Monday, January 6, 2014

Prints and solids

Last week I wrote about a quilt top that I started decades ago and just finished.  I wasn't happy with the color and fabric choices, remarking that "I had violated my (now) rule of not mixing solids and prints, except in very deliberate special cases."

Angela Welch left a comment: "I'm curious about your rule to avoid mixing prints and solids -- what are the special exceptions?"

Nothing quite puts you on the spot as much as somebody asking you to explain your own rule or technique, especially if you haven't really thought it through.  I guess my "rule" has been more a visceral avoidance than an explicit principle.  But since you asked...

When I am working primarily with solid colors, I will occasionally use one print fabric to provide an accent and liven up the composition.

Tsunami (quilted by Marcia DeCamp) 

When I am working with prints, I'll always allow solid black or white.  Black makes a background and sets off all the other colors; white provides an accent.

Slivers 1

Occasionally I'll put in another solid as an accent along with the black or white.

Shards 16

Shards 52: Green Hills

Shards 1 

In this last quilt, the red is a solid; the blues are small prints that read as solids.  When working with prints I much prefer using these read-as-solids than actual solids.  I'll also mix hand-dyes, especially those with a bit of mottling, indiscriminately with prints.

Slivers 10

So why the prejudice against mixing prints with solids?  In part it's a rejection of the oh-so-cautious 1970s quilting practices of choosing one little calico and one pastel solid to make a traditional quilt that usually came out terminally insipid.

But in general I think solids and prints have different characters.  A bit of one works as an accent with a lot of the other, but more than a bit starts to fight.

I know that as you are reading this, you are thinking of a quilt you made that violates my rule and looks absolutely wonderful.  What are "rules" for except to start discussions?  Even as I am starting a discussion with myself in responding to Angela's question.  Wouldn't be surprised if I modify my rule as a result.

So let me know what you think.  Am I all wet?  The exception proves the rule (in which "proves" actually means "tests" -- so let's test it).  And please send me a photo of the quilt you're thinking of.  I'd love to continue the discussion, with illustrations.


  1. Kathy- we all have these subliminal 'rules' that when confronted don't seem to have any basis except us being ornery! I absolutely won't mix hand dyed and commercial fabrics- it sort of offends my eye, but only in my own work. I've seen it handled beautifully in others. Also I have to use black (usually lots!) somewhere. A rule! But it's these rules we make up as we go that give structure and personality to our work and makes it unmistakably ours. Rules can change and morph- that's OK. Keep on stitching!

  2. I've had various "rules" through the years. It's fun to try to break them. At one point early on, I never included white because in one quilt it didn't work. I don't worry about that today. Up until a few years ago, I never worked with solids at all. Now I have quite a collection that I use. Lately, I've been trying to incorporate certain prints if I can use them so they look like a solid. For instance, I used very large polka dots as a design element in the same way as if I had pieced or appliqued a similar element. I like quiltmaking because it is all about problem solving, and thinking of ways to break a rule is just an extension of that.