Color is a Chameleon

Color is never what it appears to be. Not even true hues will ever be completely honest. A color’s “true color” is always affected by what surrounds it — much like the chameleon.

This week I’d like to talk a little bit more about color.  A couple of blogs ago, we talked about the 3-in-1 Color Tool and color families.  This week I want to explore this little scenario….

You’re at the fabric/quilt store.  You’re desperately attempting to find a green blender fabric which will work with your focus fabric.  You’ve walked the aisles, pulled out bolts, sifted through fat quarters when suddenly a light beams down from the heavens and a halo appears over a bolt of green fabric.  Then a voice from above booms through the store’s PA system – “This is the chosen one, my child.  This one is it…”

Okay, so that doesn’t exactly happen.  But we all know what it’s like to comb through yards and yards of fabric and then suddenly find the exact shade of whatever color we’ve been searching for.  It’s a feeling of relief, and happiness, and exuberant joy.  We grab the bolt, march to the cutting counter, and although we may only need one yard, we buy two because we have no idea when this serendipitous occasion will happen to us again. 

Only to get it home and find it’s not what it appears to be.  Even though we took fabric swatches with us to the store to make sure the purchased fabric would work, suddenly in the comfort of our quilt room, we find that particular fabric is still a tone, shade, or hue off. 

What happened?

To answer this questions, we first must define what color is and how our eyes and brain translate it.  So, allow this former science teacher to give you a little color science lesson.  Quilters tend to use the word “color” to include tints, hues, shades, and tones. In the in strictly scientific terms, that’s not what it is.  We tend to approach color from the quilter’s worldview.  But to understand how our brains and eyes interpret it, we need to learn what it is from a scientific worldview.  Strictly speaking, color is the characteristic of visual perception as described through color categories (red, orange, yellow, blue, green, and purple).  Color stimulates the photoreceptor cells in our eyes – which are the cones (a term you may remember from high school biology) and electromagnetic radiation (found only in humans).  Color categories and physical specifications of color are associated with objects through the wavelengths of the light which is reflected from them and their intensities. This reflection is governed by the object’s physical properties such as light absorptionemission spectra, etc.

[Quick aside here….right before I stopped teaching high school chemistry and physics, I learned that scientists were re-thinking the “fact” color travels via wavelengths.  They were hypothesizing it may actually travel in particles.  I have not kept up with whether or not this was pursued or is still under research.]

Each color wave has its own unique space, which can actually be defined by coordinates – kind of like a color latitude and longitude.  With humans, these coordinates are RGB, which coordinates with the three cones in our eyes which decern color waves.  Humans have trichromacy, which means we can basically really see three color wave lengths – short, medium, and long.  And while this may sound evolutionary superior, allow me to introduce this little critter:

This is the Mantis Shrimp.  It’s a stomatopod.  Stomatopods can see up to 12 wave lengths.

I realize this seems sort of complicated for a blog which is primarily for quilters who may care less about color waves and more about making sure the fabric they purchase is suitable for the quilt they’re making.  Hang with me here…I’m about to get to that point.  If you re-read the explanation of color, you discover objects are pretty much emitting color waves in different lengths which the cones in your eyes pick up and then tell your brain what color you’re looking at.  But understand the environment this object is in can play with the wavelength, especially light absorption and emission spectra.  To make a long science lesson short, the lighting in the store can play with the color wavelengths, therefore your eyes and brain may interpret it wrong.  What you thought may be the perfect, long-sought-after color fabric may actually have its color waves skewed by something like florescent lighting.  Florescent rays emit CFLs, which are specifically designed to visible region of the spectrum – in other words, they’re designed to help folks see better.  But in the process these 400-700 nm rays can alter the color waves.  However, natural lighting (such as the light which comes in through the window of the quilt store) has little interference, as does the LED lighting because they are “clear” light sources.  So, before you purchase that “perfect” fabric, you may want to carry the bolt to the door or window and look at it again to make sure it really does match up. 

Once you’ve looked at your fabric in natural light and have decided it is the perfect shade you need, there still is one more color hurdle to deal with – the other fabric.  Remember everything emits color waves.  The waves don’t always play nice or true together.  For instance, look at both of the blocks below.

This block appears to have a dark gray square in a light gray square.

This block has a light gray square in a dark gray square.

Let me ask you this:  Which of the two smaller squares in these blocks is the lightest?  Which is the darkest?

If you guessed both of the small squares are the same color, then you’re right.  Let’s try another one.

This block has a center square which appears to be a deep, dark red.

And this block’s center square appears to be a vibrant, glowing red. 

Two different reds, right?  Nope.  They’re the same color red.  So, what makes them appear to be different colors?  It all has to do with how you view the block.  When we look at the quilt blocks, we tend to look at the entire block and not just the small, center square.  It’s our perception – seeing all the color waves at one time – which makes us think it’s an optical illusion.  This illusion of colors appearing to change in juxtaposition with each other is called simultaneous contrast.

Simultaneous contrast was coined by a French chemist, Michel Eugene Chevreul.  He studied natural dyes and experimented with how colors interact together and eventually published The Principles of Harmony and Contrast of Colors.  How does this figure into our quilting world?  I wouldn’t go through the trouble of reading it (it is long and slightly boring) but between this and a later work by Josef Albers, we quilters can understand how one color can look like two – which means if a fabric is carefully and strategically placed in a quilt, it could possibly do the work of two fabrics.  This knowledge helps us get the biggest bang out of our colors.  However, the flip side of this means we also have the ability to make two colors of fabric look like they’re identical.  It all has to do with some basic rules and understanding how colors play with each other and with our color perception.

The first rule we need to understand is Contrast of Value.  This has to do with light and dark contrasts.  Remember in my blog on color when we discussed hues, tints, tones, and shades?  This rule works with those.    Let’s look at a gray-scale first:

The long, skinny rectangle that spans all the grays is one solid color.  However, as it travels across all the grays, we perceive it as being a light, medium, or dark, depending on how it contrasts with the background it’s on. 

So, how does this figure in with our quilting fabric?  We obviously don’t quilt with only gray fabrics.  Let’s take a lime-green rectangle and lay it across a blue background make of its tints, tones, hue, and shades:

The color appears lighter on a dark background and darker on a lighter background.    

Where does this fit into quilting?  Let’s say you’re making a quilt such as this:

A Bargello

Or this:

A French Braid

There is one color in each quilt which we call a “constant.”  The other colors will change, but one will not.  It’s the stable influence.  It’s the “constant.”  The fabric for the constant is the same throughout the quilt.  But because the material which surrounds it changes, this can make the constant appear lighter or darker, depending on the fabric placement.  For me, this adds to the quilt’s appeal.  But if you’re just this side of OCD, it may drive you nuts.  Just realize there’s nothing you can do about it and accept it as one of the happy accidents in life.

The second rule we need to be aware of is Contrast of Complements.  First, let’s review what complementary colors are – they’re the colors directly across from each other on the color wheel. 

Contrasting complementary colors are based on their high intensity relationship, meaning the colors are nearly off-the-scale strong when placed next to each other.  Let’s look at the complementary colors red and green for this illustration.

The green in the center of the red square appears much more intense than the green in the center of the gray square.  This is because of the red/green complementary relationship.  How does this translate into quilts?  If you had a gorgeous green fabric you really wanted to show off in a quilt, you wouldn’t put it next to a neutral:

You wouldn’t want it next to another cool color, either.

You’d want it with a red – green’s complementary color.  The red fabric will show off that green to its fullest ability. 

One other word of caution here:  Very strong colors can push neutrals to appear more like their complements.  So, if you were making a quilt like the one above with red, green, and white, be aware that the white fabric may appear pinkish, even though it’s not.  You may want to keep this fact in mind if you’re constructing Christmas quilts using red and white fabrics – the red can push the white to appear as a light pink – definitely not a traditional Christmas color.  You have to be strategically careful with fabric placement in such a quilt. 

Complementary colors are the strongest color combination around.  Not only do they make striking quilts – as the colors appear vibrant, almost glowing – but they also create the appearance of colors which aren’t even there.  A real, quality, optical illusion. 

The third rule is Contrast of Subtraction.  This is best defined by illustration.  Let’s take this blue-violet square:

And put it in a blue background:

And then in a violet background:

The square appears more violet on the blue background and bluer on the violet background.  The blue fabric seems to take away the blue pigment in the square and the violet fabric appears to remove the purple.  This is what is meant by the Contrast of Subtraction.  Remember in my first color blog I mentioned some colors could either be “warm” or “cool” depending on how they were placed in juxtaposition to other colors – these colors are purple, lime green, white, or gray.  Place them near warm colors and they “warm up.”  Put them next to a cool color, and they automatically “cool down.”  This is also the Contrast of Subtraction. 

This rule can be especially helpful when you’re working with true hues or fully saturated colors.  These are true hues with no white, gray, or black added.  If you want those colors to really pop, you want to use black as your neutral.  Look at this quilt:

Now compare the same fully saturated colors with a white background:

And a gray background:

Those true hues look so much brighter on the black fabric.  And if it’s Amish black, they look even better.

Hopefully, this additional information about color will help you not only understand color schemes a little better, but will also explain how fabric can look so different under various lights and when it’s placed next to another fabric.  Once you’ve found the perfect fabric in the exact shade you’ve been searching for, it’s important to know how other material can affect its appearance. 

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


How to Survive a Block of the Month or Mystery Quilt….

This week I would like to discuss another topic I have a love/hate relationship with – Blocks-of-the-Month (hereafter referred to as BOMs).  I want to discuss the two different categories, how to decide if you would like to join one, what kind to join, and once you’ve committed to a BOM, how to survive it. 

While BOMs can cover many types of quilting (modern, art, traditional, applique) and many different types of techniques, there are basically two categories:  Those you pay for and those you don’t.  The paid BOMs are generally more detailed.  They offer lots of illustrations, lots of details and many times include a Facebook Livestream, Zoom, or an interactive webpage.  They may offer different fabric color ways, or they may leave the fabric selection up to you.  The free BOMs typically offer no fabric, just patterns, and some details either on a Facebook page or blog.  These are generalities and certainly there are specifics for each and every BOM.  I first became aware of BOMs in 2000, when Hancock Fabrics advertised one in the local newspaper.  I was several years into my quilting experience by then, but was largely self-taught.  I wanted to learn more and how to do it better, so I signed up.  For me, this BOM was the answer to everything I needed at the time:  It was conveniently located near my home, it supplied the fabric, and every block emphasized a different technique.  Bonus one: The instructor loved her students and willingly answered every question either in class or via phone call.  By the end of that experience, I was introduced to needle turn applique and had acquired some serious piecing techniques and tricks.  Bonus two:  I met fellow quilters there – a group which was seriously lacking in my social circle.  These women are still some of my closest friends.  You also must remember where I was at personally at this point in time – I had two young children, a job, and a husband who worked out of town most of the time.  One 12 ½-inch block a month was doable.  

Fast forward to where I am now and BOMs are a very different story.  Now a BOM must have a serious draw for me to participate.  It must offer advanced techniques or wonderful fabrics.  I may really like the instructor and will do every BOM he or she offers just because I always learn something.  I tend to participate pretty equally in both the free and the paid-for.  There are some years I may enroll in five or six.  Other years – like this year – I may not join in any (except my guild’s) because none appeal to me.  There are some BOMs I take part in simply to get the patterns.  I have no plans or time to make the quilt now, but will someday and will need the instructions. 

So, how do you decide whether or not to participate in a BOM?  You will probably go through many of the same questions I do before you make up your mind.  Here are several things to think about before you sign up:

  • Why Do I Want to Get Involved?  The answers to this question will vary, because it depends on the quilter.  It could be the social aspect.  If the BOM is offered through a group in a guild, bee, or quilt store, it means meet-ups with fellow quilters (or at least it did pre-COVID-19).  This type of quilty fellowship is always good for the soul and is one of the main reasons I join a BOM.  Some people want to learn new techniques or better ways of constructing their blocks or stitching their appliques.  Other folks may simply adore the designer or teacher and sign up for all their BOMs, regardless of whether they really like the quilt or not.  I’m that way with a few designers and teachers – whatever they’re offering, count me in.  I always learn a lot and have a good time in the process.
  • What Do I Want to Get Out of This?  This is a little more specific than the first question.  Yes, you may want to get involved with a BOM because you want to learn something, but if you’re jones-ing to become a better appliquer and you’re enrolled in a BOM which is primarily piecing, then your objective won’t be met.  While a BOM generally won’t involve a huge amount of time (most of them are one block a month or a few small ones), it will cut in on the sewing time for other projects.  If you’re quilting hours are like mine – limited – make sure at least one BOM is helping you attain your quilting goals.  Currently, I’m enrolled with Angela Walter’s BOMs because she emphasizes the quilting process and that’s a technique I really want to become better at – both on the long arm and Big Red.
  • How Are My Questions Answered?  In the past, this was a no-brainer.  However, in the past most BOMs were run through guilds, bees, or quilt stores.  You met there in person and the individual leading the BOM would field all your questions.  However, 2021 is an entirely different scenario.  Even pre-COVID, groups were meeting virtually via Facebook, quilting forums, blogs, and YouTube.  At some point, all of us will have a question about something.  Make sure the BOM you’re enrolled in has a way to answer them – especially if you’ve plunked down your hard-earned dollars to pay for it. 
  • What Is Included with the BOM?  If the program is free, the pattern is probably the only item included.  However, if you have to pay a monthly or upfront fee, be sure you know what come with the pattern, if anything at all.  With some BOMs (especially applique ones) the pattern may be the only thing you receive.  Others may involve fabric.  If the fabric comes with the pattern, how much is included? Is there any leeway for cutting mistakes?  Does the final BOM include border, backing, and binding fabric (or any combination of those)?  If they’re not included, can they be purchased separately? 

Regardless of the BOM, I do have a few suggestions on how to successfully navigate one. 

Stay on Schedule

The objective with most of these programs is to make enough blocks for a bed quilt or large-ish wall hanging.  Some BOMs issue one block a month (these are usually 8 ½-inches to 12 ½-inches) or several small blocks a month (usually 6-inches or less).  Whether the group you’re sewing with meets virtually or in person, I would issue this cautionary statement — try to stay on schedule.  For me, the kiss of death with a BOM is to fall hopelessly behind.  The more I find myself behind schedule, the less enthusiastic I become about the program.  Knowing I must complete a block in a month before I can have access to the pattern/pattern and fabrics for the next month generally keeps me on track.  However, with some BOM programs, all the patterns and fabrics are all given out at the same time.  It’s super easy to get behind in these BOMS, because you know you can still complete the quilt even after the program closes out.

Set an Appointment with Your BOM

 I would also suggest you set aside a regular time to work on your block(s).  For me,  this has always been Saturday morning.  When both my kids were at home, they generally slept late on Saturdays (unless it was softball season for Matt).  Bill would fish or golf.  I could get up early, make a pot of coffee, and sew for several hours before the call of motherhood pulled me away to make mall runs, scouts, or band/dance practices.  Even today, Saturday mornings remain my primary sewing time.  Bill still fishes or golfs, leaving me most of the day to quilt.  If I’m participating in a BOM, at least one Saturday a month is carved out for it.  If you have a regular “appointment” with your BOM, it’s easy to stay reasonably caught up.   

Purchase Extra Fabric if Possible

If the BOM programs offers an “oops” package – a bundle of extra fabric to use if you make a cutting mistake not that any of would make a cutting mistake I’ve always thought it was a good idea to purchase it.  Invariably, if I don’t, I end up deeply regretting it.  If such a package isn’t offered, I never throw away my scraps until the quilt is bound and labeled.  If border fabric is available for purchase and you want to use it, buy the material early in the program.  I’ve found if I put this purchase off, it may be sold out by the time I get around to handing out my debit card for the yardage.  The same thing holds true if you want their backing fabric. 

Read the Instructions.  All of them. Every Word.

This is true for any quilt pattern.  Even if it’s a simple a four-patch, read the directions.  However, this is especially important in a BOM which includes the fabric – which is limited.  There’s only enough fabric to cut out and construct the block units the way the pattern indicates.  If that method isn’t your favorite way to make the units, there may not be enough fabric to do it the way you prefer to.  Plus, the pattern may offer insights into additional construction tricks and what construction issues may be in the future.  Take a few minutes to read the pattern through, assemble any special tools or rulers, and see if you have any questions. 

Make Sure You Like the Fabric (or Can At Least Live with It for Several Months)

I almost didn’t put this one in because earlier I said you may want to enroll in a BOM to learn different techniques.  If all you want to do is learn a new technique or how to do a technique better, is it really super important you like the fabric?

Well…yes.  Quilters, for the most part, are visual people.  We learn best by someone showing us how to do something.  We are constantly assembling color palettes.  In order to stay engaged and enthused about a BOM, I do think is important you like the colors.  Many BOMs will offer several color ways (generally something kind of traditional, something modern, and something batik-y) in order to generate a large group who wants to make the pattern.  Most of the time these BOMs will involve several months out of your life.  If you hate the colors, how likely is it you’ll finish the project?  I know if I enrolled in a BOM which involved a palette of tans and browns, I might never make the first cut. 

Be Social

Many BOMs are virtual now.  They never meet in person.  It’s all done via social media platforms.  And even some of the BOMs who meet in person have platforms.  Here you can upload pictures of your blocks, see how other members are constructing their blocks, compare and contrast trouble areas, and cheer each other on. 

Join them.  And participate. 

I admit I currently have a love/hate relationship with social media.  There’s a lot of unkindness and bullying going on via Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms.  However, for the most part, I don’t see that on the quilting pages.  I mean it’s there on occasion, but the administrators shut it down admirably fast.  It isn’t tolerated and neither are phishing or other scammy things. 

Go.  Post your questions and the pictures of your block.  You’ll be surprised at how much love and encouragement will be thrown at you.  And during the time of COVID while we’re all feeling a bit isolated, this is a wonderful thing.  If you’re reading my blog and you’re a quilt page admin or moderator, bless you.  You are truly wonderful folks. 

Stay as Organized as You Can

I keep all my BOMs in one place, whether they’re only patterns I’ve pulled down off the internet or actual physical, fabric-and-pattern ones I receive in the mail.  I’ve found if I simply throw them on my sewing table or put them on the kitchen counter, invariably they decide to play hide-and-seek and when I need them, they’re nowhere to be found.  I keep them, any additional fabric purchased, special rulers, and other notions in a box.  I also label the box, so I don’t accidently use the fabric for another purpose.  This way when you have time to work on the BOM, you know where it’s at and you have everything you need.

Remember, You Don’t Have to Follow All the Rules

Ahhhh, this is the wild card and directed primarily at those of us who have been around the quilt block more than a few times.  If you’re a newbie, and you’re enrolled in a BOM to learn techniques and tips, it’s good idea for you to follow the directions pretty much to the letter.

But for those of us such as myself who has a bit of a quilt history under her belt…well…rules can be and will be broken.  If I don’t like a certain color of fabric, I’ve been known to replace it with some I do like.  If I don’t particularly care for the construction of a pieced block, I’ve been known to change it up.  If I don’t want to deal with Y-seams, I will redraft the block to use HSTs.  If the applique is too fussy for even my sensibilities (and believe me, I can sew some super-tiny applique pieces), I don’t hesitate to change them or leave them out completely.

Because, you see, even though this may be a BOM program, it’s still your quilt

There are some really great BOM programs out there – some you pay for and some you don’t.  I think it’s a good idea for any quilter to experience at least one of them.  If nothing on the market appeals to you, grab a friend and a pattern you both like and have your own BOM.  It allows you to encourage each other and help each other become better quilters, as well as have a great time during the process.

Now let’s talk another type of BOM – the Mystery Quilt.  In some ways, a Mystery Quilt (hereafter known as MQ), is just like a BOM.  Usually there’s one block issued every month, or a group of small blocks or block units issued every month (sometimes every week).  However, with a BOM, a drawing or photo of the finished quilt is included with at least the first pattern.  This gives you firm idea about how the finished quilt looks as well as what techniques may be taught.  Not so with a MQ.  With these you have no idea what the finished quilt will look like. 

Which makes them about 100 percent trickier than a BOM.  You have no idea if you’re wasting your time until the quilt is complete.  However, if you like a good mystery, these may be just what you’re looking for. Generally there is no fabric included with  MQ.  Directions are given either detailing the amounts of light, dark, and medium fabrics required, or how many colors are needed – such as five different greens.  Month-by-month you continue to make units or blocks until the very end when the final directions tell you how to assemble your quilt top.  It’s really at this point you discover if you like the quilt or not.  I’ve participated in several MQ programs over the span of 30 years.  I’ve really liked most of them.  Others have been complete duds.  Let me share with you what I’ve learned.

With MQs, I offer some of the same advice I stated about BOMs:

  • Stay on Schedule
  • Set an Appointment with Your MQ
  • Be Social
  • Stay Organized
  • Like Your Fabric and Purchase Extra Fabric – The fabric is usually your decision.  Make sure you can live with it for several months and with MQs it’s a good idea to purchase a few inches extra of each fabric just in case you make a cutting mistake.

My advice with MQs deviates from my recommendations with BOMs here:  With BOMs, I said it was okay to break rules.  Don’t do this with a MQ.  BOM programs issue a picture of the finished quilt which is usually included in the first pattern.  With MQs, you have no idea how it will look when it’s completed.  If you deviate from the instructions, you could find yourself in serious, quilty trouble when it’s time to join the blocks together. 

As you take advantage of MQ programs, you’ll learn (pretty quickly), which designers have really great patterns and which ones don’t.  If you begin a MQ, and you have problems, be sure to check its webpage or Facebook page.  Most of the time, you won’t be the only participant having issues and the answers will be posted on one of these.  You’ll also have a great time seeing what other fabrics are being used and all the different color schemes.  At least try one MQ in your quilting career. 

It’s worth noting that not all BOMs and MQs begin in January.  Usually there’s one or three starting at any given month.  If you want to try one or both, Google Block of the Month and/or Mystery Quilt Program.  You’ll get several results.  Look through them and read the reviews (especially if you have to pay a monthly fee) to see if quilters like them, the directions are clear, and the customer service is good.  Give one or both a try. 

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam


So Much Fabric On Line

I have always been a staunch supporter of brick-and-mortar quilt stores.  Always have been, always will be.  They’re the real backbone of our quilting community, a haven for fellow quilters, an educational portal, and in many instances, have spawned guilds and bees which have lasted for years. 


During the time of COVID, we all have had to punt in order to survive.  Many quilt stores were deemed essential because they sold mask-making supplies.  Some local quilt stores would take phone-in or emailed sales and have your order ready curbside.  And other quilt shops didn’t fare so well.  I’ve quit counting how many have permanently closed.  In some cases, that quilt shop was the only one for miles around.  I sewed through a good chunk of my stash don’t worry, I still have plenty more, but there were times when I needed some yardage of a neutral.  And then there was those times when I would hear a Facebook whisper about a store possibly closing and would order several yards of something, anything to help keep the shop open.  I know you have been in one or both of those spots, too – having to order fabric off the interwebs.  Ordering is not difficult, but knowing you have the right color or type of fabric is an entirely different issue.  This is what I want to discuss today.

Let’s face it, no matter if you’re ordering material off your phone, desktop, laptop, or iPad, screens can be funny viewing portals. They all can distort color.   My DH purchased a Dell 24-inch screen for me as a birthday present.  It piggybacks off my personal laptop.  Not only does the large screen make things easier on my eyes, it’s also 1920 x 1080P with an 8,000,000:1 contrast ratio.  Its colors are extremely vivid.  Designing on EQ 8 just became super easy and precise.  Ordering fabric while viewing it on this screen is very accurate.  However, with other screens…it’s hit and miss for me.  I can order what I think is the correct color only to find when it arrives it’s a shade, tone, or tint off.  So, what I’d like to share with you today is Sherri’s Survival Guide to Online Fabric Shopping.  

  1.  Order what you’ve seen in person or have in your stash.  This is by far the easiest and most accurate way to get what you really need.  If you have material you need additional yardage of or a quilting buddy has a fabric you can use in a quilt, take a look at the selvage. 

This is the selvage from that lovely piece of fabric I purchased from Pineapple Fabrics/Keepsake Quilting.  It gives me quite a bit of information which I can use if I need to re-order.  First, it tells me it’s a Wilmington Print.  This is important.   If Pineapple was out of this fabric, I can search for Wilmington Prints on other websites.  Then it tells me which Wilmington Prints fabric line it’s from:  Rainbow Flight.  And the particular name in the fabric line is Hello Angel.  This allows me to narrow any searches so I can find additional yardage if Pineapple is out of it. 

There is another upside to this kind of search.  For instance, let’s say Pineapple was out of Hello Angel and I had to find additional yardage elsewhere.  My first step would be to consult the nearly all-knowing Google or DuckDuckGo and find another online fabric supplier which carries it.  When I click into their website and find the fabric, this site may also have additional material from the same line which coordinates with the piece I have.  It’s a win-win – they sell fabric and I get coordinating fabric without pulling my hair out or wasting money because I know the fabrics will match.  This brings me to Survival Step 2…

  •  Choose fabrics from within a coordinating selection.  If you’re purchasing fabric for an entire quilt from an online establishment, this is really one of the most accurate routes to take.  Most of today’s fabrics are curated from within a collection – they all are designed and dyed to coordinate with each other.  Even when there are multiple colorways or multiple color groups, they all will play together nicely.  By shopping within a particular collection, you can rest assured the fabrics will all go coordinate – as a matter of fact, this is the purpose behind fabric collections.  And this harmony can work for years.  For instance, I love Moda’s collection Kansas Troubles.  I started purchasing those fabrics as soon as the line was introduced in 1995.  Do you know I can purchase the recent line out of this collection and it still works with the scraps I have left over from the quilt I made in 1995?  Not all collections work this way – or for this long – but knowing there will some stability in a collection for at least several years makes purchasing fabrics online a little easier.  The only caveat to remember is some collections don’t have a true dark, and you’ll have to work around that.
  • It’s possible to choose fabrics which are designed to coordinate, but not from the same collection.  Some designers have realized that in order to retain a high percentage of online orders, they must produce solids which are designed to coordinate with their printed collections.  Westminister/Free Spirit is really leading the way in this, with other design houses beginning to line up behind the idea.  Every quilt can usually work with a solid-colored fabric.  It may not be your personal favorite type of material (it’s not mine), but in a pinch, these solids can make your quilt come together and take the guess work out of ordering online.
  •  Research your manufacturer to see if they have worked with designers to make collections from all the artists coordinate with one another.  This just makes good business sense for fabric manufacturers.  If they can produce fabric from a fall 2019 collection which will coordinate with a spring 2020 collection and maybe even a fall/winter 2020-2021 collection, there are several price controls set nicely into place for them:  dyes can be purchased well-ahead of time and in bulk and they don’t have to produce as much fabric for each additional line because the fabric in inventory can still be used.  It works well for us quilters because we know particular colors will work across multiple fabric groupings.  We can pick and choose prints we like and purchase them with the knowledge that even if they sit in our stash for awhile, we will still be able to find coordinating fabrics a few months down the road. 
  • Use a standard color reference.  This one may take some Facetime, phone, or email time, but if you need a particular color, this may be the way to go.  As discussed in my blog about color, certain entities have their own “Color of the Year.”  Pantone has one and Moda also has its own.  With a few clicks of a mouse and a good search engine, you can pull up both Moda’s and Pantone’s colors for several years.  If you’re working with a shop to get a particular color needed, compare it to the Moda or Pantone’s COY.  If you can get close to one of those, you can reference this information to the store owner or salesperson you’re working with.  Most of these folks have a good working knowledge of these colors and can tell you if they have a fabric which is close them. They may can even email or text you pictures or call you up on Facetime to make sure the fabric will work in your quilt.

Some shops and fabric manufacturers can also provide you with swatches or fabric cards.  There are some quilt stores who, if you narrow your online search down to just a few fabrics, will gladly mail you squares of the material so you can make the right choice.  Others can provide a swatch card which will have all the fabrics in a line for you to peruse and make your decision.  Sometimes is a small charge for these cards, but I’ve found they’re worth it, especially if it’s a fabric you use frequently.  For instance, when I need solids, I generally purchase from the Painter’s Palette line at Pineapple Fabrics.  Pineapple produced a swatch card for every fabric in this line.  I use it a lot and have always found the swatches match the purchased material perfectly. 

I’ve also been known to drop a thread name, if it’s close to the color fabric I need.  If I need a green which matches Superior Threads 134, sometimes a shop owner knows exactly what I’m talking about.

  •  Read, read, read the fabric description.  This is true for any online purchase, but it’s especially important if you are buying an isolated fabric.  Often the key words you’re searching for are in the description.  For instance, if you’re looking for a candy-apple red, and the description reads burgundy red, then this is not the fabric you’re looking for (extra points for those of you who just picked up on a punned Star Wars reference).  If you think the colors may be close, don’t hesitate to contact the store owner.  Reputable fabric store owners (no matter how big or small their establishment is) will take the time to help you.  If they don’t, I would hesitate to make any purchase from them.  Customer service is EVERYTHING. 

Online fabric shopping is here to stay.  Despite my deep love for the LQS, webpage purchases are now a permanent fixture in our quilting community.  I believe (unfortunately) things were heading this way prior to COVID, and the pandemic just moved the goal closer.  Large LQS’s are managing pretty well, as most, if not all of them, have an online presence as well as brick-and-mortar establishments.  The smaller stores have found out they can still sell fabric and notions by replacing employees with boxes, tape, a postage scale, and meter.  Vast numbers of customers can be reached instead of relying on local guilds and area quilters to make their bottom line remain in the black.  It’s the end of an era – and the end to a lot of classroom space.  However, as we always have, quilting and quilters will adapt and thrive.  Learning how to purchase what we need and want online and knowing how to ask for it is just another tool we need to add to our toolbox.

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam 


Sunbonnet Sue — The Quilt Block Born on a Dare

I love to write blogs about the history of quilt blocks!  There is so much more involved than just fabric and thread with many of them.  I had such wonderful response to my blog about background of log cabins that this week I would like to discuss the ancestry behind this block:

Sunbonnet Sue.

Admittedly, there are very few quilters who are neutral about this young girl.  If you poll just about any group of quilters, strong feelings will rise to the surface.  Several in the group will absolutely hate her.  Then there will be those who love her to pieces. 

I place myself in the second group.  I grew up in the 1970’s – barreling through that decade from age 8 to 18.  Sunbonnet Sue was present in my house through a series of watercolors my mother painted (remember, she’s an artist).  I fell in love with the pictures of the sweet, little girl dressed in a pink pinafore dress and big bonnet.  For whatever reason, they made me happy.  My day could have completely gone to hell in a handbasket, but those prints made me smile (I think it had something to do with my obsession with the Little House books). 

When I moved away, and the Sunbonnet Sue prints were left behind along with my high school yearbooks and stuffed animals, I completely forgot about her.  Until I began to quilt and realized there were not only entire quilts made of Sue, but there were BOOKS explaining how to applique and quilt her.  My love affair with the pudgy, sunbonnet miss was renewed.  Through years, I’ve acquired several Sunbonnet Sue quilts and have made a few blocks.  I do have a Sue quilt in my plans.  I’m collecting fabric now and may begin it this summer.  Currently, I have three hand sewing projects which is really two too many and want to wait until I get one of them complete. 

I’ve never really understood why some quilters have such animosity towards such a sweet, quilty soul.  Afterall, she’s a quilt block born on a dare….And we all love a good dare.

Let me explain.  But first, let’s delve into the DNA of Miss Sue.  Like a lot of us, Sunbonnet Sue began her existence as an English immigrant. Her “grandmother” was Kate Greenaway.  Greenaway was an illustrator of  children’s books and fashion plates.  Her work was published in America in both Ladies’ Home Journal and Harper’s from 1880-1890.  If you look at her illustrations: 

It’s easy to see how her art influenced the American version of her work.  Greenaway and her drawings were nearly as well known here as they were in England. 

Then in 1900 a woman named Bertha Corbett self-published a book called The Sun-bonnet Babies.  

This version of Sue was born in Minnesota and is the one we’re most familiar with.  And this is the one birthed on a dare … or challenge, if you like that word better.  Prior to 1900, Corbett had attended several art schools and had illustrated for many newspapers and magazines.  Around 1897, she began working on her early Sunbonnet Sue’s – lots of rough sketches, but nothing definitive.  Then an artist friend asserted emotion could only be shown in the face.  Corbett countered by saying that pose and gesture could do the job. 

“Prove it,” the artist friend is claimed to have said.  And Corbett did.  She drew a child in a long dress with a simple white bonnet covering her face and hair.  Thus, the American Sunbonnet Sue was born – on a dare.  To prove a point. To assert Corbett’s faith and trust in a little girl and her friends who were destined to invade the art, book, and quilt world.  The longer Corbett drew Sue, the more the little girl evolved.  An apron was placed over the dress to protect it as Sue worked and played.  Her shoes went from the high-button models to patent leather Mary Janes.  In many of Corbett’s drawings, Sue held a four-leaf clover.  When asked about the clover, Corbett said, “The clover is the reason why all succeeding babies were healthy, happy, lucky, and wise.” 

During the time span of Sue’s early popularity, Corbett also wrote poems to accompany Sue’s adventures.  She published two editions of poems and drawings in 1900.  She also wrote the poem “The Unexpected Guest,” which was published in Good Housekeeping in 1898.  It was all good work, and the money earned from poems and drawings paid the bills, but Corbett wanted a larger audience.  So, in 1901, she submitted her ideas to Edwin Osgood Grover, who was an editor at Chicago’s Rand, McNally.  Grover had a sister, Eulalie, and Eulalie (a former elementary school teacher) had just begun what would become a solid career writing children’s books.  Eulalie was a bit of a rebel herself.  She thought the primers and early reading books used in primary schools were “colorless and dull.”  She set out to change them into something interesting and colorful.  Eulalie liked Corbett’s drawings and suggested they collaborate on a book.  

Over the course of three decades, the pair published nine books about the Sunbonnet Babies.  They added their masculine counterparts – The Overall Boys – who, for the most part, wore large straw hats which covered their faces.  And here’s where I will blow another quilting gasket:  for years, we’ve called her Sunbonnet Sue.

That’s not her name.

Her name is Molly:

Yes.  That’s right.  We’ve been calling her the wrong name for years.  Corbett named her bonneted darling Molly in The Sunbonnet Babies Primer in 1902.  Later she introduced Molly’s sister, May.

The Sunbonnet Babies became just as popular as Kate Greenaway’s.  At the height of their popularity, Corbett had 15 assistants helping her draw, paint, and publish.  The Sunbonnet Babies were on everything – Christmas cards, booklets, blotters, calendars, valentines, etc., etc. 

Eulalie and Corbett collaborated until 1908, when Corbett, who was clearly not happy with the arrangement, asked for a pay increase of either a flat fee of $2,500 per book or a 10-percent per-copy royalty.  We don’t know if Rand, McNally agreed to either demand or not.  It is apparent Corbett moved to another publishing house for her new projects in 1905.  She continued to illustrate the Sunbonnet Baby books for Rand, McNally, but the publishing house received none of her new or other ongoing projects.  Eventually Corbett moved from Minnesota to Chicago to be near her publishers.  Here she met other artists, enjoyed other collaborations, and met George Melcher, whom she would marry in 1910.  They would go on to have two of their own Sunbonnet Babies – Charlotte and Ruth.  She would continue to draw, write, and illustrate until 1928, when arthritis ended her career.  She divorced Melcher in 1930 and moved to Los Angeles to be with Ruth.  She died in 1950 at the age of 78. 

And that is how Sunbonnet Sue (or Molly) was birthed into existence – which in no way explains how she evolved into a quilt block.  You can clearly see the drawn Sue:

Looks radically different from the quilty Sue:

How did all of this happen?  By 1910, Sue was so popular that embroidery artists transformed her into a red work image, which still remained strikingly similar to Corbett’s drawings.

For quilts, Sue would have to be appliqued and until this moment in quilt history, most quilts were pieced.  Applique was still a foreign concept to most quilters.  Marie Webster (who I’ve mentioned before – seriously, if you’ve never looked at her applique quilts, do yourself a favor – as soon as you’re through reading my blog, Google her and spend a few moments being inspired and awed by her work) interpreted Sue for applique in her quilt “Keepsake,” which appeared in Ladies Home Journal between 1911 – 1912.

From this point on, quilt designers used Sunbonnet Sue in quilts.  As applique goes, she’s an easy figure to assemble, even for a beginner.  There are only four pieces: the bonnet, the dress, arm, and a roundish figure to represent a hand and a shoe.  Sue reached her height of popularity between the 1920’s and 1930’s.  It was also during this time the Sunbonnet Baby’s name changed from Molly to Sue.  And after this period, the quilt world slowly began to turn it’s back on the cherubic child. 

By the time the 1930’s drew to a close there were at least 200 different examples of the Sunbonnet Sue pattern.  Seventy-nine Sue quilts won the sweepstakes awards at the Kansas State Fair in 1978.  The saturation of the applique pattern in the quilt world soon had quilt historians calling her “too cute, too corny, and too trite.” (Jean Ray Laury, Quit Historian).  And evidently too easy.  Sue was great for a beginner project, but was far too simple for an advanced quilter to consider serious work.

Thus, the quilting revolt on our heroine began. Two groups designed different quilts which outlines her tragic demise.  The Seamsters Local 500 of Lawrence, Kansas created a quilt they named “The Sun Sets on Sunbonnet Sue,” showing Sue’s death by hanging, lighting strike, nuclear fallout, etc.

The Bee There quilters of Austin, Texas took a different tact.  Their quilt is called Scandalous Sue, and it shows the bad side of Sue.  In this quilt she drinks, smokes, and is pregnant. 

The shock factor is obviously there.  It appears to be a deliberate attempt by the quilt world to rid itself of a saccharine-sweet, far-to-easy quilt pattern from the past.  As a quilt collector and semi-historian, an ample part of my soul rebels against this because I remember how Sue made me happy during the trying days of adolescence.  Maybe it was my over-identification with Laura Ingalls Wilder and her Little House Books.  Or maybe it’s the very grown-up part of me, who at this point in her life, longs for some of the innocence of childhood again. 


Another part of me – the feminist, modern, worked-my-way-up self realizes Sue needs to evolve in order to maintain a place in our quilt world.  In many ways, Sue is a part of a long link in our quilt history.  She began as an English immigrant in 1880.  She survived and thrived through the end of the 1930’s.  During this time span, she took over a good chunk of the marketing world, changed the entire universe of young children’s readers, and made the dark days of the Depression a little bit cheerier.  She spawned another young marketing maven in the 1970’s through her influence on Holly Hobbie. 

It seems a shame she’s kind of been, well, given the shaft by many of today’s quilters.  There are great books about her in today’s market place:

So, if you want to make a Sunbonnet Sue quilt, there is certainly ample opportunity to do so.  However, the pinafore-bedecked Miss is still hopelessly out-of-step with today’s twenty- and thirty-something quilters.  That’s why, while shlepping through stacks of research for this blog, I was soooooooo delighted to find this:

Let me introduce you to Sinbonnet Sue embroidery by Urban Designs.  She is great.  She is current.  She is relevant.

And you still can’t see her face.

Did I purchase this embroidery program? 


Once a Sunbonnet Sue lover, always a Sunbonnet Sue lover.

I hope this blog has at least spike some interest in Sue/Molly (Molly-Sue?  As a southerner, I love a good double first name).  You may never want to make a block, but at least you know how she got here and the influence she has.

Until Next Week, Quilt On!

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

Here are a few of my Sunbonnet Sue Quilts.  They’re all made of feed sacks.  They live on a quilt ladder next to my bed.  And she still makes me smile every morning.

References for this blog are:

Bertha Corbett Melcher, Mother of the Sunbonnet Babies, Moria F. Harris.  Minnesota Historical Society (, Spring 2010

The Life, Death, and Resurrection of Sunbonnet Sue, Carla Tilghman.  AMS 801, Dr. Hart, December 2012.  Graduate papers.

One of my favorite Sunbonnet Sue Quilts by Peggy Kranges. Breaking Wind, 2015.