Friday, January 30, 2015

Variations on a Theme of .... Snowballs

For some reason I seem to be finding several ideas lately involving snowball blocks.  Not sure why, but they keep coming up.  So I thought I'd share these new ones as well as some old ones.  Snowball blocks lend themselves well to novelty quilts because of the nice big area to showcase the fabric.  I didn't like them all that much until I discovered my trusty Perfect Corner Ruler (no affiliation, etc. etc.) but I am liking them quite a bit now.

This pattern gets lost a little bit in with the novelty fabrics.  It shows the fabrics well, but you can't really see the sense of the pattern.

This one works a little better, but still not my favorite.  I think the blue is too distracting in the alternate blocks.

This one is especially fun and even a little difficult to see the snowball block.  I had a little trouble picking out the two background/sashing colors.  I needed enough contrast with the novelties so that the interconnecting ribbon effect would be easily seen.  Red and blue worked very well and I love the optical illusion.  6" snowball blocks with are alternated with sashed 4" squares.  The color placement is very critical.  Half of each type of block have red on top and bottom, the other half have blue.  By the way, that was the same red and blue from my son's attic window quilt, some 10 years later.  And I still didn't like sewing with the poly.  Hmmm, I need to make another one of these sometime.  I got the idea for this quilt from a pattern by Darlene Jewell-Walhood and modified it for use with novelty fabrics and the size blocks I wanted.

Interlocking Ribbons


Novelty Beads
 This is my most recent snowball quilt.  It may eventually have a border but I'm still deciding.  It is for a friend's first grandchild.  I've added pictures of items specific to the mom and dad, but I'm still looking for something related to their college mascot, a lumberjack.  The baby isn't due until April so I've still got some time.  In a pinch it may get a red and black plaid border.  The pattern is very simple, just a basic snowball block set in offset columns.  There is a secondary pattern of stars created by the triangles.  I'm a little disappointed they don't stand out more.  I could have used black triangles, but then I wouldn't have been able to use black novelties which is challenging as I've got more of that color than any other.  Still I like how it turned out and it was pretty simple to put together.  The hardest part was figuring out how to balance the colors and contrast.
Here is one last snowball quilt, but it really isn't a snowball.  The way this is constructed is using squares of fabric folded and sewn into the seams.  When the block is pressed open it creates the squares with little pockets.  I didn't enjoy sewing it very much, mostly because I had to use lots of pins and kept sticking myself, but it does make a fun quilt for a little one with those 3 dimensional squares.  This quilt pattern called Hugs and Kisses came from a wonderful book called Picture Play Quilts by Ami Simms.  I love this book and plan to talk more about it in a future post about Influences.
Hugs and Kisses
All these quilts give a good overview of how versatile snowball blocks are and how well they work with novelty fabrics.  I have another idea floating around using 9 patches and snowballs  (from Marcia Hahn's QuiltersCache.com) that I'll post once it's sewn.  Right now it's only an EQ file.  Always plenty of ideas still floating around in my head and on my computer.  Probably why I don't have all that many repeated patterns, I haven't run out of ideas yet. At least for quilts.  For dinner, I have no ideas at all.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Square in a Square patterns


As I was working on the 9 patch with setting triangles quilt (Crossroad to Jericho), I realized it was a type of square in a square pattern.  I've done several variations of that pattern over the years as it works well with novelty fabrics.

Initially I did not like sewing square in a square blocks.  I tried measuring the corner triangles and cutting to size, but they always seemed to be to small or not straight enough and the resulting blocks were never square or the same size.  I then tried paper piecing them.  I didn't like that much either; it seemed silly to be pulling paper off of a block that only had 5 pieces.  Wasted effort as well as wasted paper.  The next trial was the paper piecing method that uses freezer paper.  Well, that was a little better but still why did I need to use paper piecing on a pretty simple block?  That's when I decided to just sew those corner triangles a little larger than needed, then trim them down.  Viola!  No paper piecing, no extra math.  I could use my precut 4.5" pieces as the center square, add corner triangles, and then trim.  I marked the full size pattern with a 4" finished center on a piece of acrylic and cut it as a template.  Unfortunately I wasn't able to get the edges even or smooth.  Someday I'll find a company who can make custom templates for me, but for now I've marked a ruler and use that.


This SIAS with log cabin sashing was made using white background novelties to create the corners.  The centers are my standard 4" finished.  I was trying to use up some of the 3 giant bags of strings I've accumulated and decided on adding purple, green and yellow strings instead of sashing.  A piano key border also uses some more of those strings.  Note, it didn't even make a dent in those bags. 

Purple and green is one of my favorite color combinations ever since my grandmother told me they didn't go together when she was teaching me to sew as a child.  I remember responding that there were purple flowers with green leaves so they must go together.  In this instance the purple and greens I had needed some punch.  Yellow and purple are complements on the standard color wheel and I thought the yellow added the right accent.

I want to mention something about using novelty fabrics in a quilt, they can be a true focus or just incidental to the design of the quilt.  This quilt illustrates the latter.  The actual pattern is really the focus of this quilt.  Using novelty fabrics in the center of the SIAS is just an added bonus.  I could have used a single focus fabric with white TOT corners and it really wouldn't change this quilt much at all.  I'm kind of forcing novelty fabrics into the pattern rather than the pattern and setting highlighting the novelty fabrics.  Sometimes that "forcing" has worked out better than others.  In the purple and green quilt, I think it worked pretty well.

This twisted square in a square focuses more on the novelty fabrics.  You could use the same focus fabric in each square of this pattern but it really does showcase the center square.  There isn't much to the pattern without good focus fabrics.  For this pattern starching the triangles was very important.  The pattern instructions by MaryQuilts.com suggested cutting 2 rectangles and then slicing them on the diagonal.  They were a little oversize so that you need to trim.  Again, I marked a ruler with the exact placement of the center square  so that they would be consistent.  Selecting a number of background  colors was a little bit of a challenge.  It turned out pretty well, but I probably won't do this one again any time soon.  I didn't like how much of the long pointy triangles were waste when I trimmed.

Twisted Squares
Tumbling blocks and Square in a Square?  Yes, it is but you have to look closely.  The color placement of the background fabrics fools the eye and the tone on tone fabrics camouflage the seams between the SIAS blocks.  I decided that I didn't want to do a traditional border but I did want to do something to add a frame, so I switched the white background for a black one.  I think I may have run out of the white fabric but I don't remember exactly.  We'll just say I did this on purpose.   I had a lot of fun with this one and definitely would do it again, especially now that I'm doing this pattern by sewing oversize then trimming.  It went together pretty fast and the resulting optical illusion is so fun.  And for tumbling blocks you need a variety of fabrics on one side of the block.  What is more perfect for a tumbling block quilt than novelty blocks?

Tumbling Block Square in a Square

My opinion of the square in a square pattern has changed significantly over the years.  It is the basis of a large number of traditional patterns but I tended to avoid trying them because I didn't enjoy sewing them.  I am very glad that I've found a construction method that works so well for me.  Now I'm confident that I can sew as many as needed without a lot of pain or fuss. Yay for learning something new that makes sewing less frustrating and more fun!

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

From Start to Almost Finished

I recently spent several evenings putting together kits to take to the About.com quilt forum  Valley of the Sun yearly retreat (that's a mouthful).  I've been going to this gathering of ladies from the quilt forum for several years now and it's one of the highlights of my year.  I've discovered I'm more productive if I have kits prepared ahead of time so that when I get there I can focus on sewing (and talking).  I finished a couple of mending projects last week and decided I didn't need to take all 5 kits to AZ.  I picked out one to do this weekend.

The pattern is called Crossroads to Jericho.  I had a number of large triangles that were left over from a previous project and this would be a good way to use them up.  I drew the quilt in EQ to get an idea of how it would look and the fabric requirement for the background.  But the block size in EQ of 12" gave me a strange size for the 9 patch squares.

 
 
I wanted the 9 patches to be at least 3" finished so that you could identify the pictures in the fabric.  I drafted the 9 patch out on paper, then added the corner triangles.  The geometry math makes those corner triangles are a very odd size so I transferred the drawing to a ruler to use as a guide.  The 9 patch will be made of nice even 3" blocks.  The corner triangles will be larger than needed, then trimmed to size.  The overall size worked out to 11.25" unfinished, not a standard size but with my special marked ruler, not difficult.

 
 
I laid out those large left over triangles from my scrap box and determined what colors I needed to add for a good mix.  I then pulled additional fabrics that would blend with the large triangles to use in the 9 patches.  For some of the 9 patches I couldn't come up with good blender fabric so I used the same fabric as the corner.  After making sure I had all the letters of the alphabet represented, I then cut the 3.5" squares for the 9 patches and the additional large triangles needed.  I laid the pieces out on my design wall, played with the arrangement until I was happy with the balance and contrast, then labeled the triangles with the row and column flags. 
 
 
 
Thinking I'd save this for the quilting retreat I packed everything away in a kit with my printed EQ sheet and notes.  But as often happens I talked myself into not saving it.   I decided that since the marked ruler was critical for the project, it made sense for me to go ahead and make this one at home.  I didn't want to carry that large a ruler on the plane and take the risk of it getting damaged.  Plus I really needed the design wall to help with the placement of the 9 patches.  See, many reasons to make this one at home.
 
I put everything back up on the design wall and started sewing.  I put together the nine patches for each block first, then added the corner triangles, centering the point of the triangle over the center of the nine-patch.  Since the edge of the triangle is on the bias, I added 3 pins, one in the center and one on each end.  I had starched the triangles pretty heavily but I didn't want to take any chances.  I decided to sew these with the bias piece down next to the bed of my machine to prevent the presser foot from stretching them.  My machine does pretty good about sewing over pins if I go slowly, but I still made sure the pins didn't extend into the sewn seam. 
 

 
After sewing all four corner triangles to the 9-patch unit, I then trimmed the block to size.  You can see in this picture that my 9-patch units weren't quite right but since I was trimming my block to size it wasn't critical.  My seams when sewing the 9 patches were just a little little large, making the 9 patch smaller than the intended 9" finished.  I should have tested before I sewed them all.  On some of the blocks the point of the 9 patch won't be perfectly on the seam but for this pattern it won't be too distracting.
 
 
Once all the blocks were sewn, I realized I really didn't want to sew them next to each other.  All that fabric at the point of the 9 patch (center top, bottom, and each side) would make joining them difficult.  Plus that would highlight that my sewing was a little off and matching those points wouldn't be fun either.  So I decided I'd rather have sashing, everything much simpler.

 
 Initially I had thought to use a simple sashing with no corner stones.  Then I realized I had cut too many sashing strips the length of the blocks, so I added corner stones rather than throw them in the scrap bin.  (Another unintended design decision).  I started with some black multi-colored fabric for the cornerstones, but when I put the long strips on the design wall, it looked too much like spots and just didn't work well with the blocks.
 

I then tried using scraps from the blocks themselves in place of the black fabric corner stones.  I like this version,  less contrast and ties in with the blocks better. 


Now to go remove those black squares.  Fortunately I checked the long sashing strips with the black corner stones before I sewed them to the blocks, so the ripping is minimal.  Almost there!

Well the little squares got pretty small by the time it was all sewn together, only 1".  So you really can't see any figures.  But I still think I made the best choice.  And the intersections of the 9 patch units with the sashing don't float too terribly bad.  Certainly not anything that detracts from this particular design.
Crossroads to Jericho
I don't know if I'll add any borders.  For now this is going to stay a top as I don't know yet who the recipient will be.  If it's to be a newborn I'll likely finish it as it is.  For a toddler I'll add borders to make it a bit larger than the current 3'x4'.  Overall I'm pretty pleased with this one.  I like the colors and the balance.  The pattern was relatively easy, not too fiddly, and I enjoyed sewing it.  This one might get repeated at some point down the road.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Fun with Triangles

Triangles are one way to add movement to a quilt and I've used them frequently in my quilts.  Sometimes it's just adding lots of little triangles in the border in scrappy fabrics.  Over the years I've tried several different methods and definitely have a couple that are my favorites.  I tend to like things precise.  As a result I lean towards sewing things bigger and trimming down. 

For making lots of small triangles in scrappy fabrics, my favorite is a method called bias strip triangles.  There are lots of you-tube videos out there so I won't explain in detail here, but the basic ideas is you cut bias strips and sew them together.  Then cut out the triangles from that new strippy fabric.  It is fabulous for lots and lots of little triangles, all perfectly square and no burned fingers from pressing little tiny pieces.   The only downside I've found with this method is figuring out exactly how much fabric you need for the number of HST wanted and how wide to cut the strips.  The math gets a little complicated.  Someone should write an Excel program to calculate that.  Hmmmm.  Anyway,  I used this method for the half square triangles in the saw tooth border for the quilt below.  This quilt is for the twin cousin whose brother received the attic window quilt shown in an earlier post, thus the more muted colors than my normal choices.
Friendship Star
 

Most of the time when using triangles in novelty quilts, I need to add a corner to a novelty square as in a snowball block or the heart quilt shown previously.   Early on in this quilting journey I used the method of cutting a square of background fabric and drawing a line across corner to corner.  Then you sew on the line, and if you are really diligent, you sew again 1/2" away from the sewn line, creating an extra bonus triangle to cut away.  That bonus triangle is generally very small.  And you have lots of them that you get to open up and press.  And probably trim because you didn't sew exactly 1/2" away.  I used this method for many many quilts.   Here are several quilts where I used the bonus triangles as saw-tooth borders.  Another is the Leaning Orange Stars posted earlier.


Trellis Novelty
 
Twisting Squares - idea from Lynn on about.com (latterby1)
There are a couple things I don't like with this method.  First it uses up a lot of background fabric.  Yes, you get bonus HST, but I was getting over-run by the things (more on that later).  And I got tired of sewing that extra line every time, though I felt obligated.  Plus I found I wasn't good at drawing that line corner to corner.  When I folded the fabric over to see if I had sewn the triangle correctly, I discovered that my corners didn't meet a good part of the time and the block was no longer square.  Now I had to re-sew (yuck) or else live with it and hope it didn't mess up the construction of the block down the road. 

A couple of years ago I discovered a nifty ruler at a quilt show demo.  It's called a Perfect Corner Ruler.  Again there are on-line demos so I'll just explain briefly.  The big different is you draw the diagonal sewing line (using the ruler) directly on your base fabric.  You then add an oversized triangle of the background fabric large enough to fold over and cover the background fabric.  The size to cut is shown in a little table printed on the ruler.  You then trim the block to size after folding the sewn triangle over, so it is "perfect". I know my obsessive side is showing here.  And yes, you still have 1 cut triangle left over from the novelty fabric, but I'm using a lot less background fabric.  I know there are lots of different ways to accomplish the same things and everyone has their preferences.  But I'm sold on this ruler.  I haven't done the square thing since I discovered it.

And speaking of over-run by tiny HSTs, here is my attempt to tame them.  The idea was from a quilting magazine subscription flyer, so I'm not sure who to credit.  I don't know that I'll ever give this one away just because it took so long to piece and I don't think anyone else would ever appreciate the effort.  I still have baggies full of purple and dotted white, orange and dotted white, yellow and blue TOT, and orange and novelty.  Let me know if you are interested!
Triangle Madness


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Few Happy Faces

Some of the focus of this blog has tended to be a little negative.  Partly I think because as I look back at some of the quilts made I am looking at them through the lenses of time and experience.  I see the things that could have been improved.  I'm thinking what I would do differently now that I'm definitely older and hopefully a better quilter.
 
But I have enjoyed making them all and enjoyed giving them away.  And really really enjoyed hearing about how much they are loved.  For the last several years when I give a quilt as a gift I've asked for a picture of the recipient with the quilt to put in my quilt scrapbook.  Many of the parents have obliged me.  As I've been looking through the pictures of the quilts, I've also been looking at these pictures of my quilts and their new owners.  And they make me smile.   A LOT!   Here are a few that I think will make you smile too.
 













 
What sweet little ones!  Hope you enjoyed.  I did.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Which, When, where and what?


Sorry.  I'm having to stretch to think of (somewhat) clever titles.  The last post I discussed how I decide which fabrics to purchase for my stash.  This time I'm going to talk about which fabrics to use in specific quilts and how to arrange them prior to sewing.  From the general to the specific (my teacher friends would be so proud).

EQ draft
First lets look at how the quilt IDEA impacts the novelty fabric selection.  (at this point you need to imagine a light bulb). I like to draw out the quilt idea in Electric Quilt (electronic quilt drafting software).  This gives me an indication of how many rows and columns I need of a particular size block to get the over all size of the quilt.  I can preview different settings and background colors.  It also lets me see approximately how much background fabric I'm going to need.  Very helpful to know the pattern will need a full yard before I start cutting up that 3/4ths yard piece of background.  I will print out a copy of the overall quilt design and make notes about the block size, patch sizes, yardage requirements as well as where I got the idea for the quilt.  If the block is a little tricky, I will also print the actual block.  I use this printed copy and the notes as a reference during construction.  I also save it for my scrap book - very helpful if I want to make the quilt again later.

ABC flags and marked pressing board
Now that I know how many blocks I'm going to need, I will start pulling fabric.  If the novelty fabric cut size is my standard 4.5", I'll pull from the pre-cut box first (mentioned in the last post), then supplement with the flat folds.  I have marked my large pressing board with A - Z to help me be sure to pull each letter.   I'll toss a fabric on each letter until they are all covered with at least 1 fabric.  Here is a picture of my pressing board along with some flannel tags I also use to help identify the ABC's.  Sometimes a fabric may contain more than 1 letter and I want to mark as many as I can to begin with as I will likely discard some fabrics later in the process.  In addition to one picture to represent each letter of the alphabet, I want to have a mix of subjects.  I don't want all food, or all games, or all animals.  Variety is definitely more fun.  And if I know some of the parent's hobbies and history, I'll add relevant fabrics for the family.  Sometimes I'll just throw in a fabric because I haven't used it in a while and I've missed it - yes I get sentimental about some of these fabrics.

As I'm pulling fabrics I'll step back periodically to see if I'm getting a good mix of colors and scale.  Unless I'm doing a quilt pattern that specifically relies on the background colors in the novelty fabrics, I want to have some bright, some dark, and some light fabrics.  Again, variety.   This is where I'll start rejecting some of the fabrics I've pulled.   For example if I've got too many reds and I've already got several R fabrics, I'll toss out the Raspberrys.   But if there are too many dogs, I'll toss the red dogs instead.  I started to say "put away", but then thought I'd be honest.  I don't put away until after I'm done cutting and there is a huge pile.

I also keep in mind the background fabric I've chosen to use.  If it's all white, then I want to make sure there is enough contrast with the novelty fabric for the pattern design to be seen.  Otherwise the pictures just float and you can't get the sense of the piecing pattern.  In this heart quilt for example I was careful to not use a novelty fabric that was too light, otherwise the heart shape would have been lost against the white background.    I did bend my "rules" a little to include the Cooking Utensils even though it was on a white background because the mom and dad love to cook.  Content trumps design consideration. 


Pink Sashed Hearts
 Once I've pulled from my stash all the novelty fabrics I want to use, I'll start cutting out the blocks.  I try to get the main picture approximately centered within the block but sometimes it's a compromise with good use of the fabric.  I want to save adjacent pictures in the fabric for future quilts if I can.  If the picture is off center a bit in the block, I don't worry too much as long as you can tell what the picture is and isn't obviously off balance.   Unless the fabric is an all over, small scattered print, there is a lot of fussy cutting.  And lots of scraps (to be used later as piano key borders mostly).   Frequently I'll mark the pattern on my ruler to help me align the picture in the piece I'm cutting.  In the heart quilt above, marking the ruler with the diagonal lines was very helpful.  Here's that picture again showing the marks, though not for this particular quilt.  This was for a snowball block and I wanted to be sure that my picture wouldn't get chopped off in the corners once they were sewn.
 
 
As I cut the novelty fabrics, I put them on my design wall.  I keep an eye on the wall to make sure I still like the balance of color and contrast.  Keep in mind at this point nothing is sewn, I'm still selecting novelty fabrics, cutting from lots of different pieces of fabric.  This is where you can see novelty quilts can take longer than a regular quilt.  Sort of scrappy on steroids.  Putting away the pile of fabrics can get fun (where's that sarcasm font) especially with fussy cut holes all through them.  Once I have all the fabrics on the design wall, I step back and take off my glasses (I'm near sighted so this makes things blurry).  Does anything stand out?  Is it balanced or is all the dark on one side?  Are all the yellows together?  What about the reds?  Frequently I'll take a picture too, just to get a different perspective.  Then I'll re-arrange the fabrics until I'm satisfied.   And yes eventually I have to force myself to walk away.  But it's easier to re-arrange at this point versus ripping out seams later because I didn't notice I all 5 red fabrics down in one corner.
 
I've also made I spy quilts where the colors followed a pattern.  These were a fun change from my normal "balanced" color arrangement.  Here are a couple of examples:




Leaning Orange Stars
Framed Rectangles
 
Now that I've arranged all those fabrics on my design wall, I definitely don't want to go through this exercise again once I start sewing.  Some quilters use stacking systems to keep their blocks arranged while sewing, but that never worked for me.  I get confused too easily and then have to rip out blocks.  Plus I often make pre-cut kits of fabric so I may not actually sew these blocks for weeks or months, and when I do finally sew, there may not be a design wall available.  After some experimenting with paper tags, I designed some little flannel flags that will stick to the fabrics on the design wall, labeled with rows and columns.  Before I take the fabric blocks down, I use small applique pins to securely attach the tags to the fabrics.  The small applique pins keep the flag attached even the blocks are dropped, but since they are short they don't catch on other things and get pulled out easily.   I leave the flannel flags on the blocks all the way through the construction process.  They have been a huge time and frustration saver.
Dee's Original Flannel Flags

 After all of this pulling fabrics, fussy cutting and arranging on the design wall, finally I'm ready to sew.  Now the fun really starts.  Ah, well, maybe I'll put away that pile of novelty fabrics thrown to the side first.



 

Friday, January 16, 2015

It's All About the Pictures


When I first started down this road making I spy quilts, I just purchased whatever fabrics I liked.  But as time has gone along, I developed some ground rules.  I am an accountant, it's just part of my personality.  Rules, boundaries, guidelines, whatever you want to call them.  If I have too many decisions to make, I get nervous.   I know my rules are pretty arbitrary, but they help me move forward.  And in general I think it's improved my quilts.  Definitely given focus to my collecting efforts. 

Style and Uniqueness – The variety of novelty fabrics out there is amazing.  Finding dogs and cats was easy.  So were frogs.  Not sure why but there are always frogs.  How to choose?  Initially I just went for a good mix.  Ok, that’s enough dogs and cats and frogs, how about some fire engines, cars, candy or bugs.  But which ones?  I decided I really didn’t care for the overly realistic - you know the ones I mean, row upon row of dog faces that just look like photographs.  Neither did I like the silly cute-sy baby animals.  Not big on cats dressed as doctors or dancing fish.  But I did succumb to the flying pigs just because they were so ridiculous.  I look for good design, good color, good composition, good quality, something different, something interesting.  Ok, bottom line it's still fabrics I like.  After all, I’m spending a lot of time with these fabrics, I want to enjoy them.   I want others to enjoy them.   And when I use some of the Outhouse fabric or the jelly beans, it makes me smile.
What is it - I want the object in the fabric to be identifiable by a child, something they would recognize from their experience or from books.  Amoebas don’t work, dump trucks do.  A few years into this process I saw a quilt in a magazine where the designer had used a different fabric for each letter of the alphabet.  Apple for A, Button for B, etc.  I loved this idea.  Now I had to shop for specific letters (it's a Quest!).  This definitely adds some challenge.  I never realized how difficult it is to find certain letters.  Yes, Q & X are obvious problems but O isn’t all that easy either (olives, octopus, owls).  And Y?  Seriously? I’ve done Yarn, Yo Yos, & Yolks (as in eggs).  My sister tried to convince me a picture of some oxen with yokes would work for the letter Y, but that breaks my rule of identifiable by a child.

I’m not sure my 23 year old daughter even knows what a yoke is.  Or oxen for that matter.   Gee, is that a gazelle?  I remember my About.com quilting friends trying to help me find quail fabric and one picture posted on a LQS website was definitely a pheasant, not a quail as it was labeled. I stick with quarters and queens with a question mark thrown in sometimes.  As I’m browsing fabric shops, I’m always looking for letters that I know are difficult to find or just for something new.  I do get tired of giraffes for G so guitars are a nice change.   I'm debating on the View Master reel fabric I saw recently.  It's a great design with a nostalgic appeal, but do kids now even know what those things were?  And yes, I know that kids wouldn't get the Outhouse joke, but I had to buy it any way.  I'll stick it in a quilt for the parents if I know them well.  In case you are curious, yes I have an Excel spreadsheet listing all the letters and the pictures in my fabrics (a memory aid).  I warned you I was an accountant.  I make sure each quilt has at least 1 of each letter somewhere, though they aren't always easy or obvious to find.  I have a great time watching the adults trying to find the letters.  It turns them into little kids, such fun.

Personal - A large selection of novelty fabrics allows me to personalize my I spy quilts.  It makes the quilt especially fun when I can include things specifically related to the recipient family.  Over the years I've included pets, hobbies, home states, favorite foods and parent's occupations (teachers are easy).  I'm currently trying to find a lumberjack for a couple's college mascot.  In a prior post I mentioned a quilt I made for my dad where every block referenced something about his life.  That one took many months and numerous contributions from my quilting friends.  Quilters love enabling other quilters.
Color - Sometimes a pattern will impact my collecting.  Color is one example.   I’ve recently done several patterns that relied on the overall color of the fabric as part of the pattern design.  I discovered most of my novelty fabrics had either black or blue background, so I started looking for green, red, yellow.  Purple is a challenge, the only purple fabrics seem to either be butterflies or Halloween, no idea why.  I store my folded fabrics by color to make pulling them easier for these quilts. 

I’m planning a separate post devoted to my color study quilts, but here are a couple of examples of patterns where color makes the design:  
Crossed Color

Trip Around the World, traditional pattern
 
Scale - The scale of the pictures is important too.  Many of the patterns I’ve done use a standard 4” finished block size.  It’s a good medium size, most novelty pictures will fit in that size.  I keep an Art Bin full of pre-cut 4.5” squares, sorted by topic – yes I’m weird, I know but it saves time.
I’ve done some patterns however where the block size was smaller.  These need a small scale over-all design in the fabric, otherwise you cut pieces off and can’t tell see the object.  Overall patterns in the fabric make the pictures recede and thus the quilt pattern itself becomes the focus.  This pattern is constructed using two 2" strips and a half square triangle to make the arrow shape in 3 different lengths.  The figures in the fabric had to be small enough to fit in that 2" width.  The small arrows were only 1" so I had to be extra careful selecting those.  I made a template of each size to preview the fabrics to make sure the picture didn't get lost.
 
 
Which Way Is Up pattern by Whistlepig Creek Productions

Other quilt patterns have large blocks which look better with larger scale fabrics.  I typically don’t purchase fabric with pictures larger than the 4” finished block, primarily because I haven’t done many quilts with large blocks and I struggle to figure out how to use them.  If there are only a few blocks, it’s also difficult to get all the ABC’s in since there have to be multiple letters in each fabric.  I try to get a variety of fabrics with different scale for those most patterns as it adds to the visual interest of the finished quilt.  I designed this pattern specifically to use some of those large scale fabrics that weren't every getting used.
 
Snowball Variations
 I do love playing with the fabrics, the colors, the pictures.  And as you can tell, I like organizing them as well.  But to be fair it does make the process go more smoothly.  And even when I don't have a particular project or pattern in mind, I always know what to look for any time I'm in a fabric shop.  Now to find some more Xylophone fabric and I think I'm getting low on Zebras.  And if anyone has seen some lumberjacks, please let me know!