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Selecting fabrics for your art quilt

Updated: May 6, 2021

Choosing the fabrics for your art quilt can be the most enjoyable part of creating your piece yet sometimes the most daunting.

The first thing I do is take all of the fabrics from my stash that could be representative of the colors in the photo or drawing that I am using. You naturally are going to be drawn to the fabrics that inspire and excite you. You know, the yummy ones! Most importantly, you are the one that has to be happy with your choices.

.Before cutting your fabric with the template attached, it is a good idea to pin the bigger pieces together on your design wall to audition your fabric choices. This is a “visual” art and you need to “see” fabrics side by side to determine how they are in relationship to each other. I can’t tell you how many times quilters tell me that they would never think of putting two fabrics together that I have used. However, when they see them side by side in my quilt, they really like the combination. What they couldn’t imagine in their mind turned out to be pleasing visually. And vice versa, the fabric that you are sure is perfect in the store may not work side by side with other choices that you have pinned on your design wall. I always shop with photos and swatches with me for comparisons in the store.

I usually start with building the focal point of my quilt. You probably have a pretty good idea of the colors that you want for your main player. It then becomes easier to pick the background fabrics that compliment the focal point. We are always looking for balance between choosing fabrics that don’t distract and compete with each other, but still have enough interest and don’t look flat in our composition. Sometimes, a fabric choice looks wrong, but we are actually just seeing too much of it when pinning up hunks of fabric. If I am pretty sure of my choice, I will cut the piece out with the template and it may be just right in that volume. Many times however, I am still not pleased and that piece will end up in my scrap stash.

The main idea is to relax, play, and have fun with the many possibilities. Don’t forget to stand back for perspective on how all the pieces are coming together as a whole. I sometimes look at my design on the wall through my digital camera. That pulls the composition together and helps me to see the progression.

If you are unsure about a fabric, take it away. Is your quilt missing it or does it feel better without that piece. You decide, but often your quilt will start talking to you. Maybe I’ve been alone in the woods too long, but I swear my quilts have very strong opinions!

As we are trying to create dimension, keep in mind that lighter, bolder colors come forward visually and darker, more muted colors recede. When you want a very subtle change of color, the back of your fabric may be just right. The little surprises that come to us through the design process keep life exciting. Repeating fabrics can help to move your eye around the quilt, but too much of the same fabric can stop your eye completely.

Take your time and have fun with the auditions! I hope that you discover things about yourself as you play with colors and patterns. Maybe you will step out of your comfort zone and create in a bolder way than ever before. If quieter fabrics are speaking to you, go for it! The only real rule is that “you” are pleased with your art piece. Happy Quilting!

All my best,


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