Thoughts on Fabric

25 10 2011

I regularly browse other blogs, because I love to read about what people are doing with their quilting and to see what they are getting inspired over… I also love to read about hot topics, and the things that make us stand up and take notice.

A little bit ago, a visit over to completely cauchy and reading her post about the striking tea towel quilt she made just struck a chord with me…

Okay, so it wasn’t just about the tea towel quilt, which is totally worth taking a gander at (and she makes yummy knitted items too!).

cauchy09 wrote:

Here’s a radical notion: I don’t want to buy quilting fabric anymore.

I know. Right? We’re still looking for signs of alien abduction over here.

I find myself continuously angry at the industry. We’ll save those issues for later. More than that, though, I am continuously angry at myself because I can’t bring myself to use the contemporary quilting fabric yardage that I own. It’s not hoarding. I just know that I don’t design naturally with these prints in amounts more than a small scrap each. Yes, they are beautiful fabrics and I covet them all, but they are not me.”

You all know that I buy a lot of tone-on-tones… I posted an in depth look into my buying habits for the Skill Builders Series Part 2A – Buying for the Stash. And, by the end of writing it, I’d started to realize just how much I am starting to dislike even looking at designer print and lines…

It’s not that they’re not pretty. They’re very pretty, and sing to the wannabe graphic designer in my heart.

They’re just not usable as is if you’re not making big blocks that follow the modern aesthetic.

Unfortunately, the modern aesthetic isn’t exactly me. I love to play with design and color. However, I do my playing on a smaller scale. Very rarely do I make a block large than 12″ square, and even then it’s likely to be a traditional block. When I do make bigger blocks, they have quite a bit of piecing to go along with them. The best way to describe me is that I’m a traditionalist who’s not afraid of color (at all – have you seen my DWR-WIP?).

And really, when one works with pieces that typically don’t go over 4″ square, what’s the point of buying a big, bold modern print? Case in point, Anna Maria Horner’s Innocent Crush line, which I lovelovelovelove. I got two fat quarters of it from a swap partner, and I swooned over it. The two that I received were Woodcut in Passion and Slow Dance in Vintage.

Beautiful, right? Problem is, the repeat on Woodcut is almost eight inches in width. But I love the rich red! Slow Dance is almost twenty inches. And I’m enchanted by the movement of the lines… I’d been sitting on these two fat quarters for months, feeling trapped by their size. And what was I supposed to do with them?

#005 Bat Wing
Farmer’s Wife Block #005 – Bat Wing

In the end, I fussy cut the snot out of Slow Dance and completely lost the repeat in Woodcut. That block finishes at 6″. And let me tell you, there is no way that I would repeat this process to make multiples of this block. Fussy-cutting makes the miser in me shriek in pain at the waste of good cotton.

Throw in that fabric lines are so color coordinated and perfectly matched… I find that while I can love individual prints in a line, I often am turned off by seeing the line in its entirety. Why? Because I can’t help but feel that if I limit my fabric selection to a single line, I’m not expressing my own creative vision. Every time I sit down with the one fabric line I purchased nearly every print of, I feel trapped. I don’t see my own design emerging. I see myself catering to the fabric designer’s vision. Not exactly a great starting point. Quite frankly, I’ve given up on using those fabrics together, and they’re being parceled out into other tops.

And that’s me and most modern fabrics, over and over and over. I’ve learned to just look and drool, because otherwise I’ll be disappointed that I spent my limited fun money on fabric that’s just going to sit there. I support a family on my income, so that $50 or so that I eke out every few months to spend on me!me!me! is something that I want to be able to enjoy long-term. (Especially if that money ends up going toward supplies like batting, thread and new rotary blades instead of fabric every now and then.)

As I stated in my comment on cauchy09’s post, I want my skills as a piecer and quilter to be what shine – not my ability to buy attractive fabrics. I feel that the fabrics in my quilts should work together to create a total image, to tell a story together. I want to step back, and see my quilt.

Not the pretty designer fabric that dominates the design.

Because, you know what? That’s all I’m going to focus on ten years from now. When that quilt has been used and loved to death, I just know that I’m going to regret having made the focal point of that quilt the fabric, not my skills with needle and thread, color and design. Of course, there’s the whole problem of will I even use and love that quilt to death if I have any regrets about it after completion… 

The pretty designer fabric lines out there represent what manufacturers have decided should be in fashion as far as color, shape and line. On top of that, there’s new fabric lines constantly releasing. I don’t know about you all, but I’ve already pointed out that my fabric budget is pretty limited. I just can’t afford to keep up with whatever is new and bright and trendy. I can’t do it with my clothing, so why am I going to do it with fabric?

Now, I’m not out to bash designer fabrics in the modern aesthetic, or the quilters who use them. They’re beautiful fabrics, and while I don’t always like the quilts that are made from them, the quilter-maker was following his/her muse. And I appreciate that. Quilting is my chosen form of artistic expression, and I love the community of individuals who share in this passion.

With all of that said, I’d like to leave you all with a comment that Sherri Lynn Wood left on the blog post that sparked this post. I think it encapsulates perfectly the whole point of this post:

The fabrics we use in our quilts are the narrative, plot, place, and the characters of the story. Each fabric has the potential of carrying so much meaning or NOT – especially if it’s the most recent color coordinated fabric line out by the latest crafty pop designer.”




11 responses

25 10 2011

Well put. As you know, I've been drawn to those pretty fabrics even more than you, and like you I struggle with making anything with it. I went through every single piece of yardage I own last weekend. Mom, Mickey and I refolded it all and moved the bookcase to the other wall to make room for The Frame. There's a lot of stuff I just can't piece with. But I don't want to just give it away!

25 10 2011

Grey cat, you do raise an interesting dilemma- the temptation of beautiful fabric versus the designs that one likes to make. Like yourself, I do admire many of the gorgeous new lines that come out but I have not bought them.( The ones I do have are older designer lines that I found on the clearance shelves in the local quilt stores.)There are a few reasons for that- one is that they are costly here in Canada at 16-20 Canadian dollars a meter. More importantly, I have a large stash that I need to use. After I read your piece it made me stop and reflect a bit- I do agree that some of the new designer fabrics are luscious but not suitable to be cut up into smaller pieces. I also do not like to use a whole line of anything because then it is not a quilt that reflects me – it is a quilt that someone else designed and I put together based on their spec's. I have a friend who does not like to use commercial patterns for that same reason. She is a talented lady who can create her own designs without a pattern. I am not that talented but I do like to put my own spin on a design. For many years I added my own pieced borders to my quilts. These days, I don't often piece a border( not enough time) but I still like to create my own color combos from my stash. Each of us finds our own way to express ourselves through our quilts. This individual expression is the way that we makes our creative spirit sing. Some quilters love the new lines and that is the way they will feed their creative energy. What ever way that feeds your need to create is the right way for you. Happy quilting,Regards,Anna

25 10 2011

An interesting post that has made me think – thank you!

25 10 2011

Yes! I subscribe to a fabric sellers blog, but I won't buy any of their fabric. Why? I hate the lines they carry, which are outrageous expensive besides. One of my issues – since when does teal = modern? It hurts my eyes to look at most of the designs. The last quilt I made, I wandered multiple stores in search of the colors and type of fabrics I was looking for. Maybe I should just stick to batiks. They are what, without fail, call to me to make them into something beautiful.

26 10 2011

I do like some of the designer fabric out there, but I never know what I'll make with it. And I'm *gasp* not a fabric hoarder. Most of my (very small) stash was bought with a project in mind. One designer that I could easily spend a tonne of money on if I let myself though, is Jinny Beyer. She's a classic. And her fabrics are more like paints you use to make the picture you want with all the right shades.

26 10 2011

I so often find myself tempted to buy some of the beautiful fabrics that I see out there. But when I look at them, I don't see a project jumping out at me. I don't buy fabric just because I like it. I buy it for a specific project that I want to make. So my "stash" is made up mainly of fabric that is reserved for projects I haven't gotten to yet. I'm still a new quilter so I'm still learning what my style is and I'm still building my skills. Sometimes I want to copy exactly, fabric and all a quilt I see, but more and more, I'm gaining confidence with my own color and fabric choices. I'm even getting tempted to mix different blocks together in ways that I haven't seen. GASP! Recently, my dh gave me some of his dress shirts (plaids, stripes) that were starting to wear at the cuffs. And when his dad passed last month, I took a trash bag full of my favorites from his dad's shirts. I'm looking forward to making a quilt for me out of the shirts of these two men that love me. I think that's where this conversation is really going right? We want our quilts to reflect us, our creative expression, our story, our meaning. Fabric choice is a huge part of that. It's absolutely okay to pick whatever fabric best helps you make the quilt that meets that goal.

26 10 2011

Great post! I second, and echo your sentiments. I occassionaly buy a set of precuts, I use them for gift or donation quilts. But the quilts that I MUST create are generally made with my hand dyes, batiks, solids or are all scrappy. I like to see the "designer" prints as inspiration for interesting color combinations. And confess that I am a sucker for cute illustrations, too. Especially dogs, and Halloween subjects!My favorite prints are generally dots, easy to mix with other fabrics regardless of the designer or manufacturer.

31 10 2011
Nonnie Quilting Dreams

I really like your blog… it is one of the few I actually read … not just look at the pictures. I like the modern fabrics for home dec, where a larger scale fabric works. I do not however like the color dictation by the designers. My thought is just because you can does not mean you should… Teal and orange YUCK!I do make some of the modern blocks for the kids… Love the panels for fast and easy give away. (All the daughters are having babies, so I need to sew fast and easy.) I need volume, fast and easy, simplified and the modern tends to highlight the fabric more. Mostly for kiddies… I work out of my stash… with lots of color. For my own quilting I love tone on tones and colors… just color… do not care for print unless it is subtle. The quilts that I have actually made and finish tend to have color or a fabric that speaks to me. Where I can play. I design my own… not because I am great designer (not) but because I just want it to be mine. NOnnie .

31 10 2011

Love this post! Although I do sell fabric, my personal taste is not towards the modern and fun designer fabrics. I, too, want to express myself and not be lost in the designers expressions.

9 11 2011

I wandered over to your blog from another and just had to comment on this post.I also am finding myself not attracted to most of the fabric lines out there. There are a few that I love in their entirety (mostly French General and Lizzy House), but when I do buy designer prints, it's one or two of them. I don't get the people who can't move beyond using an entire line because most of the fun of picking out fabrics for any project for me is combining whatever I come across.Plus, like you, I can't really afford to buy tons of yardage. I am still a beginner quilter and am learning the process by making more traditional pieces and experimenting with art quilts. I am nudging myself more towards making art pieces versus functional and designer fabric really doesn't fit into that vision. I have it on my to do list to start hand dyeing my own once I move further along my journey. There will always be a place for purchased prints as they are fun for small projects or functional pieces, but my philosophy will always be the same.Thank you for writing this post. I've felt like I was mostly alone in the blog world for thinking the way I do about quilting.

27 11 2011
Beth Schroeder

I have been very frustrated with buying fabric recently, and wasn't sure why. But this is exactly it! I love the modern fabrics! I think they are absolutely gorgeous. But my quilting tastes tend to run to smaller pieced blocks. I am not even remotely interested in a quilt I can put together over the weekend. The modern fabrics just are not intended for small piecing.I recently decided to start the farmers wife quilt, and have been looking at photos on both the yahoo group and the flickr groups. My favorite blocks tend to be the ones where the focus in on the piecing and not the fabrics. So many of the fabrics used, I feel like actually hide the piecing. It has been a struggle to find fabrics that I want to use for this. Your blocks are completely beautiful! They are the look I am going for. Thanks so much for this

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