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How to Organize Fabric Swatches with Magnets

I love how this fabric swatch magnet board is both a helpful tool and a piece of art on its own. It looks so good in my sewing room!

Fabric swatches are so helpful when choosing fabrics for your sewing projects. Just like paint chips help you select paint colors, fabric swatch cards help you select just the right color for whatever you’re sewing.

Many fabric manufacturers sell color cards that have swatches of all the fabrics in a collection – such a great resource when making color palettes for your projects. But the problem is that the swatches are often affixed in a set layout, not allowing you to mix and match individual fabrics to your liking. If you’re like me, you want to look at fabric colors independently and arrange them to create unique color combinations.

The answer? Cut them up, just like paint chips! I’ll show you how to cut out fabric swatch card sections, stick magnetic sheets on the back, cut out the individual swatch magnets, and slap them up on a dry erase board. Whiteboards are magnetic! Who knew?!

In this tutorial, I’m sharing two methods: using a fabric swatch card that IS cut-out-friendly, and using one that’s not. Kona Cotton color cards (by Robert Kaufman) are cut-out-friendly, since the fabric swatches and text are all separated and glued in place so that you can easily cut them apart to make individual fabric swatch cards. Most all of the other manufacturer swatch cards are NOT cut-out-friendly, meaning the fabric swatches overlap each other and the text doesn’t line up. No matter which type you have, you can hack your color card – I’ll show you how.

TOOLS AND SUPPLIES

UPDATE: I’ve put together a kit of supplies needed for this tutorial. Just go to https://kit.com/angelabowman/how-to-organize-fabric-swatches-with-magnets, click BUY ALL ON AMAZON, and adjust your cart/quantities as you wish. Easy peasy in a couple clicks.
NOTE: All links are to amazon.com and most are affiliate links.

IF USING A FABRIC SWATCH CARD THAT HAS A CUT-OUT-FRIENDLY LAYOUT (KONA COTTON COLOR CARD)

  • Fabric swatches. I’m using the Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton color card with 303 fabric swatches.
  • Magnetic sheets. Adhesive-backed 8×10” sheets work great.
  • Scissors. Use mixed media shears for cutting through card stock and magnetic sheets.
  • Color wheel. Optional, but fun and helpful.
  • Magnetic dry erase board. I used a 35″ x 23″ whiteboard and this smaller 23″ x 17″ whiteboard would work well for fewer swatches. Make sure it is magnetic – some are, and some aren’t. Also, make sure it’s big enough to fit all your fabric swatches.
  • Installation supplies. Use an artist easel as a nice display support, or use hanging hardware & tools to put the dry erase board up on the wall.

IF USING A SWATCH CARD THAT IS NOT CUT-OUT-FRIENDLY (OR IF USING YOUR OWN LOOSE FABRIC SWATCHES)

  • Same items as above, plus the items below. Make sure the fabric swatches are at least 1” or 2” square (your choice). I prefer to use 1” for fabrics that read as solid colors and 2” for prints.

  • Printer.
  • Card stock. Inexpensive white 8.5×11” sheets will do just fine.
  • Printable swatch card template, available for 1” and 2” fabric swatch squares. Choose between two PDFs:

PDFs that you hand write the fabric details:

PDFs that are pre-populated with the fabric details:

INSTRUCTIONS FOR A FABRIC SWATCH CARD THAT IS CUT-OUT-FRIENDLY (LIKE KONA COTTON)

1. Cut out large sections of cards. Cut out the name of the fabric collection, too.

2. Cut out matching-sized adhesive magnetic sheets. To do this: with a pencil, trace the edges of the large card sections onto the paper side of the magnet. Then cut them out. Or, if you cut them a tiny bit smaller, they’ll be easier to align in the next step.

3. Peel away the adhesive paper from the magnets and press the card sections onto the exposed sticky surface. Align them as best as you can.

4. Cut out the individual swatch cards. Just cut on the lines. You now have a bunch of little fabric magnets!

5. Arrange onto the magnetic dry erase board. Use whatever layout you want!

6. Apply a magnet strip to back of a color wheel and place it on the whiteboard. Use it as a guide to create color palettes! I pressed the adhesive magnet to the back except for the middle portion, so the wheel can still spin around.

7. Install your fabric swatch organizer (formerly just a plain ol’ whiteboard). Put it on the wall, on an artist easel, or just keep it mobile to move around as you want. Enjoy! This whiteboard measures 35″ x 23” and is holding 303 1” fabric swatches, with lots of extra room for creating palettes.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR A FABRIC SWATCH CARD THAT IS NOT CUT-OUT-FRIENDLY (OR IF USING YOUR OWN LOOSE FABRIC SWATCHES)

1. Print the swatch card template PDF onto white card stock. Print at 100% (no scaling).

2. Cut out 1” squares of each of the fabrics. Or 2” squares if you’re using that size of template. A quilting ruler and rotary cutter make it easy. Make sure to keep the fabric squares in order, so you can label them correctly later on.

3. Apply Elmer’s washable school glue along the top 1” of the card rows. Smooth the glue with the foam brush. If using 2” squares, glue along the top 2”. Or, only apply a glue line to just the very top area if you want to keep the swatch loose to be able to feel the fabric between your fingers.

4. Press the fabric squares onto the glued area. After pressing with my fingers, I use a spare sheet of card stock to temporarily place on top and smooth out the entire sheet with my hands – like a pressing cloth.

5. Hand write a fabric details caption under the swatch. Use a fine-point black marker and very small print. TIP: You don’t have to do this step if you get the pre-populated PDF, linked above.

6. Repeat for each of the fabric swatches. To keep everything in order, I do one row at a time.

7. Cut away and discard the empty outer margins. If using a manufacturer’s swatch card, cut out and keep the name of the fabric collection.

8. Cut out matching-sized adhesive magnetic sheets. I’ve sized the swatch card template PDF to be close to 8×10” (a common size for magnetic sheets), so trimming will be minimal or not needed at all. With a pencil, trace the edges of the large card sections onto the paper side of the magnet. Then cut them out. Or, if you cut them a tiny bit smaller, they’ll be easier to align in the next step.

9. Peel away the adhesive paper from the magnets and press the card sections onto the exposed sticky surface. Align them as best as you can.

10. Cut out the individual swatch cards. Just cut on the lines. You now have a bunch of little fabric magnets!

11. Arrange onto the magnetic dry erase board. Use whatever layout you want!

12. Apply a magnet strip to back of a color wheel and place it on the whiteboard. Use it as a guide to create color palettes! I pressed the adhesive magnet to the back except for the middle portion, so the wheel can still spin around.

13. Install your fabric swatch organizer (formerly just a plain ol’ whiteboard). Put it on the wall, on an artist easel, or just keep it mobile to move around as you want. Enjoy! This whiteboard measures 20″ x 16” and is holding 50 1” fabric swatches, with lots of extra room for creating palettes.

TIPS

Make one of these for each color card and have fun making color palettes!

Consider making a single large 2” swatch card for each fabric collection, and only glue the top of the fabric square in place (about 1/4”) so you can feel the fabric and compare to other brands.

The 2” swatches work well for prints. I like making these for basic fabrics that won’t go out-of-print (OOP) anytime soon. These larger swatches show more of the fabric motif and help me visualize combos with other lines of fabric.

Go ahead, hack your color cards and make them into useful magnets!

Endor Quilt

Ah, Endor. Beautiful ancient trees. Rebels and troopers on speeder bikes. The underestimated Ewoks. That dang bunker door.
I designed and made this for an Endor-loving girl as part of the 2017 May the 4th Mini Quilt Swap #MayThe4thMQS2. It measures 24″ x 24″. The design started with my illustration, then I applied some digital effects, put it in a grid, and drew strategic straight lines to make it into a foundation paper piecing (FPP) sewing pattern. It’s very similar to the Vader Quilt I made.

 

I like to get all organized before I sew. Five flat solids for the sky, some grungy teals for the Death Star, a couple greys, and 9 shades of green. The special yellow ruler and postcard from the Idaho Youth Ranch (a non-profit who helps out kids) are great tools to help me keep the seams nice and tidy on the back. Funny note about green #6: it’s leftover fabric from a goblin costume I made for my son years and years ago for Halloween. Another funny note about g6: every time I sewed with it, I sang to myself “like a g6, like a g6”

Sewing up the 5 1/4″ squares and getting them on the design board. I didn’t have enough of the aqua blue fabrics to make up the digital design I came up with, so I made the lightest color white instead.

It’s pretty hard to stop sewing once I get started. Foundation paper piecing (FPP) is addicting.

Five more blocks to go…

Almost done. For my design board, I tape some white flannel onto a sheet of foam core. Pretty perfect. I can push pins in it and easily move it around. And hel-lo, these grunges: so delish.

Blocks are done. Now to sew these puppies together.

My joining method: Sew into rows and press seams open. Leave paper on. Align rows right sides together on an ironing board, put a pin in the intersections and push it all the way in through the ironing board. Put clips on either side, remove the pins, and sew.

You cute wittle death star.

Not gonna lie – music is required for this part. Tearing out the paper is a bit tedious, but worth it to make the design come to life.

Up next, give these back seams a good pressing.

I went with simple straight quilting lines. If I were better at quilting stitches, I’d get a little creative, but it’s just not in my wheelhouse right now. Plus, simple straight lines look good on most anything. Plus, I wanted to be sure not to detract from the piecing design.

Binding time. For the back I used a simple black and white cotton print.

I really really love this tree. The colors. The shape. I’m envisioning a little Ewok hiding in there somewhere.

Stardew Valley Rabbit Pillow

I just made this pillow for my daughter. Her favorite animal from her favorite video game = Easter perfection. She loves playing the Stardew Valley video game (so do I), so I know she’s going to flip when I give this to her. It’s a 16″ pillow that will go great in her bedroom.

I used Adobe Illustrator to make Eric Barone’s design come to life. I also mocked up a bouquet, which I may make later on. Or wouldn’t it be a cool cross-stitch?

I gathered some solid fabrics and printed my map.

I started the layout on the design wall and I got that anxious excited feeling since I knew it was going to turn out so cute!

I filled in the background with larger squares, tile-style.

Then simple, meditative sewing.

These seams are small (1/8″), and I like to press them open for ease in quilting later on. This mini iron is so, so perfect for this task.

This thing is magic. MAGIC, I tell you. #tinyseams #cloverusa #sewing #quilting @cloverusa

A post shared by Angela Bowman (@angelabdesign) on

 

Here’s the back of the patchwork panel. That mini iron makes pretty quick work of the seam-pressing.

And the front. Love it!

Somebunny is getting quilted. I stitched a simple cross-hatch…

…that gives dreamy texture galorrrrrrrre. It’s almost shimmery, even though I only used solids. For the thread, I used Aurifil 30wt in Dove. For the fabrics, I used Kona Cotton by Robert Kaufman.

The finished pillow back has a simple and pretty tied-knot, using a Cotton + Steel basic.

Self Portrait Behind the Pixels at QuiltCon 2017

I am so proud that my quilt “Self Portrait Behind The Pixels” was featured at QuiltCon 2017 in Savannah, Georgia on Feb 23-26. QuiltCon is an international modern quilt show and this is the first time I’ve had a quilt showcased at such a venue. My work was one of only 350 quilts selected from a pool of over 1,500 entries, chosen by a jury of modern quilters.

Though I wasn’t able to attend, a friend of mine took this photo for me. I really enjoyed going through the #quiltcon hashtag on Instagram and seeing pics of all the beautiful work. There’s tons of very talented people making absolutely stunning quilts.

Self Portrait Behind the Pixels Quilt

“Self Portrait Behind The Pixels”, 70″ x 70″, made in November 2016.
This is me, an actual human being behind my online presence. As we talk to each other online, please don’t forget that I am a real person behind the pixels. Let’s all be more understanding, respectful, and kind.
This is a concept that probably rings true for many of us; however this idea did not guide the design. In fact, I found its meaning after I made it.
It started with a selfie on Instagram – something I rarely post. Hey, I just got some highlights in my hair!

I cropped the image a bit, placed it in a grid, and applied some digital effects. Why a grid? It’s freeing. It makes an enormous project approachable – just make one square at a time. A grid makes it easier for me to find order and to help make a design come to life. It gives me a sense of clarity and confidence. Without it, I’m a bit overwhelmed and design is daunting. It just so happens that a grid gives a digital, pixelated effect that I love. And it’s pretty perfect for quiltmaking.

I brought the image into the Procreate App on my iPad, and used the Apple Pencil to translate for sewing via foundation paper piecing (FPP). Here’s a video of my process:


Here’s the resulting image.

And here’s the lines-only version.

I brought it into Adobe Illustrator, cleaned things up a bit, and established my color key. I gave myself the constraints of only using the fabrics that I already have, and only prints.

I separated each square into a FPP pattern and printed them off.

As I started making blocks and throwing them on the design wall, I felt a bit iffy about the fabrics. But I just told myself to go with it.

FPP is definitely one of my happy places, so I gladly just focused on that.

A bit more progress, and still a bit nervous. I worried that the eye was too weird. I powered on.

Finished with the blocks, now to sew them all together.

Then peeling off paper from the back. Oddly satisfying.

And the top is done! I changed up some of the background fabric choices, even using the “wrong” side of the fabric to give some value variation, a first for me.

Rather than quilting it myself, I sent the quilt top to my friend Laura Pukstas who has a longarm quilting machine. I told Laura that it’d be cool to have horizontal straight lines on the background, with the shapes (hair/eye/etc) to be outlined and filled with whatever she thinks is good. I love what she did.

So while I didn’t set out to make a statement quilt, it happened anyway. This design was guided by the simple art concepts of a grid, polygonal shapes, and materials constraints, yet I happened upon its perfect narrative at the end, without even thinking of assigning any meaning during the making process. Fascinating. I wonder how intentionally connecting meaning early in the process will affect my work.

I’ll leave you with this: Let’s look through the pixels, see each other as the beautiful humans we are, and make more of an effort to understand one other before passing judgment online.

Vader Quilt

Yeahhhhh, Vader. I designed and made this for a Vader-loving girl in New Orleans as part of the 2016 May the 4th Mini Quilt Swap #MayThe4thMQS. It measures 24″ x 24″ and includes 5 colors of Robert Kaufman Kona Cotton: black, pepper, charcoal, coal, and iron.

The design started with a photo, then I applied some digital effects, put it in a grid, and drew strategic straight lines to make it into a foundation paper piecing (FPP) sewing pattern. This project “forced” me to hone my Adobe Illustrator skills 🙂

Most of the squares are made from very simple FPP, and some are just plain fabric squares. I sewed all the squares together and then it was paper removal time. A bit fussy, but so worth the effort to get such a precise design.

Wanting to see the design come to life results in a sewing frenzy that’s hard to stop, which is often how it goes for me with FPP projects. You know when you design something, and you’re not quite sure how it will actually turn out, and then it surpasses your expectation? Yeah, that! And in case you were wondering, I pressed most of the seams to the dark side.

Quilting is a simple diagonal cross-hatch.

I had a lot of fun making this, and it’ll likely be the only time I make this quilt design. I contacted Lucasfilm asking if I could make the pattern available for free, and they said no. Disappointing, but it is what it is.

Lips Quilt

So, I made a quilt of my lips. The vibe: 80’s geek chic.
I made a few of them, actually. This one is 66″ x 66″. I used just three fabrics: a textured dot ombre, flat ombre, and white background.
The design started with my lipsticked smooch on a piece of paper. Quite silly, but fun.

I scanned it to my computer and added some digital effects.

I drew digital lines and made a foundation paper piecing pattern. Each square is paper-pieced then sewn together in rows then columns. Here’s another smaller version, measuring 33″ x 33″. I used batik fabrics for the lips, pale solids for the pixel-y edges, and a creamy white for the background.

Here’s another mini version, measuring 22″ x 22″. Prints for lips, flat solids for pixelated edges, and a light background.

I quilted each differently, opting for straight lines on this one.

MAKE Mini Quilt in Modern Patchwork Magazine

You like to make stuff, yes? Then you neeeeeeeed to make this MAKE mini quilt that I designed especially for you. Display it in your maker studio, STAT.

It’s a fun little sewing project inspired by the wonderfully geeky and 80’s pixel font “Edit Undo” by Brian Kent. You can find it in the Summer 2016 issue of Modern Patchwork magazine. UPDATE: You can find it in the book Modern Patchwork Home. It measures about 9″ x 26″ and it’s a fantastic way to use 1″ strips of fabric scraps.

It looks pretty good on a light background. I used Kona Cotton White for the background and for the letters I used SunPrint 2016 fabric prints by Alison Glass for Andover Fabrics.

I must say it looks cool on a dark background, too. Here I used Kona Cotton Charcoal for the background and batik scraps for the letters.

You can make one using the publisher’s instructions in Modern Patchwork magazine by using sewing pins and pressing seams open, or you can make it the easy-peasy way like I did, with glue-basting and pressing seams in one direction. If you go the glue-basting route, grab some Elmer’s Washable School Glue and these Micro Fine Glue Tips sold by my bud Cristy Fincher.

This is a quick make, folks! (see what I did there?) Make one and share it online via #MAKEminiquilt.

How to Sew Half-Square Triangles (HST) – 8 at a Time

I’m going to show you how to sew half-square triangles (HST), 8 at a time. This is great when you want a large number of identical HSTs.
Watch the video and follow along with the photo tutorial below.

The basic process is to start with 2 same-size squares, mark lines on one of the squares, layer, sew, cut, press, and trim.
In this tutorial, I’m starting with 10-inch squares, a standard size in the quilting industry. Another very common size is 5-inch squares. Stacks of these pre-cut squares are widely-available, found in most any quilt shop, so it’s no surprise that these are my two favorite sizes to work with.

  • 10” squares make (8) 4” trimmed HSTs
  • 5” squares make (8) 2” trimmed HSTs.

To calculate the size of the original 2 squares: take your desired HST size, add one, then multiply by two. So for 4″ HSTs: 4 + 1 = 5 x 2 = 10″ fabric squares.
1. Start with 2 same-size fabric squares. Quilting cotton is best.

2. Mark 4 centered lines on the wrong side of one of the squares: one vertical, one horizontal, and two diagonal. I like to use a regular pencil, but any fabric marker would work. You could even use creases instead, using an iron or a creasing tool.

3. Layer the 2 squares right sides together. You could pin them together, but I usually don’t. They always seem to stick together just fine.

4. Sew 4 seams, 1/4-inch from each side of the diagonal lines. Repeat, the diagonal lines only.

5. Cut on the marked lines. Use scissors or a rotary cutter, whichever you prefer.

6. Press the seams. I like to press the seams open. But if you like to press seams to one side, cool. Do what works best for you. I almost always press open so the quilt block lies nice and flat. Also, at this point I may not know the final arrangement of all these HSTs in the project I’m making. Depending on the HST layout, if I press seams to one side, some might double-up on each other making it bulky and bumpy. Not good. I don’t like my design decisions to be dictated by seam direction. Pressed-open seams give me design flexibility, which is good!

7. Trim the HSTs.
Why trim? Because it helps to ensure accuracy, which is important when trying to match all of those HST points when you sew them all together. Trimming is a last step that helps to attain precision despite any flaws made in the process, like imperfectly cut squares or a seam that is not an immaculate 1/4 inch. Also, you’ve just sewn on the bias, which is where fabric stretches most. So let’s correct any stretching or flaws with a simple trim, to align our seams the best we can!
You’ll need a cutting mat, a rotary cutter, and a gridded transparent ruler with a 45-degree line.
First, determine the desired cut size. In this example, we’re trimming the HST down to 4 inches square.
Line up the ruler’s 45-degree line with the diagonal seam, then make sure the desired cut size is within the appropriate lines on the ruler.

Here, I’m picturing the 4-inch square lines on the ruler, and I can see that I have excess fabric on all four sides.

Using the rotary cutter, trim off the right and top sides of the HST.

Lift the ruler and rotate the HST so the un-cut corner is now at the top-right. Just like we did before, line up the ruler’s 45-degree line with the diagonal seam, but this time make sure the freshly-cut corner (now at the bottom-left) is aligned nicely with the appropriate lines on the ruler. This quilting ruler makes it easy.

Again using the rotary cutter, trim off the right and top sides of the HST.

All trimmed and precise. Do this for each HST. See how the diagonal seam goes corner to corner? That’s important later on, for when you want to sew a bunch together and get the seams to match!