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


Oh my goodness, what memories. The tiniest sliver of the pale pink fabric in the picture was the fabric I used to make my first banded skirt with pockets in 7th grade home economics. I loved that skirt! Great memories.

I find this utterly fascinating! Thank you for sharing your design process.

A friend and I were talking about this recently- the tendency to get completely and totally absorbed and obsessed with... whatever it is at that time...until we've reached information saturation. And then it just fizzles out, but while the fascination is going on, man, it's a little worrisome, like "Am I turning into a freak?" But when I'm all saturated, I move on and I'm not that interested. I think it's a personality thing, but more and more I find that lots of people do it. But loves? Passions? they never change. For me, quilting is one of them. I have taken breaks, but even then I miss it, and have taken to carrying my sewing machine with me. I almost never am without a WIP and the passion has never died, not for nearly 30 years.

Oh this is so wonderful, thank you!! I just love your quilt patterns as they give me the freedom to create. They are straight forward, easy for moms of littles to accomplish, and allow me to wrap my children in beautiful, cozy pieces made by me! I'm just such a happy quilter now. :)

I get immersed in stuff too, and I love it when I've got my teeth in something. Then, when the interest passes, I miss feeling that way about something.

Cat McKenzie says: April 04, 2017 at 05:25 PM

What a wonderful post! I have a feeling many of us who read and love your blog are serial enthusiasts, I know I am, with solid passions like quilting and knitting that stick around and wait patiently while we dabble in watercolors or pencil drawing.
I knew as I was reading that you would post the quilt kits when I was out of town and sure enough it was over by the time I read the post. But actually now I am quite happy with buying the pattern and going on an adventure finding fabrics that will be perfect for my quilt. I am looking at etsy, having friends search their fabric stash and checking our local thrift shop for that special fabric for the quilt. It is great fun. Thanks for sharing how you look at the process of finding fabrics, it is all about the story and I love that.

I am an accountant by nature and don't have an artistic bone in my body. (Really!) I started quilting at about the time your "vintage" fabrics were new, and took lessons through the adult ed department of my local community college. My teacher gave us a formula:

1.) Pick a print you really love.
2.) Choose other prints that harmonize color-wise with that print, and try to choose prints that are small, medium, and large, in terms of scale, and light, medium and dark in terms of value.
3.) Usually an odd number of fabrics works best for some reason.

You describe your process so well. It is similar to mine. When the combo is right you just *feel* it.
Your box of fabrics looks kind of like my scrap bins. I sewed for my three girls in the 80's. I'm pretty sure that teal print just right of center is the same one I used to make my daughter a dress when she was about seven. If I can't find a scrap....no problem. I am sure I have the dress. I have never been able to get rid of any dresses I sewed for them. When I need some scrap bits for a small project, I open my bins and go down memory lane.
Maybe I will make a quilt.

Such a helpful post! I'm pretty sure I commented here a long time ago about how you should have a job choosing fabrics for quilts because you are brilliant at it, and see -- I was right :) I love these old fabrics and wish I'd kept clothes I sewed with them back in the 70s/80s. I remember wearing skirts with the white cotton and lace petticoats that peeked out the bottom!

you hit the nail on the head with this one. just like you, i tend to become obsessed with whatever it is in my head at the moment...painting, sewing, crafting, whatever. and sometimes, i like the planning better than the doing. the idea of the new project is a delight in and of itself. i'm a scanner personality....there are just so many fun things to try i jump from one to the other. most get completed, but some just fade away before hand (smocking never took hold). and i've learned that it's ok. that's how you learn. amelia may never be a musician, but how fun that she has the chance to dabble in so many different things.

I completely understand that slightly obsessive thing as well, I regularly get it and then I am completely in its grip and have to read up everything I can find on a subject and think about it all the time. As you say, sometimes it passes, sometimes it sticks. Gorgeous new fabrics, it must be lovely to open the package and see exactly what they're like. CJ xx

Elizabeth says: April 05, 2017 at 03:31 AM

I love this post so much. The questions you ask yourself when choosing fabrics are things I would never have thought of, even though that kind of comforting scene in one's head is the main reason I am drawn to making quilts in the first place. I can't wait to try it! I have also found it hard in the past to choose enough variety - it is hard for me to pick things that don't go together even though I like the finished look when others do it! I can see myself coming back to this post again and again for ideas and encouragement. Thank you!

Melissa A Brock says: April 05, 2017 at 05:46 AM

What a wealth of information, thank you SO much!

heritage hall says: April 05, 2017 at 06:23 AM

Just love your last line, which could be applied to life...for
one tending toward caution being the greater part of valor, this
brought me back to a child-like spirit...

I am a researcher too, I don't even have to follow through with whatever it is I'm researching 😂 I just like the process! Wonderful insight, thank you.

Hi. The Pallette Builder on the Moda Cutting Table blog is very useful when needing to choose solids.

I am really hoping for new kits soon (I missed out and was ever so disappointed). I love your point about trances/projects/rabbit holes - I research future projects and almost never have the time to do the follow through. I am Alice simply LOOKING at the rabbit hole - what a bummer!

Anyways, just wanted to say that I am here and hopeful for a vintage throw kit :)

Kindred nod to Arthurian Legend (my current obsession) and Duran Duran (that's my whole adolescent right there.)
As Jillian over at the Noisy Plume said recently, our lives, especially our creative lives, move in seasons. I've come to really savor that in my middle age. I know that I don't have to say good bye to something necessarily because it often comes round again, like the moon. And I also know that something new is always just around the corner. As long as my curiosity stays keen, I feel good.
Cheers to you!

I love all the pics of the vintage fabrics because they bring back memories!!! Just in the photo above I see an old dress of my sister's and a shirt I made in a sewing class!!! Possibly also some napkins my mom made for use at the dinner table! Boy do I love researching things too! Always wondering how I could turn that love into a job!! :)

Thank you so much for this post! I love the picture of those beautiful fabrics and I always love hearing about other people's creative process and in particular how they choose fabric for a project! You add a sense of romance to it and I am definitely going to try to visualize a certain scene or character when choosing fabrics for a projects in the future! I also can relate to that kind of obsessions and I too have come to see them as a blessing. It is a gift, being able to be excited by something, being able to be creative and inspired. xo

Thank you Alicia! Most helpful information. I had purchased the quilt pattern and was a little intimidated, but I have to say that the process of picking out fabrics has been quite enjoyable and the pattern is so well written. I have used your beautiful blog pictures of quilts as a kind of guide, since I've never made a quilt before and that has been helpful too.
I do appreciate all the time you invest in the blog and projects... It is so inspiring - thank you so much!

Oh, I share your obsessive nature. I feel a little sorry for people who don't, because really, there is nothing more fun, more alive!, than delving deep into a new interest, whether it be a craft, music, botany, art, books, whatever it is!! This is one of the great pleasures of my life, and as you say, it has seen me through some tough times, when there weren't many other pleasures. <3

Oh, goodness, I thought I was the only one! My husband laughs at how absorbed I can get - researching things, finding another path, researching everything down that path, finding another path and so on until I've either completely exhausted the topic or completely lost track of what it was that started my search.

I also have to imagine a scene when I'm doing just about anything from selecting yarn for a sweater (who is wearing it and where are they wearing it and what are they doing when they're wearing this sweater that I'm trying to select yarn for?) to fabrics for a doll (who's playing with it and what books are they reading while they're playing with it and what season is it?) to even picking out my own clothes (what am I doing and what am I cooking and what is the weather and how will this fit into my story). Husband looks at me like I might be a little crazy when I try to explain this process to him. But to me it makes perfect sense, and to you too I think!

And also, now I know where all the vintage fabrics on ebay are going. I'll stop bidding against you. ;)

Arthurian legend - I knew I liked you!!! <3

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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.