Inventory Your Fabric Stash: A Visual Texture Checklist

Can you believe that today is the 1st of June? It doesn’t seem possible, does it?! Well, the good news is, it’s time to roll out our new monthly theme. This month, one post from each of us will focus on texture.

Texture is all around us.

Rock formations on the beach at Pt. Reyes National Seashore (CA)
Pyracanthus in Walnut Creek (CA)
Organic greens from my husband’s garden
Coral in Boca Raton, FL
Water Lilies and reflections on Bass Lake (NC)
Palm fronds in Boca Raton, FL

Most people think of texture as a tactile thing; that is, something you can feel by touching. When it comes to choosing fabrics for a quilting project, however, I tend to think of texture in a more visual sense. While all quilting cottons pretty much feel the same to the touch, the motifs and patterns printed on the fabric help differentiate one fabric from another. This property is often called visual texture. (Another name is character of print.) Understanding visual texture and how to use it gives you a valuable tool for creating a successful quilt.

Essentially, there are three ways to distinguish between shapes and to define the design in a quilt block or quilt top:

One way is with contrast in color.

Another is with contrast in value (lights and darks).

Here the color stays the same, but there is significant difference in the degree of lightness and darkness in the fabrics.

The third is–ta da!–contrast in visual texture.

Here the fabrics are all blue, the values are relatively close, but the difference in the prints allows you to see that this is a Churn Dash block.

Visual texture tends to be the most subtle of the three and therefore is often overlooked. Rely on too many similar prints, however, and the results can become muddled and gray; things just seem to “moosh” together. Variety is the key: variety in the type, the size, and the density of the print.

Just as we are attracted to certain colors, I’ve found that many of us buy the same types of prints over and over again. Here’s a checklist that you can use to evaluate your fabric stash for variety in visual texture. Note any gaps, and then use this info to focus your choices when fabric shopping (and swapping).

Does your stash include…???

Floral prints: From the tiniest bud to the largest, splashiest bloom
Foliage prints: Think organic, as in leaves, vines, grasses…but no flowers.
Geometric prints: plaids, stripes, and checks
“Abstract” geometric prints: Although not true stripes or plaids, motifs repeat regularly to form a consistent pattern or grid
Circle and dotted prints: These can be true dots (e.g., pindots and polka dots) or any round motif.
Feather and paisley prints: These versatile fabrics are often large in scale and multicolored.
Picture prints (sometimes called conversation or eccentric prints): These highly collectible fabrics feature “pictures” of people, animals, or things.
Ethnic prints: fabrics with prints reminiscent of other countries or cultures
Nature prints: As the name implies, these prints suggest (but don’t necessarily picture) things in nature.
Peaceful (or quiet) prints: These low-contrast, read-as-solid prints give the eye a resting place.

We quilters (and other fabric crafters) are so lucky to have so many wonderful fabrics available to us! Why not take advantage of what the marketplace–or your “swapping” friends–have to offer and diversify with visual texture? A few fat quarters, charm packs, or jelly rolls can go a long way…

‘Til next time, happy stitching!


9 thoughts on “Inventory Your Fabric Stash: A Visual Texture Checklist

  1. Fabulous collection of fabrics Darra, I found it so inpsiring, I have gone straight to my stash to work on an autumnal quilt, hunting out those leafy textures and glowing colours.

    Chris Porter


  2. Great post, I usually forget about texture and focus on value and colour, showing those three blocks makes the difference quite apparent, and strangely the last block is the block I most like.


  3. Your post on texture is one that all quilters should read! I enjoyed seeing fabrics from your stash—you have some oldies but goodies there! I probably have fewer fabrics in the “ethnic” and “feather and paisley” categories than any of the others. Does that mean I need a trip to Mary Jo’s?


  4. Great subject! We could all learn more about visual texture. I know I’m a tone on tone and foilage collector. When our guild ask us to bring florals for a project I usually have to go purchase some. I’m going to start thinking more about texture on my next quilt shop trip. Thanks!


    1. Thanks for the kind words, Peggy. Prepping those photos was an eye-opener for me. I had to search a lot more deeply in my stash for some of those textures! Darra


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