When we began 2018 as the year of Quilting with Excellence I mentioned that part of becoming a really good quilter is focusing on the basics. As any artist or athlete will tell you, if you can get the basics down pat, that’s more than half-way to the goal of becoming great. Everything else –all the little flourishes and neat tricks of any art or sport are built on a good knowledge of how to do the basics well.
Quilting is no different. Whether it’s piecing or appliqueing or quilting, if you have a great working knowledge of the basics, everything else – all the little tricks and trades that make big difference in your quilt – will look better and be easier to do. With that in mind, I would like to take this blog and discuss focus fabrics. I know I have hit on this topic before, but it has been a while and there are a few additional techniques I’d like the opportunity to tell you about.
By sheer definition, the focus fabric is the fabric chosen that pulls everything else together in your quilt. It’s the fabric you base your other color selections on most of the time. Since quilting is not an exact science, I can honestly tell you there are times when I pick my all of my other fabrics simply because I like a color scheme and then find a focus fabric. Regardless, your focus fabric is the “glue” for your quilt top – it can make all the other selections work together. Sometimes finding a focus fabric is pretty easy. For instance, if you’re pulling together fabric for a Christmas quilt or a one with a patriotic theme, the selection is pretty painless – you’re going to find a fabric with a holiday theme and the chosen Christmas colors or you’re going on the hunt for a fabric with red, white, and blue in it.
It gets a bit more complicated after that, but not too much. Let’s say you’ve found this color scheme on Pinterest:
That is a terrific color scheme and while you’re shopping your LQS for those particular colors and hues, you can also be on the hunt for something that will pull it all together (and keep in mind that if you can’t find a focus fabric, you can always piece your borders and that will make the quilt top work wonderfully well). The great thing about textiles producers today is that if you find a line of fabric you like, chances are they’re going to have at least one bolt of something that can work as a focus fabric.
Remember this challenge quilt? I used the black floral print as the focus fabric in the large cornerstones, the appliqued vase, and one of the outer borders. This all came from Connecting Threads Firenze Collection.
But let’s say you’re like me, and on occasion while in a LQS, I find a bolt of material that I just have to have. It’s happened before … don’t judge. I don’t always know what I’m going to do with it, but regardless it’s got to come home with me. So at least five yards finds its way into my stash. Now what? The first thing I do is that take a picture of it with my phone, so that when I’m shopping in the future, I can find coordinating fabrics. Then when I get home, I put it in my visible stash. I have a large book case that holds the majority of my fabric. I plan on discussing my fabric storage in a future blog, but the bottom half of that book case holds anything over a yard. It’s flat folded and grouped according to color families. And I make sure it’s in a place where I can see it. Since my stash storage is near my primary sewing machine, I can look at it in reference to my other fabric and see what I have on hand that works with it. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve looked over while sewing and discovered I “had a quilt” in that stash. It’s one of my favorite feelings in the world.
So where does a quilter put this “pulls-it-all-together focus fabric?” In the past, it was a fairly time-honored tradition to use the focus fabric in the outer borders and perhaps in the sashing cornerstones. That’s how I was taught, and I think the premise of this theory is that since the outer border works as a frame, if it features the focus fabric, then the quilt top will look pulled together because the color choices are reflected in that border.
That theory worked for me for a while. And then I decided that plain borders were well…boring. They seem to resonate with the feeling that by the time you had spent hours and hours piecing the top, either you were too tired to give the borders a lot of thought or you completely lacked imagination. In the punctuation of quilts, plain borders are a period. Your borders are truly one of the units that pull your quilt top together and they should be an exclamation point, not a period and this is another blog.
What I recommend is that you use the focus fabric both in the blocks and in the borders (and in the applique if your quilt uses this technique). If your focus fabric is a print that is relatively small, you can use it in some of the piecing. Take for instance this fabric that I purchased from Stitch Party Studio in Madison, NC.
It makes a great focus fabric because there is quite a color punch in this yardage. But the print is still reasonably small enough that it could work in some of the piecing units. Take this block, for instance:
This is a 10-inch block, so the triangles on the sides are big enough that the print and the various colors will show up well. But look at that on-point center square – what a place to show off your focus fabric! And even if the print on the focus fabric is large, this area is still big enough that you could fussy-cut it and show it off to its full potential.
And now I would like to challenge you to do something decidedly different: Find a focus fabric you really, really love and pick out your supporting fabrics. Decide what fabrics go where….
Now, don’t use your focus fabric in your quilt top or borders or anywhere else in the quilt.
Ahhhhh….I can see the look on your faces over the internet. It’s the same look that I saw when I told you that the 1/4-inch seam allowance was not the Holy Grail of Quilting. Well…neither is having a focus fabric.
Now that another quilting gasket is blown in the quilting part of your brain, let me explain where Sherri’s Theory of You Don’t Necessarily Need No Stinkin’ Focus Fabric came about. Several years ago, while in Paducah, KY for the Spring AQS Show, I came across a gorgeous piece of fabric that I could only describe as Tuscan. It has rich purples, greens, burgundies, and blues.
It is beautiful. I love it dearly. I can be having an awful day and come home to “pet” this fabric and instantly feel better. Why can’t I cut it up, aside from the fact that it’s one of my all-time favorite fabric finds?
There’s only a half a yard of it. I purchased the very end of the bolt. There really isn’t enough of it to use even in a lap-sized quilt. So, what’s a girl to do?
I pondered this for awhile and came up with this solution: It was the colors in this fabric that made my heart sing and my senses tingle. So instead of cutting this bit of material up, I picked out fabric that matched or coordinated with this half-yard wonder but didn’t use one inch of the focus fabric in my quilt. My favorite colors were still there, and they all worked together without the focus fabric.
Thus, Sherri’s Theory of You Don’t Necessarily Need No Stinkin’ Focus Fabric was born. I’ve made three quilts out of this theory and this non-use of focus fabric. Give it shot. If nothing else, it’s a great color and design exercise, especially when making borders.
I’d like to introduce a new family member at this time.
Her name is Lilleth, but I call her Lou. All of my cats have been named for famous American authors except one. Sam’s full name is Samuel Langhorn Clemmons. Meet Louisa May Alcott. She was my daughter’s cat, but when Meagan became ill with cervical cancer, her husband didn’t think she needed to be changing litter boxes. Since the grand darlings are pretty attached to Miss Lilleth-Lou, I took her in so the girls could still see their cat when they visit me. If Meagan gets all better and doesn’t need chemo or radiation, then Miss Lilleth-Lou may go back home to her. Meanwhile, she and Sam are working on their relationship issues with pretty good results.
Until next week…throw that focus fabric out the window and Quilt with Excellence!
LATE BREAKING UPDATE ON MEAGAN
Early this afternoon we received the final pathology report on her surgery, and I am overwhelmingly grateful, happy, and relieved to report to you that ALL THE MARGINS ARE CLEAR. This means that the 2 cm of tissue they removed around her reproductive organs is free of cancer-cells.
God is still on His throne and He still answers prayers.
What do we d now? We breathe. We linger over “See you laters” and don’t say good-bye. We hug longer and tighter. We cherish each other. We no longer take anything for granted. Future plans include a trip to the North Carolina coast and Disney World.
Meagan will be monitored for five years. For the first two years she will undergo Pap Smears every three months, because if the cancer does make a return appearance, there is a higher risk of that happening the first year. Then for three years she will have a Pap Smear every six months. At the end of this time, if nothing pops, she will be declared cancer-free. There’s a blessed 90% chance of it not happening. We will take those odds any day.
For those of you that have sent messages, prayed over her and us, texted, called, or emailed, I wish I could hug each of you. Thank you for your concern and prayers. Some of you I need to thank for putting up with my panicked texts, conversations, and phone calls. Thank you for your support and putting arms around me and my daughter. Thank you for the flowers and meals and a dozen other things that I can’t think of right now.
Quilters are the best.
Love and Stitches,
Sherri and Sam and Lou