Skip to main content

craft & maker

Quilting with Low Volume Fabrics

Lesson 6 of 6

Low Volume in Background

Cheryl Arkison

Quilting with Low Volume Fabrics

Cheryl Arkison

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2000+ more >

Lesson Info

6. Low Volume in Background

Lesson Info

Low Volume in Background

Now one of the ways you can make low volume, you know, not just be a star attraction, which is what we've done here by only doing low volume is low volume backgrounds, right? So on ly using low volume in the background of what you're doing so I would argue in some respects that's where you were headed with this um in there so I'm gonna leave that one up there and to show you a couple other examples so there was the block that I should you before, right? Where it's although vault arguably all low volume fabric but I'm still getting contrast there I've made up exact same colors using some of the same fabrics where low volume becomes the background and I use a much more saturated print for the x and the plus right? So I've gone for very intense oranges here and very intense turquoise is and those same prints that were the dark here are the light here, right? So this is where you see again it's relative value is relative you can't say that that's a dark print because next to this it's not ...

it's still reads lighter than this one because this has far more turquoise in it then this ever will right? So this is little volume is background I've got another example here in this one, right? So it was very intentional in emphasizing my plus, no mistaking that is not low volume as well, but then everything else is so in this one, I emphasized both the plus and the ex with the darker prints, this one on lee the plus. So we're going to make one more block in our time today, where we're going to do this, where low volume is the background, you have the choice, so I've taken all the low volume fabric will put back on the table for you. You have the choice to on what part of the block you're going to emphasize, though, but I want there to be one section where it is very clearly a dark fabric. Okay, so whether that's the plus, whether it's, the ex, whether it's, the corners, you decide what you're going to do that and then it can be any color goes for the sides, or it can be a controlled color scheme like this that's up to you don't take too much time deciding on the color scheme and everything, someone more exercise, and I'll put the instructions up for the background as well. And while you're picking fat, we're going to show you an example of what it means to use the low volume is the background in this, so this is a quilt that I've made um inspired by a necklace in the other class we've got we talked about translating inspiration and this one was inspired by necklace in those colors and but I chose all different text prints for the background on here and you can see how some jump out more than others next to each other if we only looked at this cross section right here there's a big value difference between those but they're all background to a bright color so there's still work but it doesn't read is a flat background that's the distinction that we're getting here is that we're not seeing it all is a flat background they will cut a couple of five and a half inch square see where this goes layer up and then I remember not to include your salvages don't want those ones you ever do that you go so you know I didn't press this fabric beforehand I was bad but it will still work there's they're cutting instructions you know all that you starting to feel a little bit more comfortable with the idea of little volume ladies yes is it making more sense to you? Yeah good so you never heard of low volume before all right, you have been collecting them white have used it for you just here yeah look at the progression of my block e think I've heard of it a long time ago but it's not super come in yet yeah, I think it's it's common in in a certain circle but it's not something you know that um runs rampant among quilter's and everything like that but it's my goal to change that both with my book and with this because there really is so much possibility in so many quilters I think like nikki was saying just they like the fabric they have it but they're not entirely sure what to do with it um and that you know, having a knopper to nitty like this creative live class really gives go ah, you know he starts to get it exactly does anybody need who's doing random? Ok there's a couple for you there's a couple for you you're doing controlled color you're still doing pink are you doing controlled over here? No ok well here don't stop cutting three hundred square because it could hold on story and there's I don't know if you're are you emphasizing your plus through your well there's two for your x if you want him um you want either the plus or the acts for both okay that's up to you that's what I got yeah I got it that's up to you this is we don't have to spend too too much time testing just go go go right the whole point for us here today and for those of you at home taking this class is to play get out there we you know it's it's the adage that you learn by doing right is we can read a million books and we can read the textbooks but until you actually get in there and play and get your hands dirty it's ray really hard to understand the concepts with it you can collect all the fabric in the world but until you cut it up and start putting it next to other fabrics it doesn't mean anything in my corporate days I actually worked on emissions trading issues and I loved it but you were working with like weird calculus and derivatives and all this stuff which is kind of esoteric strange things it's not quote people have a hard enough time with put mac um but the thing that always stuck with me is that that it's just like with fabric there's only a value to it when you use it when it's sitting in your closet or under your bed or on shelves there is the financial value of what you paid for it but it doesn't have a value for you is a quilter until you cut it up and put it in something then it's then it's got value then it's become something useful and valuable to you before that just raw materials least that's the way I think your partners who know how much money you spend on fabric may have a very different opinion of that because fabric is expensive and I live in canada where it is much more expensive you guys have it easy in the states yes, but in canada they're tariffs on cotton products that come across the border because there used to be cotton mills in canada and they put these tariffs on the cotton mills are on caught imported cotton in order to help keep the cotton mills in business and the cotton mills have long since been out of business but they've never removed the tariffs on the cotton products so we pay I know there was the cotton prices have gone up and so in canada we pay on average sort of in the fifteen to eighteen dollars range per yard will permit we buy per meter which is the cut you get a little bit more but not you know not eight dollars worth more in there so it's a bit tough there when you buy online um technically um stores should be when when it crosses the border you will get charged duty and gsd um but I have found a lot of fabric makes it across the border without that happening yeah um I won't get into how I won't mention stores it is almost like fabric smuggling but you have to do it right it's it's what gets you through due to making it making it viable and I know this but you know if you can if you're don't have a fabric store near to you and you're having to buy a lot online, right? Because not everybody lives where they have a selection of fabrics, whores. I am freakishly blessed in that I have one, two, three, four fabric stores within ten minutes of my house s o I'm incredibly lucky, and then if I want to drive a little bit further, I have lots more but on dh so I can go again really interesting things, and they all carry different stuff on dh there's so much variety in what I can get, but they still don't have everything that I want, and the joys of online is that you see all these other fabrics that exist, um and but what I will always do personally and it's what I would recommend if you have the opportunity is go to your local quote, store first and give them your money. Um when you see something that you like and if they don't have something that you want asked them, are you getting it right? Because if we don't buy from those local quote stores, they will go out of business, and then you won't have any options right other than to go online, and it makes a difference to feel the fabric to see it. In person you know we're talking low vow the volume that can be hard to judge even online right is is this one going to work with my other fabrics? You because you can't compare when you don't have it in front of you there so I really will always push for support of the local quote store um that way absolutely you guys feeling very confident in your selections now that we've gone through that's what I liken see for those of you can't but I can see that you guys yeah boom boom just grab it there's not the other ready to go obsessive you know, funny thing is the word I call like this one versus that one versus this one maybe I should use that one. Not quite sure we're going on average how many of these smaller sample quotes do you do before you start making a big one? Really very it really does very sometimes I get it right away yeah, that one worked and and we move on sometimes I will get into it and realize it's not working and then rather than scrap what I've done change where I'm going when your entire perception or design changes yeah, I am not the type of culture to plan absolutely everything out in advance once you know very rarely I have on the odd occasion and I will almost never cut out before I so a stitch so so I can may I will usually make a few blocks and go yeah, this is working and continue on I might change tactic like I said, or I might never do it again and they go in the orphan block pile to be added to something else. But I can say that in doing at the samples for here for today I love everything that I've done and I think they would look cool all mixed together, right? Let's do that let's put up all the blocks that I've made and if we can some of the ones from other people and we'll just have some really interesting variety in there and you can see what it looks like when you got some of these blocks put together how you get the intersections of the pattern and stuff like that do all of mine first and then add some of theirs so there's all mine up, but now I'm gonna add some yours into this just so we can all see what it looks like when we start putting things together right? So you can combine them all your eye. Well, some of these blocks are more effective for showing off the individual block design all together you're still getting the whole thankful right, so I personally will have no problem putting them all together I really like that scrappy look in it, and I like that sometimes all look right here, and sometimes, you know, I'll look right here or I'll look at this axe, andi it's really interesting if you were using this particular x plus block and wanted to make a whole quilt, you're gonna want to think, what am I wanting to emphasize in there? So is it always the plus, right? Do I want to emphasize the's horizontal and then the vertical lines do I want to emphasize the x? Right? Because this creates another secondary design in the block in there, but they look fine, I think it's fun that's my styles to mix it all up. Um, like that more when you're quoting I was pretty open to trying different thing. I absolutely I'm open, but I'm also yeah, let's see what happens? No for it and you know, if it doesn't work. There's charity quotes there's babies that you don't know that well, you're making there's quote backs, right? You can always throw them on the back of something like that added into some piecing for the quill back. It's never wasted pardon holders, potholders, placemats. You know, dog quills that but you know you're not so concerned with what the dog keeps stealing we really quote so you do things like that but I also believe there's nothing wasted because it was the lesson we got in doing it right there times when I have made a quote block and I put it on my design wall and there it sits and so I can look at and go oh, yeah I got to remember when I work on something, it should go this way and not that way and it becomes a visual reminder. So even though that block may never end up in anything, it is useful and it has value because it taught me something and I think that's what a lot of these little volume ones that's why I think I might end up putting them together because I can go. Ok, well, look, this one doesn't work compared to this one, you know, this one works but this one all right kind of thing like that, but then they're all together and as a whole it gives kind of a crazy, wild, scrappy sort of looked but that's low volume right there, right? We have these pops of color, but this is low volume right here all mixed together and it's a much quiet energy than when we look at those really bright, intense, saturated quotes and that's the whole point is that this is this isn't screaming, wow, I'm a really awesome quil, you should look at me, it's like whether I'm pretty I I'm kind of suddenly come hang out with me, right? Like it's just it's a different energy, right? It's, just like our kids, our kids are all different mostly minor, kind of feral um, but but some kids aren't right. Some kids are the ones that want to stand close to you and they're not the ones that are going to put their hands up in the middle of class. They're going to be, you know, to somewhere quieter side on dh quote like this is going to appeal to them more than rainbow bright in the whole regard, so people are sewing up a storm already, so you guys are experts at the block now, too three blocks and you know what you're doing? And just imagine if you're one of the quilters at home and you really gotten this, you could be making these you could be chained, piecing the whole thing and getting a whole block a whole bunch of blocks made at once mentioned that, you know, you catch your eye kind of paying attention to one thing one moment I looked back and I look at something totally different exactly, yeah yeah, and that's one of the advantages with this particular one that we're doing now where when low volume becomes the background right traditionally in quilts we would have used a beige or a white or a solid a czar background and there's nothing wrong with that they all look good but it's not as interesting, right? Even when you do it this way you're I can still move and so there's still something to look at and you know you guys out there are looking at this quilt from far away and up on the design wall but I make quotes to be used most of us make quilts to be used, so if it's going to be on my lap or wrapped, you know, tucked over my kid or something like that I love when I can see all these different things you know, my kids will do this like little birds and that looks like a son and and they get lost in all the little fabrics and they just love you know the additional stories the design tells not just because you know what had five fabrics and it looks really cool when you show it up, right? I think maybe perhaps the internet has killed that a little bit for us or even instagram, which I love or any other form of social media because we're so used to seeing quilts, vertical and pulled back and we forget that they also exist in use and on her lap and blow her hands right so we need to remember that and take advantage of it and provide ourselves with his much interest as possible and low vault using low volume for the background as opposed to a plain white is one way to do that quite effectively or alternatively and you'll see that in a month of sundays is using low volume fabrics but then with white is the background that's another great way to get contrast in something so I'm to see just to show up fabrics here can you pass me one of those pale gray's that's up there perfect one of those pale gray's a bunch of different prints so this great print more less reads like a solid it's a very pale gray print there it's a beautiful fabric but it more or less reads like a solid well typically we would be doing something where we're piecing with these bright colors on it right very high contrast were to get something really nice out of that but what happens when we start putting some of these low volume prints on that the contrast is a little bit more it's not as you know let's put them together all right you get totally different looks but you're still getting high contrast so using a low volume print with a solid is a way to take any quilt pattern any quote pattern that you have out there and change it up by using low volume fabrics and if you do it with a pale solid like this gray or a solid white or even a beige, any color it's a good way to do anything but still use low volume fabrics without having to worry about whether you got the value differences, right? Right? Because as soon as you make the background a solid whatever print in whatever scale you've got in, whatever color you got is going to stand out against that as long as it's a light solid right, a very light sold so even the fact that this is grey and this is a way background, you know, as long as I haven't cut out a piece here that's really tiny with mostly right, right? If I take a different print like, say this one right and let me pink here I've got blue and pink here I'm gonna pick another low volume pink print someone to steal this from you, right? So I got in a similar color story there, but these would be two very different quilts, right? This would have that softer, quieter energy and this would have a much more intense, bright, exciting energy neither is wrong neither is right they both work it's, what is your intention? With the quilt that you're trying to make right maybe you just want to work with italian fabrics go scrappy like this have fun throw them all together have a great time but if you want to be very deliberate in your design and have high contrast like the blocks were doing today or some of the you know, male millions of other quote designs that think about ways to get that contrast in there you know let's play around with a little bit more I mean a switch up what our background is not this near solid we're gonna take this one and this one just to show how playing with fabrics makes such a difference right? We don't this is far from a solid for a background way still have contrast with everything right? This is very high contrast this is a lower contrast but the contrast is still there right? Because we have a lot of white in this print right? And these colors are pretty saturated for what they are right this is still this is a pale blue but it's still reading much, much darker than this because there's a lot of blue in it and this pink there's a lot more pink ethan there isn't here, so you're getting contrast but it's not the same is the contrast we're getting here right let's play that up again change the look entirely flame like dark like black or something for the background I have actually there is a quilt in my upcoming book you inspire me to quilt on dh it was an idea that my husband gave me and is a predominantly black quilt it was very hard for me very, very hard for me to do but I love them so I made it for him um but it was a predominantly black quit with like greens and yellows and reds and everything on it and it was all in solid which is also something I don't normally do so but I like to keep myself, you know, challenged and do interesting things right? So why not accept that challenge right now? Here another totally different look right? We're getting less contrast right? Because this is a bit more of a dense print with the goal it's there but it's still getting really high contrast with that so it's really just kind of dependent and this is where you can play around with things right and mix and match exactly if you're ever unsure when you're going to pick fabrics either make one make a block of what you are planning on making the quilt of, you know a mock up kind of thing and do these work or play around with this right like or make a simple block right? Just put, you know, one strip in between the other ones and then you'll see but after time the more and more you quote the more practice you get, you'll start to be able to see it automatically but like anything else in life that won't come until you practice until you really get going on it and seeing where it can go right? We'll change up now so I'm gonna keep this gold background with blue right? And now let's mix it up with the darker blue in there as well, right? So now I have light medium dark in this because this kind of falls in that depending on how you give me, I would've cut just that piece right there that's pretty dark but if I include a lot of white saying I have a strip like that and then that dark blue right I can do some really interesting things with color and their rights, so don't hesitate to play pull it all out see what you can do see what you can come up with but just don't dismiss low volume fabrics as a potential within your design, but inasmuch as we're making things with the background right now, don't be afraid to use them as the predominant part of your design they don't have to just shy away into the background they're great alternative to solids for your background but they don't have to be just the background and here in the studio we have got experts at the x plus block now, because they're just able to paint me zo, which is awesome, almost ready for that first one. So I'm gonna take off some of these so we can have these on and I am not perfect. And karen, you stuck with having a more predominant print in those corners again, just like he did on your previous blocks, right? So this becomes a much more significant design element in your blocks, their perfects everybody else will finish up there's, and we'll have them while you guys are finishing up your last blocks here. I want to be able to show them to everybody else. Um, but I want tio finish up with our discussion. We've been talking about buying low volume fabrics, going to the online stores and everything like that, but I also want to talk about stashing them. How do you get them and keep them? We've talked all about using them. A lot of people have them so number one, buy what you love don't buy a low volume print just because it's a low volume print because you say you want to do low volumes, you may hate it. It may not be your style if little ditzy dots are not something you ever want to work with. Don't buy them right if you're not a fan of black and white because black and white can be very harsh when used with other things and even when it's used on its own don't buy it right look for gray's and whites look for brown's on beige is right there's different ways to do it. You don't have to do these really kind of high contrast with a white background if that's not the thing that you love the most, but at the same time I also want you to look beyond black, white and gray, which is what a lot of people do when they're thinking low volume is they only go in that black, white and gray sort of world, and they think it's on lee that but it's not I hope I've shown you today that you khun the whole world of color is there for you with low volume, just like it is in every any other type of quilt, low volume still means color, so embrace it and you should have the tools now to be able to really go out and use it effectively in your quilts that being said, don't dismiss page a lot of people in the modern quilt world are very much about their very clear colors they're the ones with tins, they have a lot of white in them, and so we tend to go like there's a few out there, you know, we'll dismiss ones because they have more beige in them, right? So here's here's white versus base there's a lot of yellow in that white versus beige, right? So they want to go for these ones that are very, very white versus these that have a little bit more beige in the background. But if all you ever do are the white, once you get what happened, because black, black and whites are almost very much appear white, they're very bright, even though these air low volume of very bright and you get much more interest when those air combined. All right, so don't dismiss baby be really open to having it as part of it and aim for a range in the scale of the print and the colors of the print. You want tohave selection when you're going to stash this, so you're going to look for ones you know, this doesn't have a very dense print, but it's a tiny little print on it, you know, this is a much larger print. This is a larger print yet, right? You want to have that variety? Because if all you picker these that's going to make really great backgrounds, but you're never going to get any contrast to make a quilt design effectively if you want to use just low volume fabric so you need to have a variety in there and you need to have the variety of the colors as well but that leads to the ultimate question is how do you store these things? What do you do with the fabrics when you have them in there and there's a couple of ways you can do it if you have a lot of low volume fabric you can do it the way I do which is my oranges gets stored with my oranges my blues gets stored with my blues, my greens and so on right I keep my low volume colors with all my other colors right? I store all my fabric by color so I have a blue bin I have a turquoise been a red bin and the low volume ones so fabrics like this with the blue print on it live in the blue bin right these all live together right on dh that's just because for me quilts starts so much by color and I go in looking for color and I may go in thinking I wanted our color but then I see all the love boat let's send some of those low volumes and stuff like that in there so color is a very important thing to me if you don't have a lot of low volume fabrics or you're just starting to collect them because you're very inspired by them and you're going to want to work with them, store them separately for the time being right? Because then when you're thinking I want to make a low volume quilt, you're not digging through all of your cup fabrics to find them so particularly for someone whose new at stashing low volume I do recommend keeping them on their own for a little while the other thing I do for me is my scraps are all sorted by color as well and I keep a separate bin for low volume scraps this block for example is fantastic for scraps because you really don't need big pieces of it so if I want to make more of these like fully scrappy sorts of things I don't have to go searching through my benz for those aiken go searching in my scrap basket uh for them there is that all makes sense to everybody here karen you bet or not karen nicky you've been collecting low volume fabrics how have you been storing them together so I haven't been that's black and whites and low volumes yeah because I know that when I go to use them and I think there's gray in there too so when I go to use um I'm probably going to want to pull them together that way and then the rest of my fabric is all by color and you not made a low volume quote so far, have you? No, no. But see, now you're gonna be excited and motivated to go you know, I have a box I can open up and I can shop a stash exactly and that's so important, I think is shopping your statue, getting in there and doing I shop at home first. Yeah, there's a lot of money on fabric. So shop at home first, but last year, at the beginning of the year, I emptied up all my fabric cause I have been storing them by size of cuts. Yeah, so I had, you know, eight boxes by size of cuts when you went pull for a quilt, you had to look in all of the boxes. So based on reading, you're sending more e I actually went in and sort of everything about color and then put them all back into the boxes by color and I've been able to turn quotes around faster, naive because I can make decisions quicker it's there where I need it that's amazing that's so good it's worked out really nice. Yeah, and and we only intended that really for scraps, right? Because so much of scraps comes down teo, I just need a little piece of red right, but if your scraps role mixed together, you'll never find that little piece of bread so you go to your stash and you cut it out and that box is so overflowing but scraps are another story, but I do keep my low volume scraps on their own as well they're so we've almost got a couple more blocks done I just want to get those up on the wall. Are there any more questions from you guys here in the studio you consider half of the black and whites really be low volume? It was like I have a certain pile of that and there are a lot of black and whites that are definitely not low volume and I think the best way to do it is number one what's the background right? Is it a white print on a black background or is it a black prince on a white background that's your first distinction, right? But then what's the density of the print because even some of the prints that have ah black on a white background well still read quite dark, right it's the same with this one block that I had here, right? They're all black and white prints but very dense range and so they read much darker than that right? So I bet it's black and white prints are great because you don't take a black and white picture to just see the gray scale right so it's a fun exercise you could take your black and white prints and sort them entirely by value right and go from the blackest to the whitest on dh see where they go in between and that's a great way to practice that's sort of distinction within the value right okay we've got nicky's block here she stayed in pink world again we're gonna do this there is niki's block karen is do do those air mind no one wants to see mine let's see your guys is right this is fantastic look at this sprint so predominant here and then change it there and it's a completely different look right exact same fabric it's but value and contrast our relative to what's around it all right so they're your three not one and where the other ones over here there's karen's third block here right so there's your three row mine so here's michelle's first block her second one we'll see that she's pressing that one were ill kertesz steal this back from you you're almost on there too who's tracy's there's our first one and we never got this one up on the wall before tracy that's okay no but what's interesting about this one is a soon as you had multicolored prints right my eye is immediately drawn to that orange in there right and so it almost attracts from the design across the lord you know I wouldn't know exactly we care but that's because that was our first one where we weren't thinking about contrast and value in things right? Okay, we've got michelle's third one thank you right like how cool is that like look at the difference just like when we use these fabrics in different ways here I've got this in the wrong order what have the last one first up there right and much more subtle sort of backgrounds with all that and even within your backgrounds you've chosen to different prints for the corners right up here there's a contrast between these two prints so this stands out so much more than say down here where these read almost the same right? So it's just it zoe one nothing wrong with it but it's just something to notice right? And you could have you could have chosen this if this was intentional say you're making a whole quells right? Maybe on the sides you have high contrast on the tops and bottoms you don't right because then again you're going to get another secondary design when you do the whole quilt in this and we're just getting tracy's last block it's ugly but think this's like if I were blind I put that together I have a good excuse but I I just took everything you threw at me and I put it in there so there you go I'm blaming you right. So again, which is interesting, though this has higher contrast, ray, when we were taking the very concerted effort on that high contrast. So I want to say great job to you guys here in the studio today for embracing low volume and embracing the lessons that we had to learn it because it wasn't always easy in figuring it out and it's hard to look at our work and go, oh, I see what you now you can get. Oh, I see what I should have done, right, but tell our way, way true. But until we do it, we don't know, right? So I think that's. The greatest lesson here is that for you guys at home to until you do it, you won't know. So get your low volume fabrics out and play with them and have fun playing with them. And even if we put all that together in a quilt, it would be kind of a cool looking quilt, right? So so don't be afraid of that play.

Class Description

In the quilting community low-volume is synonymous with light, printed fabrics. In Quilting with Low Volume Fabrics, you’ll learn more about these ubiquitous fabrics and how to expertly incorporate them into your quilt blocks.

Cheryl Arkison will teach color theory basics and help you make more visually appealing quilt blocks. You’ll learn about:

  • Color saturation, hue, tints, tones, and shades
  • Blending low-volume fabrics of varying weights
  • Quilt block cutting and sewing techniques

You’ll learn how to achieve contrast through scale and texture by creating a monochromatic quilt block and how to add interest by adding a little pop of color.

Quilting with Low Volume Fabrics will inspire you to get the most out of your fabric stash and help you create designs that stand out.

Class Materials

bonus material with purchase

Cheryl Arkison - Low Volume Basics - Tools.pdf

Cheryl Arkison - Low Volume Basics Bonus.pdf

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

Related Classes



Cheryl is an excellent instructor. Great clear explanations and demonstrations throughout the workshop. I also love her humor and non-judgmental approach. I very much appreciated her "value" explanation, since this can be very confusing. Cheryl also provided great tips and suggestions. This was a great experience for me. I signed up for all of her workshops and look forward to each of them. Thanks very much.

a Creativelive Student

Takes a bit to catch on as the progression develops from monochromatic, through the light, dark and medium values to backgrounds but then the click happens and wow! I also have gotten a much better understanding of value which is my own personal nemesis. I'm excited to play.

Beth Conkwright

I've already made a quilt top with low volume fabrics. You really changed my idea that quilts had to have a ton of color. I want to try using low volume for background fabric next. Thanks for such a fun class.