Recently I have been fascinated with backgrounds. Trends come and go and I wonder when the next one might arise for us to inhale and exhale new looks. For many years backgrounds for applique particularly were white, beige or off white so that the work and texture of the applique blocks would stand out clearly and hopefully show off the best workmanship of the maker. These days I have a theory that we can take in more detail in our quilts which means we can offer up an array of variety both in our applique fabrics and the backgrounds.
With this idea in mind yesterday I grabbed one of the patterns that is bugging me at the moment. Bugging me because I really want to make it! It haunts me. No longer are we limited to a solid color background...or if we are it absolutely doesn't need to be white! Message in a Bottle by Irene Blank is full of "quirk". There are just enough interesting twists and combos of piecing and applique to bring me back for a visual survey over and over again.
So, where do we start? For me I want to look at what I see and make it different, as opposed to look at it and make what I see exactly. Not everyone is that inclined but in any case, it is important to decide what we like about a quilt. To do this I often look at the quilt and then loose focus in my brain to see what stays...in this case, it is the red. I like the way Irene has used the red to bring the eye in but then has surrounded it with grey and gold and a light blue.
I started with a pile of solid fabrics. Grey, golden yellow, line green and coral. Then I found a loud red and white spot and some other cut fabrics that I thought "felt" like the fabrics in the original quilt. If I was at home these would be stash fabrics but since I was in the shop I had the opportunity to audition beyond my personal taste. So you can see that there are light and dark fabrics, various shades of green a couple reds and a "blinger" by Anna Maria Horner that just keeps on giving because it doesn't fit in too tightly but rather excites the others.
I decided I really liked the background colors but wanted to play more with the applique story so I looked at the fabrics in the original and started looking for other signals in the original. I decided it needed a few large graphics for the vases and some plaids for a bit of texture. All the while in the back of my mind was the selection of solids holiding it all together.
And then I saw the stripe which had to go into the mix...why? Look at how it consolidates all the colors!
In some cases there is a fabric that just begs to get used because it is so interesting. The large fabric in the background is full of inviting designs. The scale changes throughout which means it can be used big or small but still hold the color together. It also has lights and darks...particularly pastels and darks which seems to be the latest greatest trend....whisper soft colors with black! YUMMY.
Then things started getting out of hand. How about a wild mix of contemporary designer fabrics. For the quiet piece there is a mellow pink shot cotton, then a Rosalie Quinlan spot, that dynomite graphic from Amy Butler and Anna Maria's from the dark side...throw in a bit of Cotton and Steele and what a whopper! Soft and pretty mixed with whatever takes the fancy. You can see that as the audition process progressed things amped up. The more familiar I got with the pattern and what I was looking for the more I could see and the easier it was to make selections that covered a lot of ground in regard to value, color, graphic prints and scale prints. All these elements are important to make an interesting eye goggling quilt!
Can you believe that all of this started because of these Japanese wovens!!! This is a new direction for us. These backgrounds are often found in Japanese applique quilts but the question I have is what happens when they get mixed with Material Obsession fabrics???? They are so subtly beautiful that they beg to be enhanced with color and print...to me anyway.
Watch this space! If you are interested in backgrounds or for an applique pattern to make up over the summer (or winter!) months check out our pattern section on the website There are way too many for me to do them all so help me see my dreams come true!!! I must quit my day job ....k