Thoughts on fabric

When, a few months ago, I was creating the gallery pages just beneath my header bar I had the odd experience of realising that my fabric choices are far more limited than I'd imagined. As I scrolled through the pages of my blog, I realised that most of my projects (because there is a great deal that doesn't come under the clothing or quilting umbrella and so remains ungalleried), if not using an anonymously unpatterned solid fabric, tends to come from just a few designers.

Anna Maria Horner crops up repeatedly and because she prints on so many substrates her fabrics can be used for every conceivable sewing purpose - they're fabrics that I've used almost constantly for the last five or six years and her designs still seem to please me in the way that they did on first seeing them - they are not outgrown easily and they don't seem to have anything that ties them to use for a certain age group (so many of my fabrics were unexpectedly outgrown as my children moved into a different phase in life). I've noticed that with each new range, while they work as completely cohesive collections, they contain a diverse range of colours and prints, so her fabrics may mean different things to different people, depending upon what you choose from the ranges. I tend to opt for the smaller-scaled, limited colour palette prints for myself, but I realised when I made Sam and Leanne's quilt and chose fabrics to suit their personalities that within the same collection one can also find lively, joyful and more free-spirited prints.

Others, I am often drawn back to, but they tend only to appear in a very particular type of project - if I'm making something Christmassy or for an older relative or a younger girl, then I appear to be drawn to Tilda fabrics - I love working with these and I adore the prints, but as they don't really fit in with our own home (nor are they printed on base cloths suitable for dressmaking) so the times when I can use them tend to be frustratingly infrequent.

I realised that in many ways my fabric choices are a reflection of my personality. I tend to choose small-print, reserved, self-contained fabrics. The exuberant swoops of colour and uncompromisingly large scale prints that ran through the Kaffe Fassett quilt I made over the summer felt thoroughly adventurous to me and I think, in retrospect, felt slightly like I was dressing up and pretending to be someone else when I sewed with it - not altogether a bad thing as sometimes it's nice to try on different hats - but not necessarily a reflection of my true self. It's an attention seeking quilt that seems to demand comment from all who pass it by and I often find myself looking at it feeling as though it's an impertinent third child who doesn't feel quite like part of our family and begins a mortifying display of showing off and throwing cartwheels just inches away from people's faces the moment visitors arrive. I feel I have to explain that it's actually the garden quilt and not really meant for indoors because it feels as though it needs explanation and some apology for its bad behaviour...but I can't quite bring myself to put it away. Where does one store a garden quilt? I don't want to put it in the garage where it will feel uninvitingly chilled and spidery when it's first brought out and laid on the grass. Reader, you may be very logically thinking: a cupboard. Unfortunately, there is currently no room at the inn in any of the downstairs cupboards.

Badly behaved Kaffe Fassett quilt
So it seems, for me at least, there's a dichotomy between what one wishes to experience sewing with and what one actually wants to be surrounded by. But I think it's a short-lived struggle - it's a dispiriting feeling to utterly enjoy the process of making something, but then to have little enthusiasm for using the final result.  A lack of space and an increasing feeling that one shouldn't acquire fabric unless it fulfils both sides of the equation means I now rarely indulge the desire to sew with fabrics that don't fit (I feel I must point out that the garden quilt didn't actually break this - it's just the issue of where to put it when it's not in use in the garden that is problematical).

And then there are Liberty prints - which feature in the photographs throughout this post. In theory these prints, other than for my daughter's tiny room, are too pastel-based to work for anything other, but actually they are some of the few pastels that I'd be happy to wear and, as bindings and small snippets, they seems to blend chameleon-like with whatever surroundings they're placed in around the house. They even seem to work perfectly for men's clothing. Their small-scale print has a similar draw as a button collection might and my eight-year old boy enjoys picking out favourites and left me feeling speechless one day when he told me that he would welcome a blue Liberty print cushion into his bedroom if I were to make one.

French General quilt in progress
Finally, I think my most recent favourite ranges added to my list of go-to's would be anything by French General (yes, that quilt is still in progress). They are the fabrics which seem to blend most seamlessly with my own home and I currently dream of making floor-length patchwork curtains from one of their ranges.

But it's all so subjective. Just as my Kaffe Fassett quilt feels badly behaved and boisterous in my house in yours it may fit in perfectly, while a quilt of small-print reserved fabrics may feel like the prissy head-girl sitting censoriously in the corner asking if everyone could please just be quiet because she's trying to work.

I don't tend to think fabric choices through this consciously - it's far more instinctive than I've made it sound here. But sometimes it's interesting to mull over choices that are normally made without thinking about whether they form a bigger picture. What fabrics are you drawn to? Do the colours and scale have any reflection on your personality? Does it make you feel like an imposter or just full of delight when you sew with fabrics outside your comfort zone? Are there any designers or collections that you can't ever imagine falling out of love with?

Florence x


  1. I try not to make too much that doesn't have an intended purpose - and frequently stick to the same colours for things for MY space, but in sewing for other people, I get to use prints that I like but wouldn't decorate with or wear. My sister's taste is dramatically different than mine, (lovely, actually) most of the men I sew for have very specific desires for a fabric and then there's charitable sewing - I can make something gorgeous and know that it doesn't have to work in my house or become the 18th quilt, tea cozy, etc., in the cupboard.

  2. Interesting musings! Lately I've been browsing through vintage woollen fabrics on Ebay for sewing winter clothing, and I've been having to force myself to be realistic about what I'll actually wear. A dark grey/red/mustard piece caught my eye but really, when would I ever put on such trousers?! It's tricky to stick to what is really you in the face of fashion/what is available, isn't it?

  3. I love the way you write, I can just imagine the garden quilt turning a few cartwheels!

  4. I know exactly what you mean. I have a very beautiful Kaffe Fassett quilt ( one of my first ) that I have never actually finished, partly because I made the mistake of trying to hand quilt it but also because I can't see it fitting in anywhere in my home. It's too beautiful to give away( and it's not finished) so it sits in cupboard.I think you describe the feelings certain fabrics/objects evoke wonderfully well.

  5. I tend to buy what's in the scrap bags in my Liberty fabric shop, which has left me with a completely different Liberty collection to yours - a lot darker, lot of purples and browns, and certainly not prissy. I do love them. I work sometimes with the more white- and pastel-based scraps sometimes, and I'm making a paper pieced quilt mainly from fabrics which have a white element but I don't feel myself at all - I keep sneaking in something spookier, whether it 'goes' or not. I can't help myself.

  6. I have possibly the most boring taste imaginable: lots of blue, black and grey solids seem to have snuck their way into my stash. There's a few browns in there, from when I thought I ought to have a departure from black...

    It's probably about time that I stepped out of my comfort zone and made something bright.

    Hmm, apparently I'm not very good at proving I'm not a robot, either.


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Florence x