Designer Weeks Ringle of Modern Quilt Studio shares her remedy for those hard-to know-what-to-do-with fabrics in a quilter’s stash.
Written by Jennifer Keltner, executive editor
We've all been there, right? Looking at a pile of fabrics from our stashes and thinking, What was I thinking I'd do with this when I bought it? Or, I love this fabric, but I'm not sure how to use it in a quilt. Or, I wish I could find more fabrics that match the shade of red in this one.
That's why I was intrigued by the description for designer Weeks Ringle's Rediscovering Your Stash one-day class: "Gain color confidence and plan creative ways to use your stash! Mix a big dose of color theory and color exploration with an in-depth discussion of combining patterns and a pinch of working with large scale fabrics, and you'll end up with a plan for projects that you want to make from the fabrics you already have."
Fascinated to learn how to better utilize a stash, I caught up with Weeks (pictured) at Stitcher's Crossing quilt shop in Madison, Wisconsin. Wanting the exercise to be a real-life one, I pulled fabrics from my personal stash with a couple of self-imposed caveats: I had to own at least 1 yard of the fabric, and it had to have been a part of my stash for more than a year. With those two rules, I toted 40+ pounds of stash fabrics to meet Weeks.
I confess I went in thinking I knew how this exercise would go. I came out surprised by how much I learned and with a new respect for some of my most troublesome stash fabrics.
Rx for Assorted Reds
Our first stash exercise led to my first surprise. We began with a pile of stash beauties. I envisioned choosing one and setting to work finding some mates to go with it. Instead, Weeks quickly pulled four of what felt like disparate red prints from the pile (photo A).
I told her I wouldn't have thought about combining these four. "The commonality of these is that they all have brick red, black, or both colors in them," Weeks says. She says a common mistake quilters make with a busy print is trying to tone it down with smaller, subdued prints (photo B).
"It rarely works," Weeks says. "Think of it like being at a cocktail party. If there's one loud person in the group, it's annoying. If there are several loud ones in the bunch, it's a lively party."
Adding five or six more loud prints quiets the whole assortment. But beware of the color white. "It changes the color of the fabric at a distance," Weeks says. In this case, the red-and-white print in the stack turns pink when you step away from it. Thus, it was eliminated from the mix (photo C).
Part of toning down a palette of busy prints is finding something to mediate or bridge the difference-solids or a change in scale. The genres of the prints we combined (photo D) are dissimilar. We selected a solid black to bridge this grouping (photo E) because it contrasts with everything better than a red or cream solid would have.
Still not convinced it could work? Check out The Best of Both Worlds (photo F), a Modern Quilt Studio pattern that beautifully illustrates this prescription for success. (This pattern is found in issue 2 of Modern Quilts Illustrated.)
Rx for Vacation Fabric
Have you ever been caught up in a seaside trance and bought fabric that looks nothing like home? While locations may differ, it has happened to most of us. Short of making a vacation memory quilt, how do you incorporate a print you bought in say, Cape Cod? To begin, Weeks says, ignore the scene and imagine a seasonal or themed red, white, and blue quilt. She paired my blue-and-white coastal print with a red-and-white floral toile (photo G) from my stash for a good start.
"Following the whites in adding to this mix is critical," Weeks says. "Pick other blue-and-white or red-and-white prints, but make sure that they are equally high-contrast pieces." She says there can be a mix of stripes, toiles, and novelty prints. The key is simplifying the palette dramatically, which creates the illusion of all fabrics being from the same collection (photo H) rather than one-of-a-kind pieces from a stash.
Rx for Geometrics and Florals Mixed Together
A quilt of all florals? No problem. A quilt limited to only graphic prints? Piece of cake. But what happens if you want to mix them all together in one quilt? For many of us it's deer-in-the-headlights time. I confess, when Weeks pulled the next five prints from my stash (photo I), I wasn't confident adding anything to this mix would help.
"It's all about bridging with this group," Weeks says. "Interior designers use a rule of thumb that if you add a color into a room once, you should have that color appear twice more to complete the look." To see how Weeks built a cohesive palette from the five fabrics in photo I, start at the bottom of photo J.
In Photo I the bright green floral looks like the misfit. To incorporate it, Weeks looked for fabrics with the same saturation of color (fabric 1).
The green dot is the same saturation level (fabric 2). Bingo!
This print is a darker color value but still has a similar saturation (fabric 3). Double bingo!
Another dot has a hint of green but bridges to the next fabric by incorporating gold (fabric 4). "Gold is analogous to green (they are neighbors on the color wheel), so it's not a big shift but it foreshadows more additions," Weeks says.
The previous fabric bridges to the darker value of gold in this stash fabric (fabric 5).
A stripe from the stash repeats the red tones of the previous print (fabric 6). Its olive hue connects various greens and browns.
The darker tones and finer textures/details of some other prints are mirrored in this color-rich addition (fabric 7). It has the same deep red from the stripe, a touch of the lighter greens in the first stash floral, and darker greens, too.
A thin stripe repeats the odd green of the first stash fabric and brings in a hint of purple (fabric 8).
A stash fabric has some olives and reds from the stripe preceding it (fabric 9).
A second stripe reintroduces yellow to the palette (fabric 10).
A geometric brown floral with just a dash of pink bridges to the remaining stash fabric (fabric 11).
The palette concludes with the final stash stripe (fabric 12).
The quilt at the top of Photo J, Piece by Piece by Modern Quilt Studio, is an example of this prescription put into practice. Imagine the brown tone-on-tone strip (fabric 13) replacing the small off-white squares in the featured quilt and offering a visual resting point between quilt pieces. (This pattern is found in issue 4 of Modern Quilts Illustrated.)
Rx for Theme Prints
There always seems to be a novelty print that speaks to your favorite hobby or passion. But deciding what to pair with it or how to cut it into a quilt can be tough. This scenario began with a Route 66 theme print that has a large pattern repeat (photo K).
"Use every print to its best advantage," Weeks says. "A huge pattern repeat such as this one would be destroyed by cutting it into 3" squares. And it would be a shame to relegate a favorite theme print to be used as only a quilt backing. So let this just be a Route 66 quilt. Treat the print as the scene that it is, and cut it to capitalize on it as a series of illustrations."
She suggested framing it with another couple of prints, such as a medium-scale and a small-scale pair, then binding the quilt with a neutral, such as brown (photo L). "Choosing a single tone-on-tone print to pair it with could be boring," she says. "The determining factor in why these coordinates work well together is that the saturation level is similar between the large- and medium-scale prints."
Rx for Big, Bold Prints
Quilters often are taught to use the dots on a fabric selvage, which reflect the pigment dyes used in printing the fabric, to find matching coordinates for a big, bold print.
Weeks suggests a different approach. "If you match any of the dye colors from the selvage precisely, the unintended result is that the quilt appears to have a hole where the colors blend together when pieced." For example, in photo M, the solid pink so closely matches the pink circle that your eye might miss the seam where they're joined, thus eliminating the linear patchwork edge.
"Instead, choose a solid that doesn't match one of those pigment dyes exactly," Weeks says. She suggests choosing a color that is at least one step more saturated than any other color in the fabric (photo N), so you have contrast and can keep the graphic lines of your piecing. The color selected should be an analogous one, not an exact match (photo O). "Remember, you're not wearing it, you're making a quilt, Weeks says. "So a little variation in hue is okay."
Rx for Project Leftovers
Holiday leftovers aren't always about what's in the refrigerator. Sometimes leftover fabrics from a holiday quilt are too plentiful to toss but not exciting enough to create another quilt around. Or can they be? Some leftover green and red tone-on-tone prints (photo P) were the inspiration behind this creative stash-busting solution.
Often what quilters resort to when they have a couple of plain, tone-on-tone prints is to seek out a multicolor print that incorporates the colors of each (photo Q). Weeks warns against this selection process.
"Mixing in a multicolor print grabs all the attention from the tone-on-tones," Weeks says. Instead, she recommends looking for other equally subtle prints in a mix of colors and scales (photo R). "What we've grouped together is a mix of batiks, cottons, and wovens," she says. "Look at the scales of the prints. There are checks, tone-on-tones, plaids. It's critical when making a combination of colors like this that it not become too rainbow-y." She says adding unsaturated gray/browns (not red/browns) avoids the coloring-book look and gives the palette some darker values for contrast.