Monday, January 19, 2015

Contrast Basics for Traditional Quiltmaking -- Print and Scale

This is the third in a series of three posts to share some of what I've learned about creating contrast in quilts.  I believe these ideas pertain more to traditional quilt making than to art or modern quilt making styles.  I'm a traditional quilt maker, relying on traditional blocks to create my designs. 
One of the most valuable experiences I've had as a quilt maker was a five year stint as a sample maker for King's Road Imports when they first began to offer cotton prints to the quilt supply shops in the mid 1990's.  Fashion fabric companies were losing business as women moved away from garment sewing.  So the companies began to offer prints to quilt shops but rather than the traditional small scale calicos they offered an exciting array of large prints and new color combinations. 
It was my job to create quilts that showcased how to use large scale, multi-colored prints with the traditional smaller scale prints -- it wasn't easy at first, but it was exciting!!
This is a Hunter's Star block I just finished making for my January Stash Bee swap and it does a good job of illustrating the contrast of print scale.  I didn't realize until I had assembled the four units that all of them were a combination of a large scale and a small scale print.
Changing the scale of the prints also generates visual interest seen here in this close-up. 
The use of strips and plaids is another way to build contrast into a quilt.  The strip used in the center of this star was random and I let that show rather fussy cutting six identical diamonds.  What other type of contrast do you see in this block. 
 If you said warm versus cool, you are right!
This is a piece I created last winter as part of Karen H's Soupcon follow-along!  I strayed from her design plan somewhat but I love the contrast of that super large scale floral and all the small scale traditional prints.  Polka dots have become popular in the past 5 years and the light background ones offer a wonderful option for backgrounds such as in the center of my piece. 
 Can you categorize the color scheme?  It was the fabric artist's idea, and it's the split complementary color scheme I highlighted in last Monday's post (HERE).  Did you know that "pink" is not a color family?  It's red or red-violet tinted with white.  And the "brown" in the center motif fabric is actually a yellow with black added. 
When I bought that large scale floral, I didn't buy any of the coordinates because I have a large stash accumulated over a span of 30 years and I know that I have fabrics that will work with just about anything.  Then I take all my clues for pulling fabrics from the print -- it provides the color inspiration and I pull prints that vary in value and print style and scale.
I like the excitement I can create in a quilt like my big maple leaf piece with a wide variety of prints and colors.  I blogged about it last fall (HERE) if you want to see close-ups of it.
Not everyone likes that but the principles of using value and print contrast can be applied to any color scheme to create a unique and exciting quilt!  In this basket sampler (more photos of this HERE and HERE), I confined the colors to brown and blue.  Value then became the primary way to achieve the contrast so each basket is easy to see.  The background is an ivory solid and all the prints range from medium to dark in value. 
 By using a large scale print with both colors for the sashing, setting triangles and outer border, I achieved another element of contrast which makes this quilt so successful.  Notice that the closer the prints are in value, the less contrast there is between the individual triangles in this block.
You can begin to actively and consciously use these contrast principles in your own quilt making.  Start out by analyzing quilts you love.  When you are browsing through a book or magazine or enjoying a quilt exhibit, take the time to consider how value contrast, color contrast, and print contrast work in the quilts you like.  If you start a list of the results of your analyses, what should begin to appear is a summary of your preferences in each of those areas.  Then you can begin to ask questions to compare these preferences to your quilts.
If you are drawn to quilts with strong value contrasts, do you make quilts with strong value contrasts? 
If certain color schemes catch your eye regularly, does your stash reflect that preference? 
 As you begin to identify these preferences, you will gain more confidence about making your own fabric and color choices rather than always relying on someone else's kits.
And that is what makes my quilts unique and will make your quilts unique -- using them as a showcase for your personal preferences!!
Now go stitch something together!!
Mary Huey


  1. Mary, this is a great post with great information. Many of them are things I agree with and need to be reminded of. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for visiting! Perhaps you could remind me back every now and then?

  2. Great post, Mary. That basket quilt is still on my to do list. I'm in love with yours.

  3. This series is so interesting! I've just been putting together colors and prints because I find them pleasing, and I worried with my stash bee blocks that one had enough contrast in color but not enough in value. I realize now it must be because I'd read your last couple of blog posts and had that in my mind!

    1. Working with combinations that are personally pleasing is what it's all about in my book -- just helpful to understand why they please you so you can do it again!! Thanks for stopping by!!