Love Affair With a Special Fabric

A very special fabric and I were first introduced in 1990, and I’m still in love with it.  Its a cotton,  printed black with irregular tan coin spots, designed by and American designer, Jennifer Sampou for P&B Textiles in the early ’90’s.


I was living in the US when it was released, loved it at first sight and bought some on the spot realising it was the perfect border and sashing for this quilt, below, I was making at the time. “Through The Windows of My Mind” 1990, 256cm sq. became one of the earliest  Colour Memories quilts, inspired by the vegetation colours and landscape features of the remote tent camps we lived in for a couple of field seasons in the Northern Territory. This time, 1975-6, I now refer to as our Tent Period, and to me this quilt says it all.

Through The Windows of My Mind blog cropped-1

Several years later, I saw this fabric remaindered somewhere in the USA at $3/yd, so naturally I bought the remaining half bolt.  Although this fabric design was released in several colourways, the tan/black certainly is evocative of Australia’s sunburnt landscape and our national sense of colour; plus clearly in the minds of some it also referenced the dot paintings of some of our indigenous artists.  As Jennifer and her range were clearly American I am sure this is happy coincidence, and I think the black/tan colourway was actually too hard for American quiltmakers to use with their totally different ‘national colour palette’ – no wonder it was remaindered, imho.  Having about 9m of this fabric now, I began work on this 2m sq work, “Desert Wind” 1995, and I wish I had $1 for every time someone said something like “Oooh, so you do Aboriginal quilts, too !!”

Desert Wind copy blog

I understand the comment of course, but it’s never been said about this next one though, which to my mind might be more deserving.  Its title “Kimberley 2” 2002  90cm x 110cm refers to the Bungle Bungles rock formation located in the Purnululu National Park  up in the Kimberley region of Australia.


Kimberley 2 blog


I also used it as a background fabric to the blocks in this next quilt, “New Directions” 2002  96cm x 84cm    in which the lines and arrows represent people coming to our ancient continent from all directions over its entire  human history: the black/tan of course here signifies the original immigrants, our indigenous people who crossed the land bridges from Asia  perhaps at least 60,000 years ago.

New Directions blog

I still have about a metre of the fabric and eke it out,  and there are plenty of small bits in my scrap bag so pretty well every Ebb&Flow quilt has a little in it somewhere.  Some of it went into a bed quilt for our daughter a few years back, and there’s some on our bed, too.  I kick myself when I think of the 4 metres I used on the (never seen) back of “Desert Wind” .   I guess I naively assumed at the time that such a marvellous fabric would always be available … well of course, I now know that’s not true !   But what is true is that every now and then a fantastic fabric will come into my orbit;  I will instantly emotionally bond with it and recognising it as special, will buy as much as I can, at least 3 metres if possible.  I always make sure I have a credit card or some cash on me when I’m out and about in likely places.  Most important of all, I know I will use it because I love it.


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7 Responses to “Love Affair With a Special Fabric”

  1. Katie Wilson says:

    Your favorite fabric is indeed fabulous. I love, love, love Fossil Fern fabrics, and recently purchased a box of fat-quarter cuts of every color – 90 in all! I actually have cut into them, and expect to use a piece in every quilt from now on.

  2. That fabric is fantastic. Everyone needs some. Your quilts are also glorious!
    If you have the right solid black, you might be able to discharge/bleach circles that are a light brown. Some blacks discharge to that shade of brown….

  3. Hi Alison… I KNOW this fabric and had a metre or two myself and loved it – used it here and here and now is is gone. Moved me to create deeper work and I see what the viewers were saying about ‘aboriginal’ work, but I never saw it that way.
    And Cathy is right… a dot of bleach on an pencil eraser on the typical commercial black will make it again in seconds. Humm, might make some. We only have 2 ft. of snow here in Kingston, ON… stuck inside! STOP!

  4. Gloria Bowen says:

    Hello Alison – first I must say I always enjoy your writings and insights. I too used some of that same fabric, but in the U.S. there are no ethnic references to dots. My quilt, using an assortment of 9-inch traditional blocks, was named “Rice and Beans” and was color inspired by Mexican restaurant food. It also included avocado green fabrics, a print with chili peppers, and a beautiful stripe colorway in browns and ochres that evoked Mexican woven blankets.

    I think your “Kimberley 2” quilt is an inspired take-away from the subject photo, and it makes me happy just to see it, so thank you for this very interesting post.
    Gloria B

  5. Alison says:

    Katie I agree with you – Fossil Fern is a wonderful range and I have bought and used several colours – ad perhaps it will continue on, because colours come and go – but 90 colours! I hadn’t realised , but then I’m rarely in an Aus or US fabric store. It would be a treat to see them all, which I’m sure I could by going online.

  6. Alison says:

    Cathy – I confess I hadn’t thought of discharge dyeing to get some brown circles on black. However, I think when its totally gone, I will just accept its passing as I feel there could be another such wonderful amazing fabric somewhere in my future. I’ll know it when I see it! Even now there are several I always use a bit of in each one of my Ebb&Flow quilts, but as I’m also working differently than I was back 15-20 years ago, perhaps the black/tan will never be rivalled as the single greatest fabric love of my life 🙂

    My friend Regina Benson once advised me to never use household bleach followed by rinsing with water to discharge dye – it will discharge of course but without whatever chemical is required to 100% neutralise the bleach, and in time the fabric will be damaged by the bleach as the few molecules left behind will continue working in the fibres. I’m no dyer, but wouldn’t set out on discharge dyeing until I consulted her on this. To add dots to a fabric my technique of choice would be to stencil, spatter or spray something acrylic onto a base fabric, or i might fuse some dots and use stitch elements to secure+enhance them. On my Pinterest page I have a Holes board … I’m thinking about them, and dots I guess might be the same thing design-wise.

  7. I use mostly my own monoprinted fabrics now, but I have discovered a commercial fabric from the line of Stonehenge fabrics that I love and goes well with the palette of monoprints I’m working in lately. I tried to buy more and had great difficulty locating it. I finally found it online and purchased 4 yards and use it sparingly. It has a quality that I can’t reproduce on my own with paint.

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