Freebies & Features

Creating with the Experts
Carol Hopkins' passion for reproduction quilts and fabrics led her to create her own pattern company, Carol Hopkins Designs. We asked her to share some background on her favorite category, as well as practical tips for working with reproduction fabrics:

Tell us about the origins of the original quilts - where did the fabrics come from?

CH: Aside from appliqué quilts, most antique quilts are scrap quilts that use a variety of fabrics, primarily because women didn't have a local fabric store from which to select yardage of coordinating prints. Instead, they used leftover scraps from sewn garments, or actual pieces cut from clothing that was no longer wearable. "Making do" with such scraps contributed to the unpredictable use of color in old quilts, and ultimately to their charm.

It's evident from looking at many old quilts that the quilter kept adding patches or blocks to the quilt as more fabrics became available without regard to their overall color placement in the quilt, until it was of a usable bedcover size. Men's clothing provided many of the stripes, plaids, checks, dots, and other geometric shapes, all of which contribute visual interest to quilts. Shirting prints as well as small prints with interesting background features like dots, squiggles, vines, and other textures also served as staples for men's shirts and women's dresses, and were the predominant fabrics used as backgrounds in pieced blocks and setting squares between blocks. While they may not be as "pretty" as other fabrics, fabrics that look like old clothing go a long way toward capturing the essence of old utility quilts.

How can we work with today's reproduction fabrics to achieve a similar look and feel?

CH: Reproductions of textiles found in quilts housed in museum collections are a good resource for creating old-looking quilts. In addition to reflecting authentic prints and colors of a particular historical era, these collections include a variety of scale, density, and texture characteristics that complement one another when used together in a quilt. Even though fabric manufacturers may print fabric lines in several colorways, they usually include one that documents the original colors in which the fabric was printed. While museum collections make wonderful scrap quilts, they often are more reminiscent of the fabrics that were available to wealthy women for their "fancy quilts" intended to showcase a woman's needlework skills rather than keep family members warm while they slept.

  • Once you've selected a pile of fabrics that look old, it's time to mix them together in a quilt. Start with several color families - perhaps brown, red, and blue. But rather than have them all "match"-all navy blue, or all light blue or all turquoise blue-or only orange reds, or dark reds, or pinkish reds-stretch your selections by adding other fabrics that are "sort of" blue or "sort of" red. They don't have to match and they don't have to be pretty - they need to be a bit unexpected. This is what begins to add interest to scrap quilts.
  • Next, consider the scale or size of the prints (notice I'm not including solids) and make sure you have a good variety of these. You want to keep the viewer's eyes roaming across the top of your quilt looking for interesting fabrics. This is where stripes, checks, plaids, dots and geometrics break the flow of all-over prints and liven things up with their unpredictable presence. Make the viewer think, "I wouldn't have thought of using that, but it's really interesting in this quilt!" A bit of pink or cheddar or "ugly" green-colored fabric can be included to evoke the same response.
  • When you've used wonderful prints and colors in interesting ways in your quilt top, it's time to decide how to finish the quilt. Many old quilts have no borders, probably due to the scarcity or availability of yardage needed and the emphasis on finishing a bedcover for immediate use. Other quilts use borders for the purpose of making a quilt larger or as a frame for the blocks. When selecting fabrics for borders, I tend to go in one of two directions: I either use a calm print (often brown) that blends well with the fabrics in the blocks but doesn't fight for attention with them, especially if they are a complex pattern, or I use a large print that includes many of the colors in the blocks, especially if the blocks are simple like 4-patches or 9-patches. But in almost all cases, I wait until I have completed the quilt top before auditioning and ultimately selecting fabrics for the border and then go with my instinct for what looks best. And finally, since borders on old quilts were very rarely mitered, I don't miter mine either-a bonus when I'm ready to finish the current quilt and move on to the next one!

Visit Carol Hopkins Designs online