Ask Jo: Those White Based Neutrals

Every so often questions and comments come from readers that I think others would like to hear my response to.  That’s when I feature them on the blog.  This is one of those days.

Sharon said, “I love your version of this quilt – it sparkles! I was wondering which ruler you ended up using for this”.

I used the companion angle ruler.

Cindy asked, “What a wonderful one! What size is your unfinished hour glass unit, thank you?”

The blocks finished at 3 1/2″.

Myra wrote, “Still loving the hourglass quilt.  Question…how much thought do give to color placement?  Do you randomly pick two greens, oranges, etc. or do you audition before sewing?”

When I pick that fabric for the quilt, I’m fairly careful.  I don’t pick any green.  Greens can be so picky.  There is lime green, olive green and forest green to name a few.  For this quilt…I used from lime green to primary green.  If it was olivey or foresty green, I didn’t use it.  Pinks went from light to raspberry but I tried to avoid peachy pinks.  I always test that out by laying a piece of white based neutral next to the fabric and a cream based neutral next to the fabric.  I wanted the color to compliment the white based fabric most.

For the Hourglass quilt, being it was bright colors, I didn’t use white based neutrals that have a lot of black coloring in them.  (You know…the kind of black and white neutrals that are in the black and white section of the quilt shop)  I used white that had print colors similar to the print colors in the quilt.

Once the blocks are all made, I do not put them up on a design wall or floor layout.  I try to shuffle the stacks a bit but I just grab and sew them together.  If two fabric fall together so be it.  It bothers me not one ounce.  I know others would be bothered…I’m just not.  I’m sewing for fun not perfection.  If I can avoid them touching I do but if they end up touching I’m okay with that too.

Judith said, “You are seriously into white neutrals Jo. It’s a great looking store. I want to see a close up of the gnome material. What great fun to find what you need”.

I am seriously into neutrals.  I didn’t used to be but that’s changed in the last few years every since I made our “Thanks to You!” quilt.

I made it first in this version…which was done with quite a lot of Civil War scraps.


I later went on and made this version in brights.  I learned that I loved loud and busy background prints.  I’d like to say no white on white fabrics for me but that’s not true either.  I’ll used them and use them often but only if they are mixed with something loud.

ThankstoYOU
I loved the star quilt and later went on to make our Plus Fun quilt that was published in McCalls Quilting Magazine.  Read more about that HERE.

Plus-Fun-3
It’s a super easy quilt…just alternate blocks of a plus block and and neutral nine patch block.  It was so fun to make though.

Plus-Fun-2
Ruby even liked it….

Plus-Fun-Quilt-5
Carla a blog reader wrote:  “Seeing this quilt (the Hourglass quilt) has made me realize I need to rethink my thoughts on low-value prints. You use a lot of so-called neutrals that actually do contain a lot of color. That whole side of quilting always trips me up.”

It was about when I made the Plus Fun quilt that I realized I needed to rethink what I used for neutrals.  I realized I love loud and busy backgrounds.  Look close at the picture above with Ruby.  Imagine that quilt made with white on white fabric.  It would lose the fun and zest.  I love it busy.

Anyway….I used so much of my fabric stash of white based neutrals up on these two quilts that I started buying white based neutrals whenever I went to fabric stores.  I am a cheapskate without a huge fabric budget and I love lots of variety so I typically only buy quarter yards or fat quarters.  Oh my though, it sure can make a fun quilt!!

This year I have made several quilts with white based neutrals and it’s really took a big hit on my stash.

I made the pink Geese on a String….

I made the purple Geese on a String….


I made the Crooked Courthouse Steps….



I made the Hourglass quilt.


…and I made the Wild Child quilt.


Even that had some fun white based neutrals.

..and I made the Jewel Box quilt.


This one has lots of fun neutrals!!
All of these are have neutrals that SING.  I love it.  Long ago if I went to the quilt store, I could come out with a pretty little stack of Civil War fat quarters.  There wouldn’t have been a neutral in the bunch.  Not anymore…I go to a fabric store and all I buy are neutrals.


I believe that these make the quilt fun and zippy, especially in scrap quilts which is really all I make.  I love pretty much all types and styles of quilts.  I appreciate the work and love that goes into all of them.  But if it’s a quilt I’m making, it’s going to be scrappy and the background prints are going to be a scrappy and busy and loud and a mixture of fun.  So if you find me at the quilt store, I’ll be looking for neutrals…that is if my pocket book can handle it.

13 thoughts on “Ask Jo: Those White Based Neutrals

  1. Donna

    I love this post. I have been through my scraps and realize I have maybe 1 yard total of white neutrals in the form of charm squares and a few 2 1/2 strips. Sounds like I need to do a bit of shopping too! If I can find a place to hide…er…store them!
    Love and prayers

  2. Julie J Vogel

    I LOVE your use of white neutrals with color! I have been hooked on neutral fabric with words and I like the texture and contrast they add. But most do not have much color. Seeing your quilts with the added splash of color is an eye opener for me! Thank you for sharing! And all of your quilts are gorgeous!!

  3. Cindy F

    I love the scrappiness in your quilts! They really do sparkle with the white and print neutrals. I started using scrappy neutrals with Bonnie’s Grand Illusion mystery. I was so hesitant to use them and it’s interesting to see my progression as I’ve expanded my choices. With the current mystery I’m trying to use the whiter only neutrals and went and bought more as I found my stash was heavier on the cream side. I’ve come to love them and now don’t like using the tone on tone that much but will have to sneak some in on a project here and there until they’re gone.

  4. Judith Fairchild

    I love how you put your Scrappy quilts together. I’m currently in a bit of a pickle as I made blocks without using any neutrals and it just isn’t working thanks for the reminder. Neutrals have a big place in a good quilt.

  5. Flo Burton

    Thank you so much for writing this blog about using neutrals. I have plenty of white based neutrals with color but didn’t know how to use them unless they perfectly blended with the fabric. I’m going to start cutting the neutrals today to make the hourglass quilt. Your quilts are an inspiration to me.

  6. The Eclectic Abuela

    I, too, love neutrals. I have lots of gorgeous prints and colors, but they can’t shine without neutrals. I try to add a bit of whimsey to my quilts, and fun neutrals are a good way to do it without overwhelming everything else. Great post!

  7. The Joyful Quilter

    I absolutely LOVE your quilts with all those fun white-based neutrals!! Love them, but have trouble buying them myself. I have a stack of scraps from friends. Here’s hoping they open my world to purchasing white-based neutrals!

  8. Vivian B.

    I too am stashing more and more neutrals influenced by doing the Bonnie Hunter mysteries. My tendency in the past was to buy more cream/tan based neutrals but I realized I liked Bonnie’s quilts and hers had a whole lot of white based ones. It can be hard though when out shopping to visualize if a white print with color will read neutral enough when teamed with other things. I’m always afraid they’ll be “too bright” or the color in them too strong. Looking at the stash gathered for your picture, I guess the old saying goes: if you think a few are too much then you haven’t used enough of them yet!

  9. Susan the Farm Quilter

    I hate to be a Debbie Downer, but should you give the unit measurements for a quilt that is someone else’s pattern? Maybe just put a link to Bonnie’s page for them to go and get the instructions for themselves. I know that is a huge deal for her with the mystery quilts because traffic to her blog is directly related to her income. I know you love Bonnie and wouldn’t deliberately do anything to hurt her or violate her copyright on the pattern, and you are just trying to help out your reader, but I think, just like Bonnie asks for the mystery quilts, direct the traffic to her page for that free pattern.

  10. Virginia Grenier

    Jo, you and I are kindred spirits. I too almost only work with scraps so the neutrals are extremely important.

    Virginia
    Clearbrook MN

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