How to Choose the Best Fabric for a Quilt

Jul 9, 2020 4:18:55 PM / by Erica Bottger

Fabric selection is key to any quilt, but if you are new to quilting, it can be very intimidating. Many a new quilter has found themselves frozen with indecision when standing in the middle of hundreds of bolts of fabric, but it can happen even to experienced quilters! 


Today, we are going to look at some tips for picking fabric for your quilting projects. You may still freeze up trying to decide between two different shades of blue, but these tips will help guide you through to make the perfect choice.


1. Quality Matters

This is especially if this is your first quilt! A high quality fabric will be easier to work with and will hold up much better in your final project. You are going to put a lot of love and work into this project, make it something that will last.


2. Ask for Help

There’s no shame in asking for help. Happily, good quality quilting fabric tends to live in quilt shops, run by quilters who are there to help you. Don’t hesitate to ask for help – they are the professionals and know their inventory. However, if they pick a fabric that you don’t love, don’t be afraid to ask for other options. They want to help you make a great project so that you keep quilting!


3. Size and Scale Matter

If you are making a quilt with small pieces, you probably want to stick to smaller scale prints. What exactly does that mean? If most of your pieces are 2” squares, make sure that you aren’t choosing a large floral print – you will only get a little part of the flower in each piece. Picking a small scale print insures that you see the designs and colors in each piece.


4. Start with One Fabric

Pick out one fabric you really love and go from there. The technical term would be “focus fabric”, but no matter what you call it, find that starting point. Usually, this will be a print that pulls in a couple of different colors making your other choices easier. Building off that one fabric, you can audition others to build your project.


5. Think About Variety and Contrast

“Variety is the spice of life”, so make sure you have enough variety in your quilt. You’ll want to be sure you have light, medium and dark shades.


Featured Pattern: GO! Nautical Compass Pillow Pattern


6. Use your Phone’s Camera

When you think you have your fabrics selected, lay them out together and take a picture. First, look at the picture. You will be amazed at how different things will look this way. If you are still happy with your choices, edit the photo to black and white and look again. This is a great way to keep yourself from being distracted by the colors so you can “read” the shades – light, medium and dark.


7. Let the Fabric be your Guide

Let’s go back to that focus fabric you chose. If you look along the selvedge edge, you will see registration marks – small dots or squares of all the colors in the fabric. Some designers are getting fancy and turning these into fun little shapes, but no matter the shape, using these colors to guide you is always a safe bet.


8. Opposites Attract

Do you remember art class and learning about the color wheel and color theory? The colors that are opposites on the wheel – red and green, purple and yellow and blue and orange – when paired together in a quilt can really help give it some visual punch. Maybe you are going for a softer look and want to go with complimentary colors, those that live close to each other on that color wheel. A quick online search for a color wheel to reference can be very helpful.


9. Blenders are your Friend

Yes, they make delicious smoothies, but with fabric, blenders are those fabrics that have only very subtle prints that will almost seem to disappear when you step back further but up-close offer texture or movement for your project.


Your eye needs someplace to rest. A quilt with all different prints could feel pretty busy when you look at it, so think about pulling in some solid colors or blenders. Check out this post on how to add neutrals to your sewing project!


10. Watch out for Directional Fabric

Depending on your project, you may not want to use a directional print, or you might need additional fabric to make sure that all the pieces are facing the same direction in the finished quilt. 


11. Stick to One Collection

Confused? Pick a fabric collection. Fabric designers will design collections that are all meant to work together and will take the worry out of making choices on your own. 


12. Stay with Pre-Cuts

Pre-cuts can simplify the process. If you are not familiar with precuts, they are a set of coordinated fabrics cut in a standardized size. Many quilt patterns now come with pre-cut requirements vs. standard yardage. This can be a great starting point for a new quilter.




13. Buy More than You Think You Need

How much fabric do I need? If you are working from a pattern, the fabric requirements will be listed out for you. Many quilters will purchase slightly more fabric that the requirements, often ¼ yard. This gives you a cushion against any cutting mistakes without a frantic run back to the fabric store. Many a quilter has run short on fabric for a project and has been left to search far and wide for just a little bit more later. This is also a great way to start building your home stock, or stash of fabric to draw from for future projects.


As with any other skill, the more you work with selecting fabrics, the more comfortable you will become. For many quilters, this step is the part they enjoy the most, so be sure to relax and enjoy the process.


Topics: fabric, Quilting Tips

Erica Bottger

Written by Erica Bottger