Dreaming in Color - The Value of a Library with Jean Wells


In my monthly Adventures in Art Quilting class we were discussing how to build a palette of fabrics for future projects. One of my students is very new to quilting and was a bit overwhelmed because she does not have a “stash”. She suggested that I talk about how to build a “library of fabric”, her name for a collection of fabric.

With the cost of fabric rising, many people are more selective and do not buy for their stash as much as they used to. My advice is to really think about the type of work that you are interested in doing, and the colors that appeal to you, as a starting point. When I shop at stores other than my own and make purchases I think about how I might want to use it. If it is something that might play a big role in a project, I purchase a half to one yard. If it is a color new to me and I am attracted to it, but not sure how it will be used I purchase a quarter yard. In my work I have no problem using several smaller cuts of a color if I do not have a larger piece of fabric.  I feel it makes my work more interesting.

In the beginning working from an inspiration photo, or a printed fabric, will give you suggestions where to begin. Then as you see a color that is missing add it to your library.

So my advice is to purchase smaller cuts of fabric and to arrange them in your library by color first and by type of fabric (like cotton, linen, silk, etc.) as your collection grows. This allows you to go to your library during your planning process to pull anything that might work, and then purchase more if needed.


This is a section of my fabric collection. I have chosen to keep prints separate from solids and I separate my stacks into cottons, silks, linens and other textures. Once I have completed a project I sort my scraps into small pieces, strips, and larger cuts of fabric. I keep scraps in Ziploc bags that are put in a drawer and easily accessible. Many times these small pieces add that bit of personality that I need to enhance a palette. It is a lot easier to grab a fabric out of a small bag than to find it on a shelf and cut a small piece that is needed.


Here is an example of how I begin. I took several photos in Pacific Grove, CA at the beach right after a rain when the ground was wet. I was so amazed by the intensity of the wet colors. I started identifying the colors and collecting representative fat quarters and scraps of fabric. The photo below is the beginning of that process. I am still not sure where this will lead, but I love the combination of colors and it is not a palette of colors that I would have come up with on my own. To me that is part of the magic and it is not the standard color harmony off the color wheel.


Several years ago I parked my car near an abandoned warehouse in La Connor, WA. As I was walking to lunch, I passed by a window and took the close up picture below. I love the combination of the blue and the golden yellow-green lichen. When I got home I went to pull a palette of fabric referencing the colors. I found that I had very little blue fabric and not the right color of blue from the window sill. I noticed that I had hardly been using blue in any of my quilts. Well, that has now changed. This experience made me realize the power of a color I was unfamiliar with. I created a small mock up of snippets of the fabrics and glued them to the paper to see how they might work in a quilt. I find this exercise very helpful.


Pinterest is another great source of color ideas. I especially like looking at abstract paintings. Below is an example of one I found.


I made a photocopy of the painting and did some cropping, isolating different combinations of color. Next, I created some small studies using the strata and rulerless cutting techniques that are described in my book, Intuitive Color and Design.


Once I pull any fabric that might work for a project, I arrange them by color in a container where I can see all of my choices. I like to corral the fabrics so that when I am not working it is easy to put them away.


Back to my student conservation, she also suggested that I put together packets of small cuts of fabric to help customers build their own fabric libraries. Here is our first “Palette of the Month” bundle.


Happy Sewing,