October 7, 2015

Chart 4: Selecting Fabrics and Caroline in the Farmer's Wife 1930s Sew-along

Selecting Fabrics

Experience, they say, is the best teacher so, in this article I would like to share some things I’ve learned about fabric selection for sampler quilts.

First, something I learned about fabric selection when making the 1920’s Farmer’s Wife Sampler Quilt. Assorted fabrics or a “scrappy look” goes hand in hand with making 100 different blocks. You may have decided to use the 50 fabrics Angie curated for Fat Quarter Shop, Civil War prints, only blues and white, batiks or an assortment of ‘30s reproduction fabrics. However, looking at the comments and pictures in the sew-along's Facebook group, many of you have 50 fabrics or more that you plan to use. And that's great!

Even though I am very experienced at making both sampler and scrap quilts, I have most often made 12- to 20-inch or larger blocks and selected from 20 to 25 fabrics. When I started to make 100 six-inch blocks for the original Farmer's Wife sampler quilt, I began to feel I would need more fabrics, so I pulled every tray and basket that had any possible fabric I could use from my shelves! My cutting table looked like this when I started the first blocks on the 1920s quilt.

After all, how could I make the best decision if I didn’t have every possible fabric to choose from?! Then I started pulling from these fabrics to start making my blocks.

I made 10 blocks this way, using 3 or 4 different fabrics on each block. It got messier and messier on my cutting table.

But then, as I was putting away 3 or 4 fabrics when I was done with them, I got smarter and thought, why not sort out 12-15 fabrics that might go together and have them ready to make the next 6 or 8 blocks?

And that's what I suggest you do. From the big group of fabrics you've selected, put about a dozen  into a cute little basket so they are handy.

Then it is easy to select and cut fabric for 1 or 2 blocks at a time. After making a few blocks, change the mix with a different group of 12 or 15 prints, or just refresh the basket with a few new fabrics that will play well with the others. I took out a few blues and transitioned greens into my yellows.

As long as they still fit into the basket, you can pick fabrics for a few blocks quickly and easily! But if they don't fit into the basket, you've got too many fabrics!

My Caroline Block and Your Next Conversion Chart

Click to download the next PDF:
For Block 20, Caroline

Use Templates to Confirm Sizes of Pieced Units

Another thing I want to mention about making six-inch blocks like this one is that templates can be used to confirm accurate sizes on pieced sub-units. For example:

Two A6 triangles joined to make a square should be exactly the same size as the A5 square:

And 4 of those units pieced squares sewn together to make the pinwheel should be the exact size of the A1 square.

Likewise, 2 A4 triangles sewn together on their legs should be the same size as an A2 triangle and two of those sewn together should be the size on an A 1 square.

The Farmer’s Wife 1930s Sampler Quilt: Inspiring Letters from Farm Women of the Great Depression and 99 Quilt Blocks That Honor Them by Laurie Aaron Hird for Fons & Porter/F+W; RRP $28.99. 
Click here to purchase.


  1. Marti - I have a LOT of Aunt Grace, some unused some scraps from previous quilts. I also now have a huge stash of ALMOST every kona solid from Kaufman. I did basically what you did, but I shuffled in some solids to contrast and complement... The basket idea is sweet!

    1. Hi Karen - Great minds think alike! I'm with you, Depression era prints need the relief and contrast that solids lend. :)