Using Backgrounds

Autumnal greetings and welcome new followers, I really appreciate you being here xx

image of Concord Massachsetts

Just a beautiful pic of Fall in Concord, Massachusetts for you to enjoy

Y’know… I’ve been thinking about how you, my dear friends, can get more out of these blog posts.

How can I make them more informative and inspiring for you?

And if you’re not in near proximity to where I’m teaching (though that IS expanding), how can I share with you the fabric inspiration I talk about in my workshops?

As I’ve been stitching the Suffolk Coverlet (new), that pondering has been taking shape.

image of Hexies

My nightly companion… Hexies for the Suffolk Coverlet

I realised I’ve actually been looking at what I want to share with you for months, it just took me a little time to figure it out.

It’s *Backgrounds* and how I…

Choose what I’ll use,

and use what I choose.

And why?

image of Antique fabrics

See that patina? … the blotches and age stains? Simply put… that just rocks my boat.

In ‘Quilts From the Colonies’ I talk about the nostalgia and familiarity I felt (even as a child) looking at antiquities.

 I don’t really know *why*it*moves*me*… but it does.

There’s just something about old stuff and how it makes me feel.

Old, faded, battered & stained = Well used (loved), handled & cherished by generations and it has a history.

image of Antique blocks

A few more from my collection… I buy these just because they make me feel all warm amd fuzzy inside.

So of course… I want to get that *look*.

I just want it to look like this.

image of antique quilt

In earlier days my MO was to Tea Stain pretty much any background print,

and any print that had white,

and any print that had too high a contrast going on.

I loved the print and I loved the colour, but I didn’t always love the colour value.

Vintage Sampler 2005

Vintage Sampler 2005

Vintage Sampler 2005

Vintage Sampler 2005

 I would also use the wrong side of fabrics to tone things down a bit.  I wanted to flatten out that high contrast.

This pic shows what I was wanting to achieve, and my love affair with brown.

Antique fabricThere’s contrast here (above), but the background has discoloured and now sits (imho)  more calmly against the print.

Below is a recent finish where the print evokes the same feelings of calmness and nostalgia.

Indiana Medallion 2018

Indiana Medallion 2018

Quantities permitting, if I’m using a plain fabric my absolute preference would be to use a tea stained fabric.

Left. Patty Harants print (Gold Star for that one) and Right. Marcus Bros Aged Muslin

Left. Patty Harants print (Gold Star Miss P for that one) and Right. Marcus Bros Aged Muslin

 There’s a few that are commercially available.  Alas the Patty Harants fabric above left is from years ago.  But the Marcus Bros Aged Muslin is one I have used in many quilts, it’s a standard line for them and comes in many different tones from off white through to brown. And just FYI, it comes in colours too.

But what I’ve been doing with the Suffolk Coverlet is …

Anne Romsey's Coverlet c 1790 Dedham Essex/Suffolk

Anne Romsey’s Coverlet c 1790 Dedham Essex/Suffolk

…using tone on tone prints to create the look of random discolouration, or patina.

Suffolk Coverlet backgroundsWhy did I decide to use these four fabrics?

Far right is the background for the centre Broderie Perse appliqué … not a lot left so can’t use that.

Far left is the background to the Pentagon border … didn’t have a huge amount left but have since sourced more from Margo Krager.

But I didn’t want to just switch from one background fabric in the centre, to using a whole other background for the rest of the quilt because I think that is too big a jump, I want to blur the meeting point.

So as well as repeating the two already used, I added the tiny spot… tonally and scale wise the three are similar.

But what’s with the fourth? Why is that fabric there?

FabricBecause I like it,

Actually, I love it.

Because I have only a few off-cuts left and it’s been in a couple of my favourite quilts already (and I have a feeling this one is going to be another favourite quilt)

Because  I think every quilt should have something that doesn’t quite fit… but you love it and that’s all that matters.

And because I don’t want to make the *obvious* fabric choices in my quilts…

and may I be so bold as to say,

I don’t think you should make the obvious choices either.

Please use the fabrics that give you joy, and make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Making shapes and sttiching them together

Making shapes and stitching them together.

More hexies

The four ‘background’ prints are totally random. No rhyme or reason to it at all.

Hexie Rosettes of all colours and prints

Hexie Rosettes of all colours and prints.

I’m so sorry this has been quite a mammoth post, I hope you’re still here til the end.

As I don’t have time to blog as much as I’d like, I’m wanting to offer you quality over frequency… I want to share fabric choices with you on a deeper level than just showing pretty quilt pictures.

I really hope I haven’t bored you.

Thanks for sticking with me

Til next

Happy stitching

Margaret xx


  1. Lynne Sanders says:

    Love your train of thought. I am a random girl and love putting that little surprise in. Love Love how your quilt is evolving. Enjoy the journey

  2. Margaret,
    What a great blog post! It’s so important for us to find our own aesthetic, and I enjoyed the explanation of your process. This quilt is going to be another beauty!

    • Margaret says:

      Thank you Marge :D I’m glad you liked the explanation and I really appreciate you taking the time to leave a comment xx

  3. Laurie Mosley says:

    I so enjoyed your post on choosing background fabric. Please stick with your policy of quality over quantity! Thanks for taking the time to share your expertise.

    • Margaret says:

      Thanks Laurie :D I will do, I’ve just been feeling I want to share on a deeper level the process for choosing fabric, and creating quilts that move us xx

  4. Not too long at all. Loved reading every word and you have given me much to think about. Thank you for sharing your time and talent.

    • Margaret says:

      Thank you Jill :D It was a real pleasure to share the process… I’m so pleased it spoke to you xxx

  5. Daphne says:

    Love this blog. It invokes the same feelings I have about fabrics. The random ad character and a little surprise to a quilt. I often surmise that the different fabrics are leftovers from making clothes. Nothing was wasted in bygone years. Thank you for sharing your knowledge. I remember your trip to Whakatane fondly.

    • Margaret says:

      Hi Daphne :D it’s lovely to hear from you. I remember that visit very fondly too. I’m so glad the post spoke to you. Hopefully we will neet again when I’m next in NZ
      M xx

  6. Leslie Hickland says:

    I was with you all the way to the end and then went back and read it again! And I certainly wasn’t bored by any of it! Thank you for permission to use what I love rather than what is expected – I have always followed the rules too carefully and have only recently begun to put a fabric or color in a quilt just because I love it and it is a little outside the box. My students love it when I do that and we have great discussions on WHY I did it. Don’t know, just felt right to me!I will look for the Marcus Brothers muslins for a new project and will investigate how to tea dye to deal with some of those white, bright areas I don’t care for! Thank you so much for writing the blog and keep the information coming. You can get pretty quilt pictures lots of places! Will Anne Romsey’s coverlet become a pattern? Love it!

    • Margaret says:

      Thank you so much for commenting Leslie :D I’m really pleased the post spoke to you. Viva the the unexpected I say LOL… and we must learn to trust our instincts for our quilts. Yes Anne Romsey will be a pattern (once finished) and a class before then. I saw ‘her’ in NZ last last year, she now resides in the Auckland Museum having arrived from England with a descendant of Anne’s. The museum has given me permission to make a version of her for teaching and pattern. Mine will be a little different but still with the ‘feel’ of Anne’s. Stay tuned for Anne’s journey, and thank you again for taking the time to comment
      M xx

  7. Love your post and I will save it for future reference, it is very inspiring, like a mini-workshop [ can’t wait for the real thing ;-) ]. Ever since I started quilting (in the late 80’s) I have loved the antiques. In fact, I started quilting because I saw an an old pineapple quilt in a shop window. It was the first quilt I had ever seen (I had no idea they existed) and that very small quiltshop had just opened, the first quiltshop I had ever seen. It was like entering a new world. I could not afford the quilt I loved so much so the lady said ‘why don’t you make your own and take one of our courses’ and that was that. Little did I know that I would be working parttime at a later stage, in the shop and giving courses myself, in my spare time next to my regular job. So the antiques have always been my inspiration, my go-to quilts at shows, the books I buy. I have found that my taste has changed somewhat recently, from the somewhat beige look to a lighter, bit fresher look. Also I like randomness. I rarely fussycut and the antiques I adore are the ones with those tiny mishaps. The points ‘cut off’, the blocks not really the same size, that kind of thing. It just warms my heart. I cannot wait to learn more from you, also about your colorchoices. Thank for writing such an informative post.

    • Margaret says:

      Oh Phyllis <3 we are so on the same page, it’s so much about being moved by the antique quilts. I’m very much looking forward to coming to France and sharing my love of the quilts, and pass on what inspires me and how I work. I’ve got new works to share with you all, and there’ll be more started by then I’m sure. Yes, I too am being charmed by the clearer pallette, a little summery and English… but still with plenty of quirks and personality of their own
      Big hugs to you and Emma and roll on October xxx

  8. A lovely post with terrific close up photos of fabric. A few years ago, I would have taken a safe route when choosing backgrounds (having started quilting in the 1980’s when you had a solid background, your main focal fabric and 1 accent piece) but with gorgeous books such as yours and other Australian quilters, my own quilts are taking on a whole new look and I now enter a quilt shop with entirely new eye. The Anne Ramsey quilt makes me swoon…

    • Margaret says:

      Hi Patricia, i’m so glad you liked the post :D And close ups are essential LOL we all want to ‘see’. I’m so thankful to have had a book publsihed to share what i love and be included in a terrific Australian line up. Thank you so much
      Happy Stitching
      M xx

  9. Michelle says:

    We must be sisters separated at birth. You put into words exactly how I feel. I’ve loved all things old since I was a little girl, and I’m far from that now. I also love fabric, and I have such a difficult time finding ones that I love any more. Everything is very bright and geometric. I’ve had to resort to buying fabric online, and I’ve had more than one big surprise when it was delivered. Thank you for your thoughtful and well written post for all of us fabric lovers!

    • Margaret says:

      Thank you Michelle :D It’s such a delight to get comments like this, I’m so glad the post spoke to you. I’m already pondering what the ext topic will be LOL all the lovely comments have encouraged me to dig deep. Happy Stitching, Margaret xx

  10. Sandra Conners says:

    Hi Margaret, it’s been a very long time since I made contact, so hope all is well with you. I lost my patchwork/quilting “mojo” a couple of years ago, and what with packing up, selling and buying another house, together with moving to another town to live, I haven’t done too much of any sewing. But I’m just getting back into it again and boggle at the number of “unfinished” things I have in cupboards and boxes! I dug out my Maltaville quilt and promised myself that I will finish it next year. So, after Christmas has been and gone, I’ll get into it again. Just did a quick count and have about 15 blocks, plus the centre, to be finished. Got all the patterns together so it will be easy to go from one to the other. Just came across your blog and have been having an enjoyable time reading everything and I absolutely love all the pics of quilts that you are working on. I still have lots to read, so had better get back into it. Cheers S

    • Hellooo Sandra, how lovely to hear from you and to hear of your news. I’m so glad you dropped by and took the time to chat. Keep on with the Maltaville, you are nearly there :D I’d love to see a pic as you progress. hugs and happy stitching to you
      M xx

  11. Donna Smith says:

    Thank you so much Marg for taking the time to share this with us all. I love hearing about the colours and fabrics used. I am a lover of quilts that look loved and cherished also, which is why I am sure I fall in love with all your quilts. I want to snuggle into them.
    Keep up sharing this wonderful information as you find the time.
    Donna xx

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