What Makes It Interesting? Part 3

In my last post I talked a bit about why color draws us to appreciate some quilts more than others. Besides color, per se, unexpected color combinations might be more important in finding a quilt interesting.

Two other factors that might make a quilt interesting are the combination of fabrics and any story about the quilt’s design, the making of it, or the owner.

When I think about the combination of fabrics, I’m thinking about the impression the fabrics make aside from color or value. For example, within a color group, or within a value group, are there differences that draw the eye? Are there details that contribute to the look or feel of the project?

One strategy that can be effective is to repeat a pattern design in multiple fabrics across a quilt. For example, you might use multiple leafy prints in various ways, or multiple dots, or plaids. When the viewer notices the second paisley, they might naturally search for a third. That search keeps the viewer attentive to the quilt — something about the quilt must be interesting to warrant it.

I don’t often take many close-up photos of my quilts (must change that …) , but recently I shared several pix of my seasonal quilt Christmas Is Coming! These show that the fabrics are mostly in reds, greens, and golds, not unexpected in a Christmas quilt.

Imagine if all the reds were done in only three fabrics. Imagine if all the greens were in one lighter green and one darker green. Imagine if all the light-valued “background” fabrics were the same throughout the quilt. Imagine if there were only one gold. Would it be as much fun to look at? Imagine snuggling under this quilt for a nap, or to read a book. Would a quilt in seven fabrics keep you looking from block to block as it drapes across your lap?

What else would be missing with fewer fabrics? The feeling would be missing. I designed this quilt to be festive, and to include a sense of whimsy. The feeling created by the combination of fabrics leads directly to emotional engagement, one of the things that draws the viewer in to look more.

In this case, more fabrics makes it more interesting. The set includes a broad array of styles and variations on the core colors. I wouldn’t say that more fabrics is always better. I’ve seen fabric lines that, even with lots of print designs, don’t offer variety of style, or much range of color. Creating a quilt using just one fabric line can make it look “matchy matchy,” or excessively coordinated. And that, in my opinion, takes us back to quilts that must depend on something besides the fabrics to be interesting.

In general, I find scrappy quilts to be more interesting than those made with fewer fabrics. But your mileage may vary! What do you like when looking at quilts made by others? What do you like when making your own quilts? 

In what will probably be my last post on making quilts interesting, I’ll talk about how story contributes. 


19 thoughts on “What Makes It Interesting? Part 3

  1. KerryCan

    Okay, I’ll be the odd one out here–I find so many different color shades and fabrics to be overwhelming and busy. I much prefer simplicity, even if simple is uninteresting to others!

  2. Paula Hedges

    I love scrappy quilts, but it has taken me awhile to be comfortable in adding more to the mix and staying away from matchy-matchy fabric line prints! Trying to make mystery quilts from my stash has been a great way to bring about a comfort zone in what I think of as “Stone Fabric Soup”!

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      Oh, yes, Paula! I learned SO MUCH the year I spent on my guild’s service committee. Most of the fabric lived at my house. We didn’t have budget to buy more. So as I built kits, I searched for anything that would work. My guild makes BEAUTIFUL service (donation) quilts, so the standard was already high. I figured out how to use stash — guild stash — to make almost anything. It was a great lesson. And also — STONE SOUP! One of my favorite stories, and a great concept when we think of building quilts. Thanks for the comment.

  3. katechiconi

    I completely agree about needing a lot of variation in fabrics to find a quilt interesting. I usually think I have plenty of options and end up wishing I had twice as many! Variety makes a quilt lively, it makes colours sparkle and it lets the eye dance.

  4. Chela's Colchas y Mas

    For my very first quilt, I cut an animal panel into squares. I wanted to make it interesting, but didn’t know how. My friend at the quilt shop suggested log cabin blocks. When it came to choosing color, I found myself picking “safe”, “matchy-matchy”. I was not that excited about how it looked. Then my friend threw in a crazy color bolt. This opened the door for me. I had so much fun picking festive colors that added just the right feel for the animal quilt.

    1. Melanie McNeil Post author

      I love the idea of having a friend throw in a crazy color bolt. 🙂 In the most recent class I taught (in a quilt shop,) I had each of the students go pick a bolt for a different student. That made a huge difference for a couple of the projects, even among experienced quilters. We all have blinders on when it comes to most of our choices — we tend to pick what we’ve often picked. Having someone else offer possibilities is a great way to expand that thinking.

  5. zippyquilts

    Scrappy quilts are more interesting to me. Not sure how much of that is because my Granny did scrap quilts exclusively. Some quilts with more limited fabrics make me say “wow” but usually they don’t hold my interest.


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