Ugly fabric challenge, underway…

I've been considering the pile of ugly fabrics and how to make them happy together. These are scraps so, of course, a scrap quilt came to mind. The problem was how to combine them. 

I think the most successful scrap quilts are made from a simple two 'something' combination. One color/value playing against (or with) another color/value. I sometimes use a more complicated system when I am working with fabrics of my own choosing but the ugly fabric challenge is not that. These pieces of fabric are all over the map and they don't really like each other. What to do?

I decided to treat everything ugly as one half of my 'system'. I set them against white. White is clean and clear and lighter than everything else in the pile. Ugly = darker, white = light.

I decided to keep the design simple, using only 2" half square triangles (HSTs). I found a dandy tool for making the triangles and I'll share that with you in a later post.

I decided to try 3 different settings. Initially I placed the HSTs on the wall in three different patterns, paying no attention to the color of the ugly fabrics involved:


UglyHST-02 copy

UglyHST-01 copy

Not perfect (practically awful), but the third set is easier to look at. However, I'd like the finished quilt to be better than 'easy to look at' so I decided to try grouping like colors together…

UglyHST-06 copy

UglyHST-05 copy

UglyHST-04 copy

In all of these settings, adding order to the chaos makes the pattern hold together better. Each one is more pleasing to the eye that it was before. I still prefer the 3rd set and that's how I will proceed. I have a lot of HST to sew together. I think it would be fun to applique circles or yoyos inside the white squares – and if I have time, I might do that.

Some time back Dianne, a faithful reader, asked me to talk more about clear vs. gray colors. This is a good time to do that. If you look at the set above, can you tell what's clear and what's gray? I'll bet you can but just so there's no mistake, the orange in the lower right corner is very clear – and there are other clear colors in the block.

There are some very gray fabrics. The one that sticks out the most to me is the upper right corner HST found in the lower left block, above. It's a purplish-gray-burgundy and it sort of looks like mud. Contrast that with the pink diagonally across from it. Gray vs clear. Something else you might notice is the clear colors come forward in space, gray colors recede or push farther away from you. You can use this in your quilts to imply dimension.

Most of the other fabrics lean either clear or gray in varying degrees. Often the clarity of a color depends on what it is next to. Value, too, is determined by what other values are nearby. Dianne (and anyone else who was curious), I hope that helps!


12 thoughts on “Ugly fabric challenge, underway…

  1. I think scrappy was the only way to go with this disparate set of ugly fabrics….and paired with either white or black. (too “easy” a solution???) Of course, using larger pieces would have been much more of a challenge. I like the third setting the best too. This almost looks like “fun”, instead of “painful”, as it could have been. (glad you got one of the chimp faces in it)


  2. I debated going for a harder solution. This is going in the color book and I think that readers might appreciate an easier-to-replicate choice. At least thats what Im thinking now.
    And I dont actually think that black would work all that well. So many of the fabrics are dark – any pattern might be hard to discern. I plan to play in photoshop to check this out.


  3. Becky what I find interesting is that when I made my ugly fabric quilt I ended up liking a lot . It made me think of making do with whatever I had rather than what I liked and it turned out ok!!


  4. Becky, I am so glad you posted these pictures. I can see my ugly fabric arrived to you safely. This project is very intriguing. Kristy


  5. I am so glad the ugly fabric I gave you was ugly enough to use! I actually love the way these blocks have turned out. The more the merrier! Anything goes with anything as long as you have that unifying piece ie the white in your blocks.Gee, wish I had given you more uglies when you were with us in Indiana…


  6. The white fabric is like magic, isn’t it? Totally changes the vibe.
    I see one fabric in there (the peachy pink roses on the yellow ground in the last block) that I have several yards of, that I bought for a backing at Joann’s. It’s been hanging around for over 10 years now! But it will be a perfectly decent backing. πŸ™‚


  7. The photos are so helpful! Can you explain how you cut out all the little triangles? Did you make half square triangles? I’m wondering how to cut when you have lots of little and/or odd sized pieces, when nice long straight rotary cuts aren’t possible. Thanks so much. Love your blog.


  8. I used an interesting Creative Grids ruler and will blog about that in a few days. Im on the road now, but should be able to get to it soon. Thanks for asking!


  9. I’m visiting from sewmamasew. Your ugly fabric quilt is amazing! I don’t have the talent you have, but lately I’ve been all about the contrast when picking my fabrics and have been more than pleased with the results. The idea of “gray” fabrics made that even clearer. Thanks for the informative post!!!


    • Thanks! It took me a long time to be able to think it through but once I realized how gray and clear colors work together, I was able to use them together more effectively. I’m happy that it makes sense to others as well :-).


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