Striped fabrics can add a real “zing” to quilts – but many people avoid them, because they have been told that they are “difficult”. I want to help you spot the problems before they happen, and develop the confidence to include them in your quilts to give maximum impact – they are not just for the experts.

Identifying features

The first thing to do is to know how to look at fabrics in the shop before you buy them, and identify which stripes will suit any project easily, and which will require more skill and planning to be used successfully. For particular designs, you may need to buy more fabric than stated on the pattern, too.

Woven or printed?

Woven stripes look the same on the back

Is the stripe woven into the fabric or printed on?

Printed stripes look paler on the back

Woven stripes will always be absolutely lined up with the straight grain, while printed stripes frequently are not!

It is fine to buy printed fabric – but always remember to cut with the stripes, even if this means that the grain will not be true – it will look better.

Don’t try and cut double layers – you need to open out and cut singly, as the stripes underneath are unlikely to be in the same place as the stripes on top!

Grain direction?

Most stripes are (in theory) printed parallel to the straight grain, but occasionally you may find one printed across, or even diagonally, which has different possibilities entirely.

Why does this matter? Well, maybe you are planning a 40” x 3″ narrow border – this can be cut across 3″ of the fabric economically if the stripe goes in the correct direction, but far more fabric will be needed if the border strips must be cut down the length of the fabric.

Style of stripe: Classic or Modern?

Do you like a two colour stripe? I expect that some of you are wearing these ever popular design classics. There are many variations, such as these modern colour palettes:

More commonly, they are the classic combination of a colour with white;
e.g.  black/white; blue/white; red/white; green/white.

Even just saying “blue and white stripes” is not as simple as it sounds – see how many blue and white classic striped fabrics I have here!

How would you describe the differences?

Wide or Narrow stripes?

Look at these different black and white stripes – don’t they look different?

Bold stripes have a real impact, while very narrow stripes will blur together from a distance.

To illustrate the effect merely of changing the width of the stripes without changing the colours, have a look at this set of striped fabrics:

Doesn’t the effect look different on these Toffee Wrapper blocks?

It’s hard to believe that the colours are exactly the same!

Remember to consider the size of pieces that you are planning to use.

These two Hull’s Victory blocks both use black and white striped fabric with the same cream – and have a very different effect. However, the bolder stripes would not be suitable for pieces any smaller than this, as the design would be lost.

One reason why that the left hand block has more impact is because the black stripe is noticeably wider than the cream one, while the narrow stripes are all the same width. This means the striped fabric in the left hand block is darker overall, and has more contrast against the cream.

Degree of Contrast?

How much contrast do you like in your stripe? A strong contrast can give a fantastic, bold effect, but, particularly for relatively narrow stripes, can be visually rather disturbing:

If you want a softer look, but don’t want wider white stripes, choose stripes with a cream or beige background instead of white:

You might like to look at the Colour & Contrast blog in the Hints & Tips section to read more about contrast.

Remember, you need to consider the amount of contrast within the striped fabric, and also between the striped fabric and the other fabrics used in the project.

I have chosen some examples for you to see the effect of differently contrasting stripes – first here are some examples of projects using “low internal-contrast” stripes:

This gentle black and grey fine stripe makes a subtle background to appliqué, allowing the coral pink fabric to show up well against it:

Scherenschnitte (German paper-cut) style appliqué block

For this version of my Northern Lights pattern (available in the Shop) I included some softly striped fabrics:

Northern Lights

Apart from the black border, all the flannel fabrics in this Amish Squares lap quilt are actually striped – the effect is just to give some subtle texture within the fabrics, and allow them to contrast against each other:

Amish Squares

Moving up to medium contrast within the striped fabric gives a bit more impact to the finished item, such as in this Christmas table mat. The red and gold striped background shows up well against the plain fabrics, but is not so bright that it takes over from the star.

Christmas Star Mat

In this mini wall hanging, the carefully cut and placed stripes in petrol blue and light teal show up well against the pale background, but overall give a calm and classy appearance:

Tick-Tack

In this miniature quilt inspired by the Hearts and Crosses coverlet in the Quilters’ Guild Collection, the striped fabric takes centre stage, but is still not too overpowering:

Mini Hearts and Crosses quilt

With more contrast within the stripes, and in combination with brighter fabrics, this hand pieced Antique Rose Star block that I did in a workshop with Barbara Chainey has real “wow” factor.

For a really high impact quilt, black and white or red and white stripes always seem to have the biggest contrast – the quilt below uses both! By the way, I call this quilt the “Newspaper Joke” – if you grew up in a house where jokes were regularly exchanged, you can probably work out why!

Newspaper Joke

Complex Stripes

More complex stripes may have stripes of more than two colours, and/or have varying widths.

Symmetrical or not?

One of the most important things to do is to identify whether the stripe design is symmetrical. i.e. if the fabric is turned round, does it look the same?

Look at the three fabrics above – the bottom one is symmetrical, but the top two are not! The top fabric has the blue stripe to the right of the red one – but if it was turned round, the blue stripe would be to the left instead. If you don’t realise this, and try to match the stripes, it can create considerable confusion.

Some fabrics may have sections which are symmetrical, but overall are not – look at this one as an example:

I have turned round the strip at the bottom – can you see that it will never match like this?

If your design doesn’t need to match the stripes, then it doesn’t matter – see the simple nine-patch blocks in the middle of the “Pressing for Perfect Points Part 1” blog, Northern Lights, Amish Squares, Hearts and Crosses or the Newspaper Joke quilts above as examples of easy places to use striped fabric.

However, if you know that you want to create matches anywhere, then identifying a non-symmetrical stripe in the shop will warn you that this will be a more tricky fabric to use, and require more planning.

You also need to look at the repeat. The fabric below has a six inch repeat, but some fabrics have a surprisingly large repeat – and this will be a warning that you will need to buy extra fabric if matching is required.

There will be much more about how to cut, stitch and match stripes perfectly in future blogs, but if you can’t wait until then, and are an experienced quilter, maybe you would like to try a seasonal project now – this beautiful block is called Easter Morning.

The pattern includes lots of tips for identifying the best section of a complex non-symmetrical striped fabric to use for the maximum impact, and how to match it perfectly.

If you make it, I would love to see your photos – post them on the UKQU Facebook page.

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