I began amassing a “stash” of fabrics shortly after becoming fully entrenched in quilt-making. I had begun to read other quilter’s blogs, and quickly realized that in order to really be able to compose the quilts I had begun to see in my mind’s eye, I needed to have a ready palette of supplies. I managed to spend an ungodly amount of money laying in fabrics that first year. Something I justified to myself at the time by thinking, "I am going to make a business of this one way or the other, so they will all be put to use at some point."
Ahem. Anyway. During the height of my insane fabric acquisition, I mostly (almost entirely) purchased fabric online. I soon learned that what might look charming onscreen (particularly during insomniac 3 a.m. binge buys) can look less than appealing in person. In short, I managed to buy a LOT of fabric that I soon dubbed the butt-uglies. How would I ever use that stuff, I wondered. Blaghhh. A waste of money! But NOT, actually.
I think for many quilters (I can certainly say so for myself) there is a pleasure in using up every last scrap of fabric. It somehow justifies the often high price one pays for good fabric - that you are at least using every bit of it. So there is a sort of weird (largely false) frugality that can go along with quilt-making. My point being that even though I inevitably hated a certain amount of the fabric that was arriving in my mailbox, by god, I was still going to use it.
And, in truth, I soon learned the importance of ugly fabric to beautiful quilt-making.
During some early quilt experiments, I realized that using only the pretty fabrics I loved often resulted in less-than-satisfying, sort-of even maybe insipid quilts. How to fix this, I wondered. I started pulling from the butt-uglies, in part to “extend” or “fill” the quilts I was working on - though I might have initially wanted to use only that lovely Amy Butler fabric for the whole top, I found I often didn’t have enough, and acquiring enough was too cost-prohibitive.
So I started adding any also-rans that could work somehow with the color scheme I had come up with. And what I found, by and large, was that the uglies didn’t compromise the quilt as I had feared, but instead, helped ground it, offered a backdrop for the “starring” fabrics. That they were, in fact, completely necessary as a foil to the beautiful ones. I now regularly scan my stash, when in the beginning process of a new quilt, for the unlikely fabric additions, the ones that are going to act as a foil and counterpoint to the beauty queens.