Choosing and Using Fabrics and Threads

This tiny section of one of my Quilt National’13 entries brings me to a post I’ve been meaning to put up for a while, on how I choose and use fabric.  (But “Thread” elbowed its way in as I wrote, so I  considered and finally allowed it to stay on this page.)

I have to tell you, the minute I saw this gold-dotted black fabric several years ago in a USA quilt store, it demanded to be bought – leapt off the shelf calling out “Pick me! Pick me!”  As I  have an emotional attachment to dots, glitter and black, it was a shoe in.  Whenever I begin a new work, I get potentially relevant fabrics out, spread them on a table and the floor if necessary – and once I’ve selected what to use,  put most of them away again, and then turn to my scrap bag to augment the range.  I and other quilters really do call this process ‘auditioning’.   If I think there still must be something more, something special I’ve overlooked, I dig really, really deep down to the back of my fabric stash, which is how I came across this one I’d forgotten.  I still can’t quite believe it lurked in the background for a couple of years, but it must have.

Quite often people say to me – “Where do you buy your fabrics?” and the short answer is “Anywhere and Everywhere”.   I always try to have a little cash on me or space on a card to be able to buy something I love when I come across it.  I know when I return it will have gone.  I recently posted  2012/13/14 and elsewhere I can’t find right now !!! on surprising fabrics I’ve discovered in Montevideo’s sunday markets.  When down there I always check through the bolts and rolls on any fabric vendor’s tables – I just never know what will be mixed in with the majority of stuff that doesn’t especially interest me.  True love determines whether or not I buy any fabric  and experience has shown that if I love it I will use it – no fabric being too precious to cut into.  But, it’s possible a particular fabric may lurk in my cupboard for several years until just the right moment.

If you have looked at my work  in the Colour Memory and Ebb&Flow galleries, you’ll know my contemporary freehand patchwork art quilts have always been composed of many fabrics in small amounts.  I always save small pieces from previous projects, and often dive into my scrap bags for tiny amounts of many different scraps to use in a quilt.  I happily team unusual fabrics and imho it works because every fabric I use I initially bought for love. Recent works can contain fabrics spanning over 25 years – let the textile historian experts make what they will with that!

Here are my personal  ‘rules’ that determine how I buy new fabric:

  • If it appeals, I buy a 1/8 – 1/4  metre/yard
  • if I really like it I buy 1/2  m/yd.
  • If it’s something special to me I buy 1 – 3 m/yds.
  • If I am quite over-the-top delirious at finding it, I’ll probably make an offer for whatever’s left on the bolt!  And the last time I did this, there was 19m @ US$2.50/m, of the other fabric shown above – a shiny black cotton chintz that is marvellous to work with – which is just as well, since there’s about 14m left …..

I love black, ecru/cream and other neutrals especially greys, and I adored a wonderful putty colour I’ve completely used up and have never seen again – yet.  But the wonderful thing about fabric is there’s always more.  So, running out of one is no disaster to me.   In addition to neutral plains, I use some hand dyed fabrics (not done by me) which have slight textures, and some commercial prints I call hand-dye-look-alikes; and I love certain prints particularly dots, spots, stripes, interesting fine textures and tiny geometrics.   Yes, I you could say I have great enthusiasm for fabrics – but this enthusiasm is very selective – they must be ones I love.  I never buy whole collections of new fabric releases, and I will never be one of those, including some great artists in the medium whose work I admire totally, who have hundreds of colours and/or prints at their fingertips.  Geography now plays some part in this but I have always had these buying ‘rules’, even when I lived somewhere I could easiy nip out and search for something particular.  Here in Uruguay there is nothing like a ‘quilt shop’ selling nice good quality cotton fabrics, nor the large fabric stores that many of my peers have direct or easy online-access to.  I think this has forced me to maintain an open mind on the potential of absolutely anything I come across.  And there is no doubt that the whole fabric situation in my textile art life has influenced how I work.

Naturally, all this is echoed in threads I buy and use.  For all piecing I use only Gutermann’s Skala, available in 10,000m cones of black, white,  cream, light grey  and dark grey  (there are other colours I don’t need)   When I need other more traditional sewing machine threads or for hand sewing, my stash is mostly neutrals, black, white and cream.  I sometimes use appropriate black/white/neutrals, however a lot of my quilting is in metallics of which I have a few in reasonably large quantity on hand.   Below is a small piece typical of the way I love to use metallic – to highlight rather than smother –

(SAQA  2008 auction donation quilt, Ebb & Flow 12,  12″ sq.) 

or invisible, below, here using smoky grey Skala –

(detail from Ebb & Flow 16,  about 3″ sq ) 

As the Skala blends over the myriad of colours it is sewn across, produces only surface texture without extra added colour.  Of course if I have the exact matching standard machine thread in background colour, eg black, cream, white –  I would consider that, too, if appropriate.  And, some recent works I have quilted in neon colours –

from a group of miniatures in the New Work gallery on this website.


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