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


Living with Another Artist

Bill and I have been together for a long time.  For a while it was on again and then off again, but over all we’ve been together for longer than either of us will admit.  We met when we were 19.  For the last 16 years we’ve owned a demolition and environmental company together.  Need something torn down?  We can do that.  Need asbestos abated, mold removed, or lead paint take care of?  We can do that too.

But secretly?  Both of us are frustrated artists.  I’m a quilter and would love to  work in that field full time.  But Bill…well, he’s a photographer.  If you get a chance drop by his Facebook page and take a look at his work.  He’s awesome.

The reason I bring this up, is that the man who has championed my quilts, sent me to Lancaster and Paducah and other parts for quilt shows, the man who never blinks when I come home with a new machine or bolts of fabric…the man who has celebrated every ribbon and disparaged judges that didn’t give me one?  Well, that man has made the cover of The Best of Africa Magazine with this picture:



I. Am. So. Very. Proud.

He’s a wonderful photographer and he takes beautiful pictures.  And I sincerely hope as we enter the next 30 years of our lives he can begin to take more photos and tear down fewer buildings.

Being married to a photographer is fun in a lot of ways.  We do  day trips on the weekends for him to take pictures and for me to poke around antique  and quilt shops.  This past weekend we rode over to Murray’s Mill near Catawba, NC.  There wasn’t a quilt shop open on Sunday, so it was my plan to look around and take some of my own pictures.  A wonderful side-advantage to these trips, besides antiques and more fabrics and great local meals, is that I get to see a lot of nature up close and personal.  I take pictures for myself not only to remember the time we have together, but to get color inspiration for my quilts.

Murray’s Mill was a wonderful place.  Quiet and picturesque.  I met one of the docents for the mill and general store.  I mentioned I was a quilter and Jennifer immediately whisked me into the back room to look at some of the quilts the museum had — as well as some of the feed sacks that had come from the mill in the 1920’s and 1930’s.  I got to see a cotton plant…Cotton Plantand the scales where they would weigh the large cotton bales as well as the grain that came into be ground into meal and flour.Cotton scales

It was just a lovely place and a lovely afternoon…


Murray Mill

Millstone and bed

Mill Wall and Wheel

Mill stones

Mill Pond

butterfliesThese pictures really don’t do the place justice, as they were made with my iPhone.  If you want, you can jump over to Bill’s Facebook page and see some really good ones.

To me, one of the neatest parts of the trip was this:

Cotton Thread Trail

Murray’s Mill is part of the Carolina Thread Trail.  And while yes, that looks like a Mariner’s Compass Block, it’s not.  I know the name “Carolina Thread Trail” would make you think that, but that’s not the reason.  Murray’s Mill is part of the trail that links North and South Carolina via hundreds of miles of walking, running, hiking, and biking trails.  There are also rivers and creeks you can paddle down.

The photo of the lion at the top of this blog was taken at the Asheboro Zoo.  That was another adventure, as we went that day to try to get a picture of the elephants.  The elephants were having nothing of that, refusing to cooperate.  So we trekked to the lion exhibit just in time to see the lions get fed.  It was a perfect set up.

This was my favorite picture of that day.

Lion and lioness

Since the pictures and the trips have turned into a kind of a side adventure/venture/hobby/obsession for both of us, I’d like to invite you to a new blog called Carolina Backroads.  It will be up shortly.  It’s a monthly blog that Bill and I are doing that features his pictures and my writing.  It will involve places, but more than that, it will introduce you to some characters we’ve met along these adventures.  Some of these folks will make you laugh until you pee yourself.

But I’ve left with tears in my eyes and my heart ripped open with others.  These are stories that need to be told.  These are people you need to know.  They will make your life richer.

I will always have my weekly blog about quilts.  Quilts are my passion.  Quilters are my best friends.  Nothing has changed about that.

Carolina Backroads is a delightful side trip we’ve found together on this journey.

Love and Stitches,

Sherri and Sam

Sam `




It’s Time for a Change…


Bet you didn’t expect a second blog from me this week, but I’ve been mulling over some changes to my blog and quilting life for several months and this is the first and most visible change I’ve made.

Beginning next week, my Blog, “Quilter at Heart” will move from Blog Spot to WordPress.  Why?  Well, several reasons, but let me go down the list for you.

  1.  Layout options — while Blog Spot is a wonderful free spot, it’s a great starting point for bloggers of all types.  After several active years of blogging, I’m past the point of beginning, so I’ve been looking for something a little more sophisticated that would allow me to do all kinds of things.  And while I’m now having to pay for options, I feel that it’s going to be worth it for both you and me.  I now average several thousand readers a month, and want to offer more things.
  2. I can set up a webpage through WordPress.
  3. I can offer items for sale on the webpage.  While nothing is concrete yet, I can offer patterns I’m working on and a few other items.  I also can have give-aways, etc.
  4. I can upload tutorial videos, etc and link to patterns available for download.

So those reasons (and a few more I can’t really get explain right now as decisions are pending) are why I’m making the move.  For the next few weeks, and maybe months, my blog may change as I work to find a layout I’m happy with and readers like.  If you’re following me through blogspot, have no fear.  I plan to cross post blogs through the end of 2016 and then phase it out.  And one thing I really love about WordPress is that it will automatically upload the blog link to my Facebook page and Twitter Account.

One thing that has not changed is my love for quilters and passion for quilting.  Both of those just grow more and more over time.


Love and Stitches,


Sherri and Sam