Magical Fabrics, Color Mirage

by Christine Barnes

First up, a big welcome to all our new followers—we are delighted that you’ve joined us! If you aren’t familiar with our Artistic Alchemy blog, we take turns writing about our latest work, our sources of inspiration, and our creative processes. It’s fun for us, and we love seeing your comments in our Inbox. It’s my turn this week, so without further ado . . .

I have a confession: for years, yes years, I’ve been guarding my collection of Elin Noble hand dyes. From what? From whom? Really, it’s ridiculous! But when you look at these photos (the camera is for scale), I think you’ll agree that they are magical, precious fabrics, to be cut only for special projects. They remind me of a mirage, a color mirage.

In truth, I’ve used some of these gorgeous fabrics over the years, but I’ve never combined them with solids and—drum roll please—stripes or plaids. It was past time. I began by isolating an area in one fabric with my 6-inch ruler, then marking the area, which was slightly larger than needed, with chalk.

For each block, I played with three solids and one stripe or plaid that had color connections to the hand dye, but didn’t necessarily match. The Kaffe Fassett stripe in the mock-up below was too dark, but I liked the idea of a skinny B&W strip as an accent.

For my second try, I went with a slightly darker orange, and another wonderful Kaffe stripe. I liked the combination, but I wanted to save the stripe for another group of fabrics.

Enter an ikat plaid, along with a rich yellow-orange in place of the dark orange above, and a darker yellow-green Grunge. Now there were variations in values and textures, plus a few bonus colors in the plaid. Done!

This block needed a bit more punch and a skinny strip.

Replacing the light blue-violet strip with a slightly darker version made the difference. (it’s hard to see this in the photos; trust me). Here’s the block sewn.

Earlier I made two blocks with Peppered Cotton solids and buffalo plaids. In the block below I see layered transparency where the light area of the plaid touches the center square and the yellow-green strip. The light blue-green strip on the right is an Oakshott cotton from the UK, another magical fabric.

I will probably unsew this block and insert a skinny strip. This is just a raw strip laid on top of the block.

I’m not sure this block will make the final cut. The stripe and buffalo plaid compete and take attention away from the awesome center square. It may need a makeover . . . . (Hey, so do I!)

I enjoyed the mess . . .

And the cut ingredients made for a colorful image.

I’m excited about making four more blocks, and of course I’ll show you the finished top. Thanks for following along with my audition-and-edit process.

Finally, the four of us are set to launch an ongoing “Studio Sale,” where we offer things we’ve created, fabric we love (but may never get around to using), and other treasures. Because of deadlines and teaching schedules, our first Studio Sale will happen soon, just not today. My apologies to those of you who tuned in to see what we have. It will be worth the wait, I guarantee!











24 thoughts on “Magical Fabrics, Color Mirage

    • Thanks for your comment, Marcy! The finished B&W strip measures 1/4″ wide. I cut the strips 3/4″. I’ve cut strips as narrow as 5/8″ wide, making the finished strip 1/8″, but it’s really difficult to stitch the second edge without getting in the way of the first stitching. But give them both a try!

    • Thanks, Cindy! These blocks are challenging–so many of Elin’s fabrics are medium value, and getting the just-right values of the other fabrics turns into a real hunt. But we are always up for it, right? (Hey, did you see my pics at High Hand Nursery on Facebook a few weeks ago? I thought of you! They are on my personal page. . . will send you the link.)

  1. I had a dyed and marbled fabric business in the 90’s……….I have lots of these fabrics I’m now using……..I had saved them all the years I wasn’t quilting and now I’m dyeing more. Lots of ideas to use them……………

    I like what you’ve done…….I may be doing!!!! 🙂


  2. I love those blocks. I have to try something like that. Are your solids Grunge or something else. I love the look of not quite solid.

    • Thanks for your question, Debbie. Most of what you see as solids in my blocks are true solids. One is actually a Grunge turned over. (Someone recently told me that Moda intended the Grunges to be used on either side.) I love Grunges, however, because the Elin Noble fabrics are so subtle and nuanced, I needed the crispness of the solid solids. Hope that makes sense.

    • Debbie, I realized I didn’t fully answer your question. The true solids were hand-dyed by a textile artist north of San Francisco, but I can’t think of her name. I’ve used a lot of commercial solids, like the Bella Solids by Moda, and they are wonderful too.

    • Thanks for commenting, Jane. Ikats are truly magical fabrics. I don’t want to necessarily wear them (did that in college in the 60s and 70s :-), but they add light and vitality to a quilt. I need to use my stash of them more often . . .

    • Thank you for commenting, Sheila. I hoped the blocks would be magical. 🙂 I agree, some of those fabrics are difficult to work with in combination. Elin’s are so subtle that they can look “wilted” in the company of stronger colors and patterns. And solids can look harsh, stark. I enjoy the challenge of getting them to “get along.”

      • Lovely lovely inspirations! Where can I find some okats? Thank you for your ongoing creative ideas.

      • Suzanne, it looks like I goofed and sent you a reply intended for someone else. Oh dear, well it is late here, at least that’s my excuse! About finding ikat fabrics. . . Alison Glass has produced some lovely ikat plaids, and Kaffe has some ikat stripes. I should check on the latter. . . I would Google ikat fabrics and see what comes up. You may get a lot of South American fabrics, which are much too heavy for quilting. I will keep an eye out, try to gather some sources, and list them in a blog post. Thanks for writing–it’s always great to hear from you!

      • Suzanne, I got it wrong: Anna Maria Horner came out with some ikat plaids. You might also check out and search for ikat. Now you’ve got me on the hunt . . .

  3. Hi Christine, so long since being in touch but your page is still an inspiration for me to keep quilting even now that I’ve recently had my 86th birthday. Your unique color style was and still is such a joy to behold.

    • Fay, it is a delight to hear from you! I’m so glad you continue to enjoy quilting. (Do you happen to know Kitty Pippen? She’s internationally known for her quilting with Japanese fabrics and she’s 95.) I’m very flattered that you find my color style a joy. It makes me so happy to work with beautiful colors and fabrics. Thank you so much for writing, and do keep quilting. 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment, Mary—your opinion means a lot to me. And thanks for telling us about Stone Mountain and Daughter. I’ve seen many ikats there, light and heavier weights. Another reason to make the trip . . . 🙂

  4. After reading the other comments I see I’m a minority of one. I think some of the striped fabrics overpower your center fabrics. I’d like the strips paler.

    • Lindsey, you have a very good eye. I agree that the some of the stripes can overpower the subtle hand dyes, but from a moderate distance, the paler stripes made the blocks look anemic, as if they needed some punch. (That’s also partly why I brought in the black-and-white skinny strips. Eee gads, it never ends . . . )

  5. I love these blocks! It’s great to see you use some of your “precious” fabric. Maybe I will get brave and use some of mine too! Looking forward to our color workshop with you next year! Cheers!

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