One of my goals in the last couple of years has been to become more competent about colour and fabric selection. By which I mean, to make more conscious, purposeful decisions about the fabrics I use in my quilts — and about the design and quilting, too. So I wanted to take a moment to talk about the design selections I’ve made for the Balinese quilt I’m currently working on.
Here’s a shot of the batik fabrics I started with, which as I mentioned came from my brother-in-law P and his partner S, when they went on a Bali vacation. The colours were mostly golden-brown, black, deep green, dark purple, with white, grey-blue, and orange accents.
I know quilters often associated the word “batik” with bright tropical colours – pinks, yellows, oranges, lime green and sky blues – and with simplified, repetitive designs, like palm leaves or flowers.
These batiks, however, are quite different. The colours are more earthy. The designs are complex and sprawling. There can be a huge variation in design and colour from one point in the fabric to another.
Look at this gold/black piece. It terms of value and colour, it is very mottled! And how could you describe the pattern? There are flowers in one area, diamonds in another, stripes in another — and there is some sort of overarching design with leaves and birds, too.
Now check out this piece. Part of it is definitely a brown background. But another part has a flowery blue/green background. And there are bright blue, purple, orange and green flowers and butterflies superimposed on it. Honestly, it was hard to cut into these pieces. Any one of them could have been a whole-cloth quilt, all by itself!
Look at this green piece. Some medium greens, some dark greens… but so much white! What value would you give this fabric? It’s dark and light at the same time.
So the first question I had to ask myself was, am I going to use ALL SEVEN of these fabrics in the one quilt? To tell you the truth, I wasn’t sure of the answer until I was cutting out hexes and putting them on the design wall. In the end, I thought that, if it looked alright, I wanted to use all the fabrics, to capture the idea of the factory they visited — full of so many different pieces of cloth!
I decided on the half-hexagon for a basic block. Partly, I thought it would be a bit more exotic than a square or rectangle, and would suit the exotic fabric. But also, P&S keep bees in their backyard, and I thought a hexagon would be reminiscent of honeycomb, and therefore add a more personal element to the quilt. So that part was resolved. But I couldn’t decide on the fabrics to add in, and so I continued to let it percolate in my brain, and from time to time I’d haul the fabrics out and audition other pieces with them.
Ultimately, I wanted to stay with the colour scheme suggested by the main batiks – the earthy browns and greens, with the hints of purple and blue. Anything added should complement these colours, but not push them aside. Bright, saturated yellows and oranges and blues would, for example, drown out the earthy tones. However, the half-hex design gave me the opportunity to do some light/dark contrast within each hex. I calculated that I would need 12 hexes square to give me a good-sized bed quilt, so I would need 12 “lights” (light to medium) and 12 “darks” (medium to dark) for variety.
Thus began the hunt for fabrics that would would suit the colour scheme. Although it was impossible to find more of the kinds of fabrics P&S had brought back, I wanted to add additional “darks” that at least had some colour and design complexity. The parasol fabric had the right purpley-brown, with hints of grey-blue and green. It also had a strong light/dark value contrast. And the parasol made me think of Hong Kong, another place P&S have visited. It seemed a good fit.
Another fabric I chose was this tortoise one. It has the requisite golden-brown and blue, with hints of green and orange. Also, the tortoise reminded me of the Galapagos Islands, yet another place P&S have vacationed (yes, they really are world travellers!).
My hope was that, as the quilt went together in rows of hexes, a viewer would find their eyes moving from the lights to the darks in a pleasing way, and discovering each of the patterned fabrics like gems in a treasure box. Or perhaps like ornate beads on a string.
I wanted some of the “lights” to be closer to medium, so that it would create a sun-dappled effect, and look more natural than a crisp, geometric light/dark pairing. And, in general, the light fabrics have simpler patterns and less colour variations, so that the strong patterning of the darker halves will be more prominent.
Sometimes my description makes it sound like my decisions were more pre-planned than they really were. I didn’t, for instance, go out purposefully looking for tortoise fabric – what happened was, I saw the fabric colours would work, and then when I looked closely at the design, I realized that tortoises reminded me of their Galapagos trip. So that seemed a good reason to keep the tortoise fabric in the mix. On the other hand, I did have in my brain a hazy vision of some fabrics I’d hoped to find — but didn’t. After looking around a few places, and hunting through my stash many times, I managed to eke out enough fabrics to fit the hazy vision, and the vision came more clearly into focus as I decided on the fabrics.
I’m happy to report that I am now mostly finished piecing this quilt top! I have about 16 long seams left to pin and sew… then I will have to begin the hunt for a backing fabric. And decide how to quilt it. But those are problems for another day!