Kaffe's Press Room
American Quilter, November 2010
Big Prints, Big Impact
by Liza Prior Lucy
It puzzles me when I'm asked, "How do you use large prints in quilts " because the obvious answer to me is, "You cut them up and sew them. " But there are some tips and tricks for successfully incorporating gorgeous large-scale prints in your work.
When quilters are asked why they collect large-scale prints but rarely cut them up, replies include, "I have a hard time making a cohesive design using big prints " or "When you slash across a big rose, for example, you can no longer see the rose " or "It seems like a disservice to the fabric to cut it up. " One of the easiest ways to get past these roadblocks is to use big prints as the featured elements. In Kaffe Fassett's new design called MEXICAN PARTY, the largest scale prints are framed by pieced borders that feature smaller scale designs. The big prints retain their design integrity.
But look what can happen if you just cut and sew the fabric without regard for slicing through the details. In SPRING LOG CABIN, the centers were fussy cut but the logs were not. There are many large-scale prints in these logs and the movement of those prints makes it exciting and dynamic. This quilt could be made from small yellow and pink prints but it wouldn't have the same pizzazz.
Another innovative technique, explored in Maxine Rosenthal's book One Block Wonders, has popularized the idea of lining up repeat images in a single large-scale fabric and cutting through several layers into exact same patches. The identical patches are sewn into blocks and the effect is kaleidoscopic. Most of the fabrics utilized in this method have a 24 " repeat. It is almost impossible to tell what the original fabric is once the pieces are sewn. Photo 1 shows the single large-scale fabric I used in my GREEN QUILT.
I actually find it harder to use small prints in my quilts—small prints look one way up close but when cut into fragments and viewed in a quilt, they often appear quite different, as the tiny details meld with the background. When cut up, the fragments of larger prints are usually a definite color.
Blue and yellow printed fabrics are particularly difficult to use when the prints are small. When viewed from a distance, a patch of the small blue and yellow prints very often appear to be muddy chartreuse, not blue OR yellow. A large print patch will usually be strongly yellow or strongly blue (photos 2, 3).
The best way to choose any fabric to use in a quilt is to look at it from a bit of a distance, not close up. Because the fabrics you choose will be cut up into patches, the appeal of the fabric design will be much less important than the color and intensity of the fabric. Large-scale prints with a lot of color and contrast variation are more difficult to use than large prints with a distinct color bias. When cut up, the black-and-white and red fish fabric (photo 4) will be challenging to place in a quilt because the contrast is so high. The red-pink-orange floral (photo 5) will read as a medium-dark tone no matter how big the patch.
Most of the time, I just cut the fabric without regard for the print, just as I do with a small-scale print or solid fabric.
Another excellent use of large prints is for appliqué. It is such fun to find just the right detail to fit into an appliqué piece. Kim McLean's LOLLYPOP TREES features almost all large-scale prints (photos 6,7) that are fussy cut into leaf and ball shapes.
Two tools are essential to designing quilts with any fabrics but especially with large-scale prints. They are a flannel design wall and a reducing glass.
I have two large semi-portable, self-standing, highly useful design walls. When Kaffe comes to visit, we move them into my great room and can work on two to four quilt designs all at once. All the cut pieces of patchwork fabric are placed on these design walls before a single stitch is made. By placing the pieces on the wall, we can develop the quilt pattern with ease.
Often fabrics we think will be just right are not. A reducing glass (photo 8) or a camera can help us look at the wall without having to be a significant distance from the composition. (Binoculars viewed from the large end perform the same function.) When a fabric isn't a good fit for the design or you see that quilt colors and values are not balanced, it is simple to replace particular fabrics with another choice. This process makes getting out the seam ripper a rare occurrence in my sewing studio.
When it comes to using large-scale prints, just dive in. Cut the fabric up, arrange it on a design wall, examine it through your reducing glass, re-arrange until you have a pleasing composition, and enjoy sewing.
Making a design wall
You will need two sheets of insulation board, enough 100% cotton flannel in a neutral color like taupe or grey (flannel sheets are perfect) to cover one side of both boards, glue, and duct tape. We don't use white flannel because it is so bright that it can be distracting when putting a composition on the wall.
Insulation board is that silver, pink, blue, or yellow product you see on new buildings before the siding goes on. It is generally ¾ "-thick Styrofoam with foil or paper on both sides. You will be using these boards indoors, so buy the kind that is formaldehyde free.
The boards are approximately 4' x 8'. If the boards are too tall for your room, trim with a utility knife. Using a very thin layer of glue, adhere the flannel to the boards. The flannel can hang over the sides. When the glue is dry, trim the flannel. Place the flannel-covered sides of the boards together. Cut three or four 8 " lengths of duct tape and make hinges, taping the boards together at the top, bottom, and middle of one long side.
Because the boards are so lightweight, you can easily fold the boards, flannel-sides together, and slide them behind a bookcase or under a bed. If you are in the middle of designing and need to put the wall away, just pin paper over the design before folding and moving the wall. The cotton patches will stay adhered to the flannel.
Reprinted with permission from the author and The American Quilter's Society, Paducah, KY, USA, www.AmericanQuilter.com