Choosing Your Fabric and Design

What comes first, choosing your fabric or choosing your design? Different quilters will tell you different things. I do both. I often will have fabric that I like and then I’ll find or design a pattern to highlight it. Other times, I see a pattern or I’ll think of a design and I’ll look for fabric that will make the pattern shine.

pile of colorful fabric


When you first start, I recommend you begin with a simple pattern. What appeals to you? Four-patches are good for first quilts, as are other patterns that use straight seams, but not too many. Some patterns look quite complicated but they’re really not. My pattern Mosaic Windows, for example, looks quite dramatic, but it doesn’t take a lot of pieces and it goes together quite quickly.

Choosing fabric is a bit more complicated because there are more things to consider. You don’t only look at the colors, but at the texture and patterns. Do you want a solid color, one with texture or tiny patterns, or a large design? Do you want bright or subdued, limited color palette or a wide variety?

Shopping for fabric

Shopping online for fabric is convenient and great if you don’t have a local quilt shop (LQS) nearby, but if you do have access to an LQS, I strongly recommend you visit, especially for your first few quilts. If you’re unsure of what to pick, the people who work in the shop can help you choose your fabrics. You can feel the fabrics and see the true colors, not something you can do if you shop online.

If you want to use solid colors only, no patterns, I often steer people to textured fabrics, a tone-on-tone. So, if you want green, the fabric may have little swirls or variations of color throughout the fabric rather than just a flat, one shade green. I find that these textured fabrics give quilts more of a pop than flat solids. However, if I’m using some prints, I may use a flat solid to complement the prints as the textured fabrics could take away from patterns. But whatever you choose – it’s your quilt and you can pick whatever fabric you like. Pick what calls out to you, even if it’s a color you wouldn’t normally want to use. It’s amazing how beautiful a quilt can turn out with fabric you thought wouldn’t work.

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