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Make Your Fabric Print Work FOR You in Applique

ing Fabric Print Wisely - applique fish showing using a striped fabric for the fins and tail

Some of the most common questions I get are about choosing fabric for a quilt. People often want to know how to choose colors that go together, but I also get questions about how to choose the right print.

Usually I make things really easy on myself by choosing a tone-on-tone print or blender. These work GREAT for applique, because the fabrics read as a solid (making it easy to “see” each shape distinctly), but they have texture from the print (making your finished block more interesting).

A lot of times a high-contrast print fights against your applique, because you tend to see all the shapes within the fabric more than you see the shape that you’ve cut the fabric into.

But sometimes we can use that tendency to our advantage and make a high-contrast print work for us.

I’m using examples from the Fish quilt pattern – but this applies to choosing and using your fabric print for any quilt. Here’s just one example of a block from the Wild Flowers quilt pattern that uses stripes really well. Having smaller vertical stripes in that top section suggests the stamens of a flower.

red and white applique tulip - showing how to make the fabric print (stripes) do extra duty for you

So – back to the fish. In addition to the crosshatch and tiny polkadots prints I used, I also used some skinny stripes. It’s those stripes I want to focus on today.

When you’re working with stripes, you really want to pay attention to the way you position the applique pieces. I actually do that with all kinds of fabrics. See how the crosshatching on Gerald’s body runs at an angle, and on the spot and his tail it runs straight up and down?

Yellow fish on a blue background - Fish Quilt - Gerald - from Shiny Happy World

I actually did that on purpose, but most people don’t even notice it.

That’s not the case with bolder patterns like stripes. You really have to think about how those stripes will run.

On Hank here I made the stripes run horizontally.

Striped yellow fish on a blue background - one block from the Fish applique quilt pattern from Shiny Happy World

On Charlie I chose vertically.

Striped green fish on a blue background - one block from the Fish applique quilt pattern from Shiny Happy World

You could use striped fabric on some fish and skip the smaller applique stripes, Like Louis here.

Striped turquoise fish on a blue background - one block from the Fish applique quilt pattern from Shiny Happy World

If you wanted to simplify that fish, just skip the purple applique stripes and use a striped fabric set vertically for his body. Easy peasy!

On Angelina I used the stripes to mimic the way a lot of fins have ribs in them, and how the angle of the ribs change – kind of sweeping back as the fish moves through the water.

pretty pink fish on a blue background - one block from the Fish applique quilt pattern from Shiny Happy World - showing how to use fabric print effectively

In both of her fins, the stripes are parallel with the front edge of the fin.

I fully admit that that last example may be overthinking things a bit. 🙂

But I do stand by the notion that when your fabric print is bold, you need to put some thought into how you use it in your applique.

This post is part of a series specifically about working with the Fish pattern. Here are the rest. . .

Here are links to all the posts about choosing fabric.

And here are links to posts about using specialty fabrics.

Finished with this topic?

Return to the Let’s Make a Quilt main Table of Contents.

Happy stitching!


  1. Noel Quentin SAYS...

    Thank you so much for the explanation and examples of the effects of color and prints on the overall visual success of the images!
    I just finished the flowers quilt and used lots of bold batiks and small geometrics, and I realized that even with flower petals, those tricks matter!