How to Pick Fabrics for a Scrappy Quilt

Friday, March 11, 2016

I recently posted this photo on Instagram of a fabric pull I did for a scrappy, new quilt pattern I'm designing.  As you probably already know, I love scrappy quilts.  I love the vintagy feel they have!  I have so much fun picking out fabrics and trying new color combinations.  But I know for some of you, it can be overwhelming to pick out fabrics starting from scratch.  

I had a follower on Instagram leave me a comment after I posted the photo, saying, "I wish someone would go through this process with me...I take forever and ever to pick my fabric!  It's just all so pretty I can't decide and it feels like I waste a lot of time."

I don't want it to be a stressful or time-consuming thing for you! 

I love talking about the "whys" behind fabric selection and if you're one of those people that is overwhelmed with the fabric picking process then this post is for you!  Here are some tips that will hopefully help to make it an enjoyable process for you in the future.

Tip #1:  Figure out a basic color scheme.  Sometimes I base mine off a photo I've seen, some artwork, an article of clothing, or another quilt that I like.  Whatever.  Just pick a color scheme and start pulling fabrics (you can always eliminate some later if you want to).
As you can see (above), I wanted to use reds, blues and greens, with a tiny pop of yellow.  Note that there is no rule that says you have to have an equal number of fabrics of each color.  The little bits of yellow will be used as a little surprise here and there...a little something unexpected.

Tip #2: I think it's always nice to have a lot of different "values" of each color.  The term, "Color Value" is also known as "lightness", "tone" or a "color space's brightness".  In the photo above, I've got whites with just a little red on them, light reds and bright reds.  

Tip #3: Choose a variety of different types and sizes of prints.  On the left (above) I have some small to medium sized prints - most of which have lots of movement.  On the right, I have two fabrics that will add a nice "pop". They're also known as "zingers".  They're very graphic and their scale is on the larger side.  Note, that a zinger can also add "pop" through it's color - it doesn't always have to be graphic.  It's nice to have a few zingers in a quilt.

Geometrics, text and dots are some of my favorite "go-to" prints.

 Florals are a must as well (and offer good movement).  Notice the different scales in the four florals above.

A few solids (at least) are always nice to throw in.  They give your eye a place to rest and break up all the busyness.  Can you spy the two different blue solids in the photo above?  

Repeat, choosing different values, prints, and scales in each color. 

Since I only have a few yellows, I tried to get a nice variety of prints, scales and value.  I chose a large-scaled floral, a geometric, and a light-valued yellow that has lots of movement.

And last but not least I have some greys, neutrals and low volume prints.
The term "Low-Volume" refers to fabrics that have a light value and low contrast.  There is a spectrum of what is considered "low-volume" and in my opinion, the one or two fabrics on the right are pushing it.  But all of these neutrals will break up the monotony of my color scheme.

Now, these are just the fabrics I pulled for my quilt.  These are what I like.  I obviously like a lot of text, geometrics, etc.  I also used some of my favorite vintagy prints + some new japanese prints, so I'm excited.  

Tip #4: Repeat fabrics throughout your quilt.  This will help create balance as your eye recognizes specific colors and prints.  Almost every print of mine will be used in the quilt 5-6 times (can't wait to show you a picture of the finished quilt!!!)

Tip #5: Don't stress too much about whether a fabric matches or not!  If you can't tell with in a second or two that a fabric "clashes" then it's fine!!!  You don't need to stew too much about each and every fabric!

My friend (and neighbor!) Calli Taylor from the blog, Make It Do, makes the most beautiful, scrappy quilts. I am seriously in awe of her knack for picking fabrics! Her motto, is that "you always need a few 'ugly or off-colored fabrics' in a quilt to make the pretty fabrics shine.  It adds character and dimension to a quilt!"  Calli says that those "ugly" fabrics are ones that she still likes - but that other people might consider ugly.

And finally, Tip #6: Use what you love!  
As I was considering what I might say in this post, I came across a picture of a quilt my sister-in-law posted on Instagram recently.  Her name is Brittany (IG username is @bmariedavis).  I love her style.  Like, really, really, love her scrappy style.  I always have.  She is another quilter who completely inspires me!  She just finished making a larger version of my Sugar and Spice pattern, with a few tweaks regarding color placement (pattern available in my Etsy shop). 

Brittany said on her post caption, "I gave myself no restrictions.  If I liked the fabric and it made me happy, it went in this quilt.  I really wanted it to look like my grandma made it years ago, so I just had fun with it."

I think she achieved that look.  And that's what I love about vintage and vintage-inspired quilts!  They're just so one-of-a-kind, full of character and depth.  They're unique and interesting and lovely.

After I saw Brittany's post and read her caption, I went back to my stack of fabrics for my upcoming pattern.  I took out one fabric I didn't love and threw in this fun stripe!  I think it will add a lot of interest and whimsy to my quilt!

I hope you all feel inspired now to make a scrappy quilt.  I hope these tips have helped you.  Don't stress about it.  Have fun with it and enjoy the process!

Happy quilting!
~ Amber  


  1. Ok... That was so much help and thank you for the pictures!! I love scrappy happy vintage quilts.. I will refer to this over and over... Thank you for taking the time to do
    this. Sorry I whined lol! 😉😄 JK!
    I have your book and love it! Sugar and sugar sweet are first on my list. Or Twirl.. I love them all.
    Thanks again, Ness aka @swedie1961

  2. Super helpful! Thank you so much!!

  3. Fabric selection is the most difficult part of the quilt making process for me. These tips are helpful and I will look at my fabric in a different way now. Thanks so much!

  4. Thank you for sharing! I always get so excited when I start a new quilt and go to pull the fabric for it and then......somehow I can't seem to 'get it right' and I get discouraged. I guess it just takes practice - your tutorial on this will help :)!

  5. This is a fantastic post! Fabric selection is one of my favorite parts of quilt-making and I'm always interested to learn how other quilters approach this. Thanks for sharing your process.

  6. Amber - What a great tutorial post. I loved reading this. And as usual I love the fabrics you chose the finished quilt. STUNNING!!

  7. Thankyou Amber, this post is awesome. You always have the nicest fabrics.

  8. Well done, daughter! You never cease to amaze me with your tutorials! Your expertise is commendable and impressive and you are so good about sharing your knowledge and talent with others! In these pictures of your fabric selections, I am particularly drawn to your grays and neutrals and I'm interested to see how they play off your colorful fabrics. I anticipate seeing them in the background, making others pop. Looking forward to it!

  9. Thank you so very much for sharing this!!! Most helpful info!!!


I ♥ to hear from you so please feel free to leave a comment. I read each one and try to respond as often as I can. Thanks so much for stopping by! ~Amber