Monday, March 3, 2008

Scrappy How-To

I thought today I would give you some insight into how I make a scrap quilt. But first, I have to post a walloping disclaimer: I have no idea how I came upon some of these ideas. I've been reading quilt books for twenty years now, and I'm sure some of the "rules" I follow were seeded in my brain by legendary quilters like Marsha McCloskey, Gwen Marston, Judy Mathieson, Ruth McDowell...the list goes on and on. I didn't keep track of what my brain made up and what I read from these esteemed scrappers over the years, so please forgive me if I have plagiarized any of their ideas; it is not my intention at all. I've been quilting for so long that my brain itself is like a big scrap quilt; some of it is recycled from who knows where, and some of it is original--but don't ask me which is which. The information has been intermingled for far too long.

I think the most important thing about making a scrap quilt is thinking about the big picture. Again, I will show you some blocks that you would probably never think of making at home:


A floral, two Hawaiian prints, a thirties wannabe, a plaid, and other various assorted fabric nightmares. All these fabrics were thrifted from old clothing or scraps.


Your bad block dream continues. Ick. But let's back out a little and take in the bigger picture:

Hmmmm...not too bad, eh? Those prints got quieter as more were added. In mixing patterns, I find that varying scales and textures is a must. Prints that are similar--like two similar scale florals--will clash. But a floral and a check? Wonderful. A stripe and spotty thing? Fabulous. Vary your texture and scale! I know it can be traumatic your first time, but it takes a leap of faith. Just do it. Don't freak out over one ugly block. Twenty ugly blocks are not so ugly any more.


The bigger picture. Hey! Where did all those clashy fabrics go? Where did those horrible eye-assaulting wild things go? (Okay...if you can still see them, I don't want to know. Work with me here, huh?) Always keep the bigger picture in mind and just go for it. Have faith in the bigger picture.

Color is almost a secondary consideration in my mind. I usually try to use one dominant color more than all the other colors in the quilt to tie everything together. Don't use equal amounts of all colors--they tend to cancel each other out. When making a two-color quilt, for instance, use 2/3 of your dominant color and 1/3 of your accent color. When using more colors, divide them up accordingly, always using more of your dominant. An easy way to do this is make your dominant color your main border or sashing color. A strong border will help to corral all the wild little print ponies and keep them from running amok. By "strong" border, I mean a texture or tiny print with only one or two colors that reads like a texture.

I almost never use solids. They attract the eye too much. Your eye falls into a quilt black hole and won't move around the quilt any more! Many beginners use solids because they think it will blend in and viewers will only notice the print. Actually, the opposite is true. The solid fabric shape sticks out like a sore thumb and you don't notice the print because it's shape is broken up by pattern. The only time I use a solid is if that's what I'm trying to accomplish--a strong, clear shape that makes everything else background noise.


I love all colors, but another "rule" I follow is to always exclude one color. If you use ALL colors, your quilt will visually cancel itself out because you have all colors and their complements--which is the only art term I know about color--but I do know that having equal amounts of a color plus its opposite on the color wheel turns the entire quilt gray. Complementary colors in equal amounts make a boring, visually gray quilt. It's the weirdest thing! (But you can use complementary colors with the 1/3-2/3 rule and it'll be great!) So I solve this problem in my colorful quilts by leaving out one color. I'll say..."this will be a quilt with no red in it" and that's the only color rule I'll follow. (But if you're using a color wheel like the one above, notice each color is broken down into two segments...so you'd leave two color segments out.)


But as I say, color is secondary. Contrast is the most important. Before you sew, you should take a picture of your fabrics or blocks in black and white and see if the pattern you expected happens:

Because if it doesn't happen in black and white, it's not gonna happen in color. Trust me on this one.



If you're making a wall quilt, my favorite advice for block placement is this: Sort your blocks into five piles from lightest to darkest. Use your lightest pile of blocks clustered in the middle of the quilt. Cluster the mediums around those, working to the border where the darker blocks should be. Place your almost darkest two blocks in the top two corners, and place your darkest darkest two blocks on the bottom corners. This procedure puts a "light" on in the center of your quilt and "weights" the bottom of your quilt. To illustrate, look at my Hawaiian Rainbow Basket quilts on the post below. See the lightest in the middle and the darkest at the bottom? Cool, huh?



Now...I have a confession to make. I've been pulling your leg about the color of the above quilt. I used the Photoshop "change hue" slider to change the color! This is the real color of the quilt in the above pictures:



Hee hee...did you notice something funny going on? The quilt is not teal and pink, it's really blue and orange!!! See? Color is not all that important when you have the contrast right. (The "hue" feature only changes colors relative to each other, so you know you've got a winner when your quilt looks good in every hue!) This was a "no red" (and no red-violet) quilt. The block is called "Jewel Box" and the entire quilt, except for the border, was made from recycled fabrics.
I hope today's lesson gave you some new ideas of your own. I can't say these ideas always work for me--I have my disasters like everyone else--but guidelines are a place to start.

Reminder! Be sure to comment on the post "Hawaiian Rainbow Basket Giveaway" by Saturday March 8th at nine p.m. Hawaiian time to be eligible for the giveaway. One comment per person, please. OH!! And by the way...I've noticed that a few commenters think I'm giving away the quilts....nooooooo. My quilts are pattern shop samples and class samples, so no can do. The giveaway is for the Hawaiian Rainbow Basket PATTERN and two yards of fabric. Sorry if I disappointed anyone, but the items are listed there in the text. I shall be clearer with my pictures next time!

30 comments:

Joan said...

I'm a scrap-quilter-wannabe and these are some great tips! I understood everything you talked about EXCEPT "But if you're using a color wheel like the one above, notice each color is broken down into two segments...so you'd leave two color segments out." Can you explain what you mean by leaving two color "segments" out??

ladydi said...

Lisa, that was a great tutorial on color - thank you! Please observe I showed great restraint in not posting a comment yesterday since I was already the very fortunate winner of your last giveaway. (Many thanks - the hula huts are great!) I've never used a pieced back before - it's a wonderful idea; do all those additional seams make it much harder to quilt?

The Calico Cat said...

Neat... I like that quilt in teal pink and blue orange... I love the pieced background in the first "block." I had never heard that 2/3 1/3 concept before or the leave out one color advice... I'll have to think about that when I am not working in taupes...
(I made matching jewel box quilts for my brides maids in red rose colors - some rose prints, some reds, some greens, so red/green prints with a bunch of wow/coc backgrounds.)http://thecalicocat.blogspot.com/2005/11/some-of-you-have-seen-this-quilt.html

Nancy said...

Thanks for the great post on color. I kind of liked that teal/pink quilt. LOL
As much as I have read, I had NEVER seen the tip about sorting your blocks in lights/med/darks and starting in the middle. Almost makes me want to drag out the scraps.

martha said...

Hi from NY! Great post. Very clear and informative!

Catherine said...

Fabulous post with super tips! I'm a scrappy quilter for the most part and these tips are going to come in so handy!! Thank you.

QuilterSal said...

Super tutorial! No one had ever explained the 1/3 - 2/3 concept to me....or the light to dark placement concept! Besides being fun, your blog is incredibly educational! Thanks, Lisa.

Happy Zombie said...

You little Photoshop minx you! You had me going there! You B&W tip is GENIUS! I'm going to have to try that. I bet if I put all my quilts that didn't work into B&W... I bet I'd see my answer!

And because I'm noisy with coughing, I didn't want to wake your sleeping Haw'n basket quilt - so I'm commenting here (and also because I have already some of that delicious fabric from you - one extra chance for someone else to win it). I love the quilt, love the colors, love the thrifted fabric, love the amazing back! I have a thing for quilt backs. Spotting a great back is like finding the free toy in a box of cereal!

Elaine Adair said...

You clever rascal you, with the sliding hue thingy in your photo editing program! I've not thought about THAT trick!

Good piece on color and scraps. I always remember that when we were kids, painting with ALL our colors, our rinse water was ALWAYS brown, so if we use all our colored fabric, the overall look is brown (might want that or not)

Cath said...

ohhh, Lisa, thank you! I'm not quite ready for a scrappy quilt just yet, but I will remember this! And btw, lol, that is SOME funky color wheel... beautiful thing, almost art in its own right, but I am ever so glad I don't have to use it. They made us use color wheels in my first art classes and I suppose the experience was good for me, but I'm grateful to just rely on my own sense of what goes together now.

I'm also grateful that you do these tutorials because I NEVER would have thought to make "ugly" blocks, and I WOULD have made that solid-color mistake, probably more than once! Thank you so much!

Cath, who is currently entranced by garment leather so just a lil distracted from piecing...

Jenna said...

So many great tips. Thanks!

Amanda said...

Thanks for the tips on making a scrap quilt. I, too, have never heard of seperating your blocks into lights, mediums, and darks. I love that concept.

Now I want to shoot a picture of one of my scrap quilts and make it black and white. lol

floribunda said...

thanks for the great post -- I think I knew some that stuff intuitively, but it was really good to see it all put into words!

Dawn said...

Super great tips on color & hue! I'm usually standing on my head in the fabric store with my head tilted 'every-which-way' trying to get a feel for the proper proportion of colors...and here I could have just used my camera! LOVE that idea--thanks.

woof nanny said...

How interesting. The theory works for art other than fabric too. I made a glass mosaic recently, and when I first started I thought, ugh!, so bright! But when I kept adding around it, then added black grout, it all just calmed down. The result was awesome (and this after collecting dust for two years in my garage because I was initially so unhappy with it). I only brought it out because I was too poor to afford a Christmas gift and had to finish it. And voila! One of the nicest things I've made. Go figure. This is an incredible post (thanks to the Calico Cat for linking it). I really like that you use thrifted clothing too.

Supermom said...

Love the baskets!

upstateLisa said...

Well you had me there for a minute on the quilt color but either way it looks cool! I am always worried about color but I have never really used a color wheel. Is that a bad thing?! I am going to have to try the black/white trick!

Su Bee said...

Great tute!! The tip that's really going to stick to me, er, WITH me, is to leave one color out. You summed it up so perfectly, gee, you should teach! (heh heh heh)

Rhonda said...

I love scrap quilts! Thanks for the how-to. My head isn't quite clear today due to a head cold, so might have to read it again later to let it sink in. Thanks again.

Kristin said...

Excellent topic and post! I am experimenting with scrappy quilts and trying to branch out into more colorful ones that are balanced with whites or really lights. I have tended toward black/brights. I agree with Monica that you are a bit minxy for tricking us into loving the teal and pink! Thanks for taking the time to put a bit of your knowlege and creativity out there fore all of us.

Stacy A. said...

This post is so educational, good things to just keep in your mind while your creating. I had noticed the light color thing in the middle of your quilts and thought it added something special, now I know why. Looking forward to our next trip to the mail box or town together. :)

Salem Stitcher said...

I never thought about the "leave one color out" rule. I'll give that a try on the next one.

Acornbud said...

Nice tute on color. You have a nice way with them.

Mary Anne said...

Aren't you the tricky one !!! letting your quilt try on different color combinations ! verrrrry interesting! and educational! ..... and I must say, LOVE those scrap quilts!!! I have to get better at not judging a quilt by it's individual "gag" blocks, but by the overall appearance of the quilt ..... I need to learn to step back and take in the BIG picture .... which is usually GREAT! Thanks for lots of good info!

Denise (Nour) said...

Great tips to try especially the 1/3 - 2/3 and the light, med and dark placement of blocks. Lots to ponder... Thanks again!

susan said...

the one quilt type i have never had the courage to attempt...i think the scrap quilt is the hardest to pull off well...maybe i will try it now.

Shelina said...

Lisa, these are great tips, thank you so much for sharing them. I love scrap quilts, and I always worry that I'm going to make some mistake and add some glaring fabric that doesn't belong. I really appreciated the 1/3 2/3 rule, and the leaving a color out. I always thought of having to choose which colors to keep in, but when I see wonderful quilts which look like it has all the colors, I wonder how they did that.

Question: when you add your fabric, do you worry much about making sure the same fabric is distributed evenly throughout the quilt. I am making a queen size Shakespeare in the park quilt. If I cut up a fat quarter and only use it (along with a couple of other fat quarters) for one section - like the center of the block for example, will that be obvious, or should I use the fat quarter in more than one place?

Opal said...

What a great how-to! I never would have thought that about solid color fabrics.

Michael5000 said...

Highly spiffy tutorial. Messing with the hues is a great way to demonstrate the importance of value!

JudyPete said...

I've bookmarked your 'Hawaiian Quilter' blog! I live in Iowa but every other year we visit our son on Maui. During our stay I make more than one trip to Savers where I stock up on cotton clothing for my "shirt" quilts. LOL. Here in Iowa I frequent Goodwill and yard sales but yard sales are non-existent in the winter. I've designed some very nice quilts using fancy quilt fabrics but I love my scrappy shirt quilts more than any. Must be my recycle nature.