August 11, 2015 by tessaraewilliams
Print fabrics can be broken down into three main categories: florals, geometrics, and novelties. Novelties are my jam. They’re my favorite type of fabric to work with, and my stash is about 95% novelties. I have very few florals (like seriously, I own two florals) and maybe a handful of geometrics (mostly geometric novelties).
While doing research for my #finishedblockswap (sign-ups open August 18), I looked at many online quilting bees’ FAQs and lists of rules. I was shocked to discover many bees ban the use of novelty fabrics in blocks. Whaaaaaat?! How would anyone be able to work without 1/3 of all print fabrics?! I just didn’t understand the rationale behind the rule. So I decided some research needed to be done.
While listening to a Modern Quilt Guild webinar, “Choosing Fabric for a Quilt”, host Elizabeth Hartman was asked for advice for choosing novelty prints for modern quilting. She had great advice:
The thing to do is keep an eye toward sophistication. It can be easy with novelty prints to have it go juvenile or to have it go dated. Look at the print and think about whether it’s something an adult person would want to have in their home. If the aesthetic you’re going for is a strongly modern, graphic aesthetic, keeping an eye toward sophistication is going to be really helpful to picking novelty prints.
This reminded me of a negative experience (gasp!) I’ve had with novelty prints. I joined a “modern” block swap where participants were encouraged to share economy blocks that centered around modern novelties. When I received my blocks from the swap, I was extremely disappointed to see what the other participants considered “modern”. 9 out of 12 blocks that I received were by my standards not modern. Thinking about this experience, I thought, “Well, what IS a modern novelty?”
First, let’s define what modern novelties aren’t before we define what they are. As a rule, licensed fabrics and holiday fabrics aren’t modern. Licensed fabrics are the merchandise of a brand. You buy them because you/your child/whomever you’re making for is a fan of the product on the fabric. Having a new character on fabric does not that fabric modern. As for holiday fabrics, the color palettes and motifs normally used on them are dated, cliche, and often look cheap.
Excluding licensed and holiday fabrics, you can usually tell a traditional novelty from a modern novelty by looking at the colors, motif placement, art style, and demographic. I’ve noticed that many traditional novelties use a photo-realistic art style, which doesn’t translate well into fabric, and keeps it out of the modern novelty bubble. Traditional novelties also tend to use muddier colors, meaning not as saturated or bright as modern novelties. Many novelties, especially juvenile, can look like clipart; almost as if they were automatically created by a machine and not thoughtfully drawn or painted by an artist.
Modern novelty designers often design an entire collection around a novelty print, telling a complete story, as opposed to just a single one-off print as many juvenile or dated novelties seem to be. Modern novelties have that sophistication, as mentioned by Elizabeth Hartman. Sophistication is the exact word for that undefinable thing that makes a novelty modern. I don’t think it’s necessarily the theme or motif that makes a print modern. We’ve all seen cat novelties, and some are much more modern than others. Again, color, motif placement, art style, and demographic are what separate modern novelties from traditional novelties.
To explain demographic, think about the audience for the print. There are many modern novelties that could be made into something for a child, but would the child necessarily have picked that fabric for themselves? The demographic for juvenile novelties is children, the demographic for modern novelties is quilters.
The reigning champions of modern novelties are (in my humble opinion) Heather Ross, Lizzy House, and Cotton and Steel (all five of them are amazing novelty designers). When you think of the phrase “modern novelties”, many people would think of these names first. I have tons of prints from all of these designers. These designers make novelties that are fresh and new, with no hint of feeling juvenile or dated. Here are a few of my favorites.
Another thing I’d like to mention about Cotton and Steel is that they are rule-breakers. Ok, more like the exception to the rule. I mentioned that photo-realistic and holiday prints are not modern, and here C+S go, proving me wrong.
Melody Miller is amazing at taking photo-realistic images and tweaking them so that they become modern. In another designer’s hands, this Mustang print would have been a less successful novelty. However, the color choices for the mustangs, the placement on a nearly blank background, and the addition of the pluses make this a very modern novelty. And hello, Spellbound! When you think of Halloween fabrics, orchid and mint green are not the first colors you’d think of! The amazing color palette and the choice of motifs (not a candy corn in sight) make this line a great (and probably the first) modern holiday fabric line. Well done, Cotton and Steel! I just love the opalescent ghosts on that top print, and the metallic dots and skulls of the bottom print. ❤
Now is where I get to have fun. I’m basically just going to list off other amazing novelty designers and why they’re awesome. Aneela Hoey and Sarah Jane are masters at designing motifs of children playing. For some reason, I am always drawn to prints featuring children. Many prints by these designers could be made into quilts for children, however these fabrics are attractive to adults as well. Aneela Hoey holds a special place in my heart because I used her fabric in the first quilt I ever made, shown below.
The thing about Tula Pink and Violet Craft is that they can design novelties that you don’t realize are novelties. They’re sneaky like that. Their prints are truly beautiful. Their prints never read as “cartoon-y”, which I fear is the reason why certain people claim to not be novelty fans. I made this Curvy Clutch using my favorite Tula print “Bats in the Belfry”. Can you spot the bat? 😀 This brown scrap and the quilt behind it are made from Violet Craft’s Brambleberry Ridge. This line is beautiful, sophisticated, and so soft! Also, this line made me love metallics.
But hey, what’s wrong with cartoon-y? Samarra Khaja, Michele Brummer-Everett, and Teagan White make the cutest, most FUN prints I’ve ever seen! Michele’s Cosmic Convoy line, particularly the Lunar Eclipse print, OWNS my heart. When I saw Samarra’s Vampire Movie Night print, I had to own it immediately. What a hilarious and awesome print! Teagan’s Acorn Trail line was the first complete line I fell in love with, and I have a quilt top waiting to be quilted that features every print from that line.
There are some manufacturers that are all-around fantastic with modern novelties. Birch, Dear Stella, Cloud9, and Art Gallery ALL have some amazing novelty designers in their ranks as well.
My hope is that I can turn at least a few people around to like novelties just a little bit more. And I REALLY wish those bees would consider lifting their novelty bans! You guys are seriously missing out on some fun stuff!
- #schnitzelandboominiquiltswap – hosted by @schnitzelandboo. Round four of this miniquilt swap! Ships in November. Info and sign-up here.
- #finishedblockswap – hosted by ME! Monthly swap, September round sign-ups open August 18th. Info here.
- #zipperpouchswap2016 – hosted by @babysleepsmamasews. Sign-ups open August 15th.
- #pixarcraftswap2016 – hosted by @jessiemarie1202. Sign-ups open Sept.
I am also look for two swap angels! One for my #favoritedesignerswap, and one for my #MuppetCraftSwap. Please send me a DM on Instagram if interested in filling either of these spots. Note, the #favoritedesignerswap ships August 21, but I will give the angel til September 1 to ship, so VERY quick turnaround. The ship date for the #MuppetCraftSwap is October 5.
I’d also like to take a moment to thank everyone who supported my GoFundMe page. In less than 24 hours you all helped me reach my goal! I can’t thank you all enough! I am beyond grateful. The link is still live because a few people still wanted to donate to receive a Curvy Clutch, which I am more than willing to make for anyone that still wants one! Thank you to these amazing donors! Go follow these awesome people!
And my Dad and my Aunt Pam! 😀