into whatever it is I have gotten into. Sometimes the trance lasts years (horses, Arthurian legend, chicken-loaf sandwiches, knitting). Sometimes it lasts only days or weeks (flute playing, Duran Duran, and apparently, weaving). But I feel like they're all a part of me, and that habit of delving deep has gotten me through some tough times. I think Andy shares this trait. Between the two of us, we have Projects. We're watching Amelia discover her own interests — right now she’s teaching herself all of her favorite songs on her toy xylophone — and it is totally fascinating to watch. She talks to herself in sweet little voices, encouraging herself, making jokes to herself, admonishing herself, giggling at herself. Watching her when she’s in flow, whether she’s playing with toys or playing music (these are where it seems to happen for her), is one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever experienced as a parent. I hold my breath the whole time, hoping the moment goes on and on. Don't lose that, baby girl. Get in there.

Currently I'm spending my nighttime free-time wiggling around on Ancestry trying to figure out what my maternal great-grandmother's maiden name was (I think I might have found it) and surfing eBay looking for vintage fabrics for new quilt kits. I think the looking appeal to me on so many different levels. I’m kind of a researcher at heart. I like thrill of the hunt. I like going down rabbit holes and following trails and finding different ways of looking for information. I like history. I like shopping. I like on-line shopping. I like when the fabrics finally arrive at the house and I open all of the packages and refold all of the fabrics, and start designing collections of them in my mind. I even, still, like the cutting, like listening to Pavement radio on Pandora for hours on end, cutting fabric and stacking it neatly and thinking about things.

I had a question from a customer the other day about how to pick out solid colors for the Calicozy quilts. I realized that I didn’t really specify this in the pattern, other than to give you the total number of solid patches you needed for each size quilt, and the total amount of yardage that corresponds. My thinking about that was going in several different directions when I was working on the pattern so I thought maybe I’d talk a little bit about how I put quilts and quilt kits together, and maybe someone will find it vaguely interesting if you’re in the process of doing it (especially if you’re struggling with it). I don't have any formal training in color theory or anything else around this, so this chatter is just about how I do it, not the right way to do it, or any of that. It's just my way, and specifically my way in making these.

So, let me start with prints. In the toddler Calicozy quilt kits, there are fifteen different prints, generally. In the larger sizes, even though there are a lot more patches, there are still about fifteen different prints, just more yardage of each. (The “yardage” comes in 4.25” strips.) When choosing prints, I think about a few things. First, I start with just a few prints of any color that I absolutely love. That usually gives me two or three main colors that begin to tell a story. What character uses this quilt? Where does this quilt belong? What does that room look like? What’s the weather like when this quilt is being used? Is there an open window with rain coming in, or a crackling fire, or a warm night breeze? What’s the feeling of this quilt? What feeling do I want to have when I’m using it? Let yourself think about these things, and then just commit to the scene. Limit yourself to that story. There will be other quilts to make. If you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s probably because you might need to narrow your focus. Those questions can help.

As you’re picking fabrics and designing toward that story, whatever it is, think about balancing. I think about it like this: First, as I mentioned, I just pick my favorites, no matter what their scale, or color, or whatever. If those are leading you into your story, that’s great. If one feels like it’s just not gonna work this time, don’t toss it, but put it aside. Work with the others. Now start adding. Pick prints that feel coordinated but also unique. Most of the fabrics in these quilts are tiny floral calicos with many colors and lots of detail, and those are the best. But I also do try to include a few fabrics that are larger scale, or monochromatic, or very simple (tiny white hearts on a blue background, for instance), or even striped (I know, life on the edge, people. Stripes!). If many of your prints are very busy, choose a few that have some "white" space (whatever their color). If many of your prints are bright or primary, choose a few that are muted or muddy, or pale. You want some variety here, so that those very favorite prints you love so much stand out in relief against a background that has depth and texture, visually. And, if you’re inclined toward very light, delicate, pretty prints and colors, don’t forget the black. Adding black, or even very dark brown or dark gray or navy or evergreen, even in a toddler quilt, provides a bit of grounding for everything. Remember that these patches will only be 3.75” when finished, and they will be scattered, so they will all look different in practice, too.

In the toddler quilt, the pattern calls for seven strips of solid colors, so about a third of the patches (in all of the quilts, no matter what size) are solid colors. This ratio felt nice to me, as the solid patches, no matter what color they are, help your eye rest as you’re looking at the quilt, and keep it from being overwhelmed by the busyness. I always pick out the solid colors last. Once I’ve picked out the prints, I bring them all with me to the fabric store and then I start holding them up to different solids. For each kit, I choose three different solid colors. If I want the quilt to feel more restful, I keep all three of those shades quite similar. If I want the quilt to have more energy, I go with bolder colors that are quite different from each other. The solid colors can really bring this quilt together. If you feel like your prints have quite a bit of inconsistency color-wise — and this can be a really good thing — the solids you choose can totally bring it all together. I like to choose solids that feel both pretty and a little unexpected. Let yourself choose things that don’t feel like “your” things and see what happens. You might be surprised. Some of the kits that turned out to be my very favorites were so random when they started that I thought there was no way they would come together. But I was pleasantly surprised by the result.

Let yourself go down the rabbit hole. Follow it wherever it goes. Don't get hung up. Enjoy every minute. XO


My husband and I were talking about this just last night. We are weeding through our books, for various reasons- space being a major one, and he noticed that he goes through reading phases where he reads books on the same topic until it's mostly exhausted including the American Civil War, Norse mythology, Classical history, Richard III, etc. I mentioned that I have multiple sewing projects either cross stitch or quilts and sometimes feel so tremendously guilty for not being quicker at finishing these projects. But I love the process. I like to linger and ask myself the questions you just listed. Who is this for? What scene do I imagine this quilt being used? I absolutely love everything you do and it's nice to get a peek into your process. :)

My Duran Duran fixation is going on 34 years. -faints-

I really look forward to all of your posts, I think you are creating a wonderful diary for your daughter to look back on in years to come. This post though has touched me in particular, I too love the research of anything I do, and also the online shopping! Sometimes though to the detriment of actually getting the planned project completed. But your method of choosing fabrics for a quilt was like a light bulb moment. I only make lap or the odd baby quilt so far, but have always struggled with choosing fabrics for them. I also am not keen on symmetry so random goes. Now I will feel more confident in my choices, thank you so very much!

Thank you for the information about the quilts Alicia. I purchased the pattern and who knows one of these days I might make my own lap quilt. Thank you for being inspiring and encouraging! You got great prints there in that box!

yvonne Welty says: April 07, 2017 at 08:29 AM

Lovely post. I can totally relate to your passion for the process of creating. Creating can help you escape from difficult thing going on in your life/world. Crafting is better than therapy! Ha!

I really love this post. It's so fascinating how our minds work, especially in relationship to our tastes and sense of beauty and what inspires our creativity. Thank you so much for sharing your own experience, so particularly too with this project. It's one reason I love your blog, your openness. Thank you!

Ancestry is ADDICTIVE, especially when you hit a stream of gold. It's hard to stop when you're really on a roll. I have done tons of research on my own family and, if I can be of any help with your research, please let me know. We had a family mystery surrounding my great-grandfather's paternity and through diligent research as well as doing DNA testing through ancestry, I am 99% sure I have resolved it. It's a pretty cool thing to be able to look back in time and have a window into your ancestors' world.

I'm coming to your blog having just finished my latest paper for my grad class. Coming to your blog is DESSERT! I have approximately four more hours to PLAY tonight before I fall into bed. My current rabbit hole/obsession - crocheting, as in, I crochet in every spare moment that I have and everything else has been pushed aside. Last night it was miniature one inch balls for my cats to play with (stuffed with catnip) and tonight it will be basket four of a nesting basket set. Thanks so much for sharing your inspirations and rabbit holes!

There is a Little House on the Prairie fabric line out right now that has similar fabrics. I use to buy fabrics similar to yours from Joann's.

Enjoyed your discussion of 'flow' so much. I get in that zone when doing some family history research - or, indeed, any sort of 'detective' work. I've been of late obsessed with YouTube documentaries, particularly those on totalitarian regimes and individuals who've had the courage to stand up to them; I seem to balance that with my addiction to episodes of "Escape to the Country" on Netflix. Anyway, I love you sharing your thought processes and interests, as they can often serve as a jumping off point for others - which is as it should be; I think these shifts are a sign of a curious mind, and that's all to the good.

Thank you so much for taking the time to lay out your process for choosing fabrics for a quilt. The color wheel/color theory approaches I've read in books have never been too helpful for me, I think because I am led by strong intuitive and instinctive drives, and such a formula feels - whether it is or not - too rigid. But it's helpful to have some general guidelines to corral the instincts into something cohesive and beautiful, and my mind can absolutely get behind the ones you described in your post.

The imaginings you do for your quilts remind me of the way an actor-friend approaches even roles where she has only a few lines (on Broadway, mind you)- she has a whole life beyond the stage in mind for the characters she plays. I like so much that you do this for things you're making.

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at aliciapaulson.com




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.