Keeping Focused

Christmas is always an exciting time at Casa de Fields.  For us to have only two children, two in-love children, and two granddarlings, it’s surprisingly difficult to herd everyone together in one place at one time for a meal and some togetherness.  However, Christmas is the one time of year that Mom puts her foot down and issues an edict that you show up or you’re out of the will everyone makes an effort to be there.

I really try to find not only the gifts that everyone wants, but I also make a gargantuan big effort to  purchase little “surprise” gifts that I think suits each member specifically.  Within this boundary lies a gift that “speaks to me.”  Let me explain…

While shopping, I often come across an item that has no specific purpose.

This spoke to me.  Not sure why, it just did….

As far as I know, none of my family members particularly need this item.  But for whatever reason, I am compelled to purchase it and bring it home and wrap it up and put it under the tree for some unsuspecting lucky member of my family.  Sometimes this object is tacky as all get out, but sometimes it’s sweetly sentimental. My family’s problem is two-fold.  First, they never know if the gift is truly tacky or not, and second they never know who’s going to get it.  PAYBACK!! All they know is when I hand it out, I precede the gift giving with the phrase, “This spoke to me…”

I tell you this because today I want to discuss focus fabric.  Hang with me, the above situation will make more sense as we go along.

Focus fabric for a quilt can be defined many ways.  One designer told me “It’s the fabric that jumps in my cart first.  I really can’t tell you why, but I just love it and have to have it.” Another quilting sister of mine defined it this way, “It’s the fabric I just have to buy, but think it’s too pretty to cut up.”

Literally, it’s the fabric you chose that you plan your quilt around.  It’s the fabric that is used to assist you in picking the rest of the material for your quilt. For right now, let’s just forget about picking a pattern at this point and talk only about material.  Sometimes quilters purchase the pattern and plan around that, but more often than not, we pick the fabric and plan the pattern.  And that’s the scenario we are going with here.

I can tell you my definition of focus fabric:  It’s the fabric that speaks to me.  I can be in any random quilt shop, working  my way around the room and BOOM!  There will be a bolt of fabric that beckons me to it and before I know it, the debit card is produced and five yards makes its way back home with me.  There are two rules of thumb at this point.  Notice I said I purchase five yards.  In the past, I would only buy three yards, however, things have changed in the fabric world.  Once the manufacturer of said desired fabric has run out of that particular material, they generally do not  produce any more.  So if you run short and need even a half-yard, sometimes it can be impossible to find.  Ebay has certainly saved my quilt more than once, but there are no guarantees.  It’s better to have more than you need than need more than you have.  Any extra yardage can be used in the label, binding, or in making a pieced back.  Or put back in your stash.

The second rule of thumb with focus fabric is that I’m really not quite sure why and what makes it speak to me.  This one is obvious:



It’s primarily purple, which is my favorite color.  But a closer look reveals that there are more colors involved in this batik than purple – there are also magenta and orange in the mix.

Then there’s this fabric:


This is one of those fabrics that immediately “spoke to me” and beckoned me all the way across the room.  While the background is brown – admittedly my least favorite color – it does involve a lot of other colors that I could plan my quilt around: two shades of pink, lime green, and yellow.  There are a lot of options open in this material, which makes it a fantastic choice as a focus fabric.


Here’s a great choice from Kaffe Fassett.  Sure, there are soft pastels used, but there are several vibrant colors in this fabric.  I not only could use different colors with this, but I also could use different values of the same colors.  And this is a terrific pick for either a baby quilt or any other quilt, because of the value choices.


This is another one of those “it spoke to me” fabrics.  There are pinks, blues, and greens in this material, in varying shades.  And it’s sweetly feminine.  Even though the color palate could be more limited in this one than the Kaffe Fassett above, the scale of the flowers in the fabric is small.  This means that the focus fabric would not necessarily be limited to larger patches or borders.  It could be scattered throughout the quilt.

The same is true with this fabric:


The print is a small scale, so it can be used in even really small patches, but for a tiny print, it packs a color punch – it has purple, magenta, golds, greens, and pinks.  There is a lot  I can do with this fabric.  It has nearly unlimited potential.

This focus fabric speaks for itself:


There are so many color options here…blues, pinks, golds, greens, oranges…it’s pretty much throw down nearly any other fabric and you have a winning combination.  But that’s not what drew me to this fabric.  Nope.  It was the black background.  To me, putting black in a quilt is like finishing a sentence with an exclamation point.  It’s dramatic.  Remember a few blogs back when I mentioned that a really good quilt will catch your eye across the room, in the middle of a room, and right smack-dab in front of the quilt?  Black does that for me every time.  Perhaps it’s because on the whole, quilters don’t use black too often in quilts, or maybe it’s my own preferences coming out, but black just adds more  umph to anything.

So far, we’ve taken a tour of my focus fabrics that have only included prints.  However, in one quilt that I’m currently working on, this is the focus fabric:


Again, this is one of those fabrics that didn’t just speak to me at the quilt store – it screamed.  Why a solid?  Well, more particularly, why this solid?  Truthfully, I don’t often choose solids as my focus fabric.  With a print, there are generally more color options.  But this … this fabric is scrumptious. The picture doesn’t do it justice.  It’s a deeply color-saturated fabric from French General called Noel.  It’s not a coral.  It’s not a salmon.  It’s not a shrimp or any shade of red or even pink.  It’s that elusive “somewhere in between.”  However, it’s turned out to be a great shade to bounce peaches and greens off of.

So the rules to picking a focus fabric? Only two.

First, make sure it’s a fabric you love.  It can speak to you, scream at you, or make your mind go crazy with all the options it opens up for your next quilt.  Second, buy at least five yards.


Have a great weekend.  Makes spend some time with who and what you love.


Love and Stitches….


Sherri and Sam


PS — The classes last week were fabulous.  I learned so much!



Nitpicking Neutrals

As promised, I want to talk about colors a little more this week.  When I first started quilting, this was the part that terrified me about the whole process.  Despite having a fairly heavy art background, this… the choosing the fabrics and committing to them…this was the part that scared the bejesus out of me.  With paint, pencils, or pastels you could alter the color or paint over them.  Waaalllllaaa – the wrong choice goes away.  But with fabric?  Nothing short of quality time with a seam ripper would make it vanish.

Plus a lot of fabric had patterns on them with other colors involved, and that muddied the water even more for me.

I was that quilter who made every quilt from a kit or was the champion of the three-color quilt (one neutral and two primaries or complementaries – what could be easier?).  Better yet, I’d find a quilt store with great customer service and lasso the sales person into picking the colors for me.  This went on for a while until my quilting mentor told me to “Grow up and up your big girl panties on and pick your own colors.”


Having the art background, I was very familiar with the color wheel and all the monochromatic/tertiary/primary color combinations out there.  The only thing that made me get over my pickingmyownfabric issues was just jumping in and doing it.

Did  I like all my first choices?


Did I make mistakes?


How many seam rippers did I go through?

Seriously.  I lost count.


But this process got me over that hump of thinking that this was just too hard.  I want to talk about focus fabrics and colors and tools, but this week, I want to talk about the colors that aren’t on the color wheel, and that’s the neutrals.


If you’re a grammar person, think of neutrals as the comma in quilting.  If you’re a music person, think of neutrals as the rest.  If you’re a math person, think of neutrals as the equal mark.  If you’re a science person, they’re the carbon in the experiment.  If you’re biology, they’re the oxygen in life.  They allow the eyes a chance to rest between blocks and colors and they are as necessary in quilts as the thread that holds them together.

By definition, in this field, they fall into these colors:


White – This includes all whites, including white-on-whites.  A couple of important things to remember here.  If you use white with soft pastels, it can give your quilt a very soft, almost washed-out look.  If that’s the look you’re going for (such as perhaps in a baby quilt), then white is a good option.  If you use white with jewel tones or batik, it almost makes the quilt glow.  But be aware that there are differences in whites.  If you’re using white in your quilt, purchase enough of the same color from the same maker on the same bolt for your quilt.  There is a huge difference in Kona snow and Kona white just ask me and I can tell you how I know.  And if you’re thinking about doing hand applique or hand quilting with white-on-whites, look carefully at the pattern.  Some of the white-on-whites have a kind of rubbery feel to the pattern.  It’s great for machine work, but can wreak havoc on your fingertips with hand work.


Black – Like the whites, there are differences.  Make sure you’re using the same color from the same maker from the same bolt, because there are differences.  Amish black is richer and darker than midnight black.  Black is a wonderful neutral to use with some batiks and all jewel tones – like the white, it will make them seem to glow.  Pastel – not so much.


Tans/Beiges/Ecrus – Believe it or not, there are differences between these three.  Beiges are the lightest, Ecrus are in the middle, and Tans are the darkest.  The same song and dance goes with these neutrals as in blacks and whites – buy the same color from the same maker from the same bolt.  It is truly amazing how much these can vary from dye lot to dye lot.  Neutrals are truly the neutral ground in piecing a quilt top.  They work well with pastels and batiks and jewel tones.


Gray – Let me introduce you to my favorite neutral out there,  the grays.  I love grays.  They play well with jewels and batiks, but can over power pastels if the gray trends towards the middle ground.  The light grays play well with pastels, the middle grays play well with jewels, and the dark grays play well with all colors.

I had never really thought about gray as a neutral until beginning the Country Inn Quilt by Barb Adams and Alma Allen.  This quilt is heavy applique and the blocks are huge.  I was working on this quilt with a group of my friends and all of them had opted for the lighter version with lots of small prints and reds.

I wasn’t even going there.  I wanted something different – something dramatic.  So
I opted for grays in the background and overdyed batiks for the flowers.  So far the results have been highly satisfactory.


Any of these colors – white, black, tan, ecru, beige, and gray – are necessary in a quilt.  Your eyes need a place to rest.  Have you ever looked a quilt and just felt unsettled or rushed?  I feel this way when I look at the 1718 Coverlet.


Don’t get me wrong – that’s a wonderful quilt and it’s just amazing – but as you look at it, there’s no place to rest your eyes.  Your eyes can’t travel over it at an easy pace.  As a matter of fact, it’s hard to take in because you don’t know where to look first.  It gives you a feeling of unrest.  That’s because there are no commas or rests or equal marks or carbon – there are no places for your eyes and soul to just stop and comprehend what you’ve just looked at.  There is no significant use of neutrals in the 1718 Coverlet.

Neutrals usually are used to an extent in your quilts blocks, but they’re also used in sashing and borders and setting triangles.  Take a look at my quilt that I made as a history challenge.



While the neutral does have a tiny blue and red print in them, they frame the center of the quilt and allow the eyes to travel over the important parts of the quilt at an easy pace.  They let the eyes rest and the soul sigh in peace.  And on a personal note, I rarely use solid neutrals.  Almost all of them have a subtle print to them, whether it’s tone-on-tone or a few, small, scattered designs of colors complementary to the quilt.  I like this subtle movement.  It adds a little pizazz to the quilt that the viewer doesn’t expect.


Choosing the correct neutral for your quilt is just as important as choosing the correct focus fabric.  You don’t want it to muddy your colors. Watch for understated undertones in your neutrals – a tan can have a pinkish cast to it.  Some whites can “go gray” when placed next to blues.  Always be sure to make your neutral part of the casting call:  lay it out with the rest of your fabrics to audition.  Picking the wrong neutral can alter the entire dialogue of what you want your quilt to say.


And have fun.  Remember, it’s quilting, not rocket science or brain surgery.  If you make a mistake, learn from it, move on, and the next quilt will be even better.  Progress is better than perfection.


Meanwhile, back at Casa de Fields, guess what arrived this week?!


That’s right!  My long arm!  Or at least part of it.  The head, ruler table, android, and accessories are here!  The frame should be arriving shortly.  I haven’t definitely named her.  I’m leaning towards Betsey (as in Ross) or Elizabeth (as in Bennet).


I’m not sure if there will be a blog next week.  I solemnly promise I will try.  I’m in NACQJ classes all day on Monday and Tuesday.  That means my “real job” will own my soul Wednesday, Thursday, and maybe even Friday.



Love and Stitches,


Sherri and Sam



It’s Not Easy Being Green

Summer is still hanging on to this part of North Carolina for all its worth.  The calendar may very well say September 10, but outside it still feels as if it’s July.  Air conditioners are still chugging away for all they’re worth and my standard dress code is capris, t-shirt, and sandals.  For most of us, the fact that the first frost is only weeks away is still a mirage in a vast wasteland of suntan lotion, beach chairs, and double layers of deodorant applied liberally to keep the underarms of our shirts decent.

Last Sunday, because it’s still 90 degrees where I live,  I had the opportunity to visit the Sarah P. Duke Gardens at Duke University.  Bill wanted to take pictures for his portfolio and I tagged along because well, I was in a rut.

It may be because that I see so much fabric (since I work in a quilt shop and have an enviable stash),  I feel like I’m picking out the same colors all the time for my quilts.  And in several ways, that is possible. Often a lot of the fabrics that are sold in shops and on line are directly influenced by the Pantone colors of the year.  This year two were chosen, a blue (Serenity) and a pink (Rose Quartz).  Personally, I took one look at them and immediately time-traveled back to the ‘80’s when everything was Williamsburg Blue and Old Rose.  I still have these colors in my oldest stash.


In 2015, the color was Marsala Wine – which I affectionately redubbed “Cow Pattie Brown.”  The year before it was a gorgeous purple.  Needless to say, after these colors are announced, fabric storefronts and on-line shops get several bolts of this color and the variations … which we buy…and we make quilts out of.  Then there are the seasonally influenced oranges, browns, and reds, followed by a variety of holiday hues, then followed by the next wave of Pantone induced dyes.

Add to this any colors that are collecting a “following”, such as the Aunt Grace (1930’s), Reproduction Prints (Civil and Revolutionary War), French General…you get the picture.  Quilt and fabric shops are full of all of these because they sell and sell well.  And they come with lots of “family members” (i.e. blender bolts), so all of that makes quilt making a bit of a breeze as far as picking out colors.

And woefully boring.

If it weren’t for the jarring excitement of batiks (“Oh Wow!  That fabric has orangeandpurpleandblueandyellowandgreen!), I’m afraid that all of my quilts would end up like the clothes you wore in the ‘70’s – you know what I’m talking about…the outfits you look back on in your yearbook  and physically cringe because yes, you actually wore that.  And yes, it did look that bad.  But then again, all 50 of your class members looked equally as bad.

We are losing our imagination as quilters.

So, feeling like this, I tagged along to the gardens to take pictures of flowers and trees because sometimes looking through the lens of a camera and then seeing the pictures is just what I need to jump-start a project and re-define my color choices.

The gardens were still in bloom despite the heat.  The first thing I was struck with was how many shades of green there were.

At one time, this color held the least amount of shelf space in my quilt studio, because frankly, it’s not my favorite color. Please don’t ask how much room the purple fabric takes up.  After learning to applique, I realized that I was going to have to up the ante on my greens, because I was making tons of leaves and stems.  So every time I went fabric shopping, I would come home with at least one fat quarter of a green.  Now several years have passed and the greens take up an entire shelf and a half.

But you know what?  Nine times out of ten, I still don’t have the shade of green I need on the shelf.  And now I know why.  Mother Nature had the same problem.  Look. At. All. The. Greens.

And look at the colors that are used with the greens. There are yellows and blacks and fuchsias and purples.  It’s my observation that if Mother Nature has no problem mixing it up like this, neither should we.



For me, this is why it’s so important to get out of the studio every few days and look at some other visual art form or take a walk somewhere.  It not only expands your color visualization, but it frees the mind to think outside the next kit, or next fabric line, or what’s being shown on Pinterest or quilt magazines.  This helps your next quilt have a different variety of color choice and not look like the same three hundred other quilts that have been made from the same pattern and pretty much the same fabric line.

And this is important because in order for your quilt to be different (in a good way), you need it to “pop” visually in three places:  From across the room, from the middle of the room, and right up in front of the quilt.  The area that is going to pop in all three of these places is the color and its placement.

This is an area I want to explore a little more in the coming weeks.  So this week if you’re able (and I’m not talking to you, Eileen), get out and take a walk.  Take a hike.  Go in out in your yard and use that fancy-shmancy phone of your to take some pictures.  It really doesn’t matter what you take pictures of:  weeds, birds, butterflies…whatever is out there, take some pictures.

Then look at the pictures.  I don’t mean glance through them in a rush on your way to send your next text message or Facebook post.  I mean really, really look at them.  Look at all the shades and hues and colors that have been put there by Mother Nature and begin to think about how you can use these in your next quilt.

That’s your homework for the week.

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam



Good-bye August…

I’m always a little nostalgic this time of year.  I see the yellow school buses and kids on the street corner waiting to board.  All of the school supplies are out at the stores.  The parents are purchasing them by the buggy load, with a gleam in their eye.  They know that soon the long summer chasing kids will be over and school will once again usher their little darlings into the arms of knowledge and get them out of their hair…


When I was teaching, by this time in summer, I would have at least two months of lesson plans under my belt and be more than ready for the first class on the first day of the school year. This year I was slightly taken aback when I saw the large Thomas Built buses rolling past my house this week.  Had school started back already?  Where had the summer gone?


And I’m booked solid for September.  Between the quilt shop and new classes and my guild, it’s holding that this month will be just as cray-cray.


I am excited about two classes I’m taking.  The first is a Christmas table runner and placemat set with Gloria Stickney.  She uses the square-in-a-square method, and while I have used this method before, this is the first time I’ve sat in on a class.  We’re working with the diamond technique, and that’s a first for me, too.  Shelle, Janet, and I are taking the class together.  I’m really looking forward to it, as all I have to do is show up and sew.  The kit is pre-cut.


The second class that I’m enrolled in is Lorraine Covington’s National Quilt Judging Association class.  While this won’t make me a quilt judge (there still would be a lot of work to do before I could bear that title), it’s a stepping stone and everything I learn will make me a better quilter.


The High Point Quilt Guild has several opportunities to get out in our community and promote quilting.  While I can’t be at every one of these events, I do plan to be at several.  All this leads to the fact, that for this month my quilting time is way too limited for my liking.  But October means Quilt Retreat and Quilt Retreat means four uninterrupted days of piecing and fellowshipping.  In slightly over 50 days, I and thirty of my closest quilty friends will be at Haw River State Park for a long weekend of sewing.  I have three quilts I need to cut out and get ready for this.  Somebody tell my boss I need a couple of days off to get ready…


In the meantime, I have something to show for my time.  Remember the Hand Print Quilt I shared back in the spring that some of our guild members help make for the teacher that had cancer?  Well, it was featured in the High Point Enterprise last weekend.  I can’t tell you how much joy I got out of helping the kindergarten class make this for their beloved teacher.  The fact that she so obviously cherishes it makes it even more special.  Quilters do truly get just as much out of giving of themselves in the quilt as the recipient gets out of receiving the quilt.




And I have had time to paper piece some more squares for my Farmer’s Wife Quilt.  I have one more to go and then I’m going to start putting the top together.  There are more squares to make, but I’m about at the halfway mark and want to begin the top’s construction before I make any more.  It will help me see how my color wave is working.



Have a  great week and a wonderful Labor Day weekend!  Keep something under your needle!


Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam