Quilting With Special Fabrics

After years interacting with quilters of all levels, I have learned that many of us have a stash of “super” special” fabric that we love, but don’t use. The reasons may differ: sometimes the fabrics have a personal history attached to them. They are bits and pieces inherited from grandma, or they are dad’s old work shirts. Maybe its a piece of Provencal cotton picked up on vacation in Southern France. Maybe it’s a hard-to-come-by piece of Japanese vintage kimono cotton or silk? Or perhaps its yardage from your local quilt shop that is now out of print so you are waiting for the “perfect” project to come by for it to be included.

When we don’t use up our special fabrics, they are ultimately going to go to waste. It’s unlikely that anybody else will ever love them as much as you do. In the pink and midnight blue quilt below I have included several of my favorite Liberty of London fabrics in small quantities. I still have some leftover. But by incorporating them in this paper pieced log cabin scrap quilt that has a life they would never have laying in a pretty pile on a shelf.

I collected French General fabrics for about 8 years before I saw fit to cut them up and include them in a quilt, and look at the result! So much better than a pile of fabrics.

What’s in your “super-special” fabric stash?

Personally, I have several “super-special” fabric stacks. I started collecting fabric when I was just about 11-12 years old. I would be sent alone on the bus into Oslo (Norway’s Capital)  to visit the orthodontist once a month. Close by the bus stop was a small fabric shop that specialized in Provencal fabric. In a basket by the counter were little bags of remnants that I could barely afford with my allowance. I would carefully select a bag with the most tantalizing mix of color and pattern in it and bring it home. Mind you, I hadn’t really learned to quilt at that age. But I sure wanted the fabric!

For 35 years I have been hoarding these little French remnants. Too precious to use, too small to really make much of, they have remained in my “super-special” pile and waiting for the perfect little project where they can be shown off.

In the meantime, the “super-special” fabric pile has grown tremendously and now includes a rather substantial pile of Liberty of London Tana Lawn fabric, Japanese Taupes, authentic Scottish Tartans, as well as vintage and antique Japanese kimono silk, vintage Japanese indigo, and other treasures.  However, up until the last few years, I never really included any of my treasures in a project but here is how my mindset has now changed:

When looking at the individual blocks it is easy to see the inclusion of many fabrics with strong identities. Some come from deep in the collection.

The whole quilt looks much more uniform and the “personality” of the individual fabrics is less noticeable when looking at the whole quilt.

Tips for using your most special fabrics in your quilt projects

1. There will always be more beautiful fabric in the world!  This is really true! And with amazing web-based ways to find it, like Etsy and eBay, unusual fabric treasures are easier to find than they were only 10 years ago. When I started collecting Liberty fabric 15 years ago, I had to hunt for remnants on eBay. Now I can be a member of a fat quarter club and have a whole stack shipped to me every month!  Look for vintage kimono silks on Etsy and you will find amazing things! (And yes, you can quilt with kimono silk).

2. Make scrap quilts where you can include small quantities of your “super-specials”. You don’t have to use up the whole piece. Put in a little strip or square to delight yourself and those around you. Log Cabin quilts are a perfect way to start to put your treasure trove of fabric gems to use. The log cabin design allows you to only shave a strip off your fabric to include in a block or two so that you may still have some of your fabric treasures left for future projects. The 7-inch log cabin paper piecing template is a great option for incorporating special fabrics.

3. Special fabrics make quilts more interesting. Look at the Yellow and White quilt below. It is one of my favorite quilts. The bright overall yellow feel and the white reminds me of my grandfather’s yellow glass veranda when I was a kid. But the quilt delight’s me even more up close. I have included 2 of my “super-special” Liberty of London Hello Kitty fabrics in it! The quilt doesn’t read like a novelty fabric quilt (not my style at all). Hello Kitty is tiny and not found in every block, but she is there peaking her tiny head out from some of the 1/2″ wide strips in these blocks. You will see her if you go on a discovery through the quilt which uses about 60 different fabrics including a yellow Provencal from my early foray into fabric purchasing.

    This Yellow and White Log Cabin Quilt contains fabrics collected and curated with love over a 35 year period.

I ordered some small cuts of these super cute Liberty of London Hello Kitty fabrics from Tokyo. It took a little while before I had the heart to cut them up and include them in this scrappy paper pieced log cabin quilt project.


4. Preserve the fabric and its story by adding it to a quilt. When I was about 9 or 10, my mom made me a log cabin quilt with large and irregular blocks. She was a garment maker and not a quilter and she used the fabrics in her stash. It was leftovers from making clothes, old garments that were cut up, as well as bits and pieces of leftovers for making curtains, etc. I don’t think any yardage was purchased for this quilt. Amongst the fabrics included was an antique blue and red plaid. It was woven in a mill where my great grandmother worked for a brief time in young adulthood. Without the inclusion of this fabric in the quilt, I would never have known this story. Instead of existing as a piece of fabric in my mom’s stash, it became part of a quilt I brought with me everywhere I lived up until today. If you want to leave a story with your quilt, consider making a fabric label for the back describing the story of the fabric included.

5. Use your fabric while it still feels special. It’s true. Fabric can sometimes be like the new and expensive dress you bring home from the department store. It is so pretty and special that you put it in your closet for special occasions only. 3 years later it is a bit out of style, and it has dust on the shoulders and it doesn’t fit right anymore. When you bring home the “super-special” yardage from the quilt shop; Use it while you still think its the most beautiful thing you have seen.


What do you have in your stash that is too precious to use?



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