Thursday, December 11, 2014

Modern Low Volume vs Traditional Quilting Neutrals

Low Volume fabrics have become very popular in the modern quilting world and while there are many different opinions on what is or isn't Modern Low Volume, I thought I'd take a moment and talk about low volume prints and how they differ from Traditional Quilting Neutrals.

When I first saw a quilt using Modern Low Volume fabrics I thought "Wow, what a great idea. So fresh and modern". But as the wave of quilts and fabric bundles have come out I also have noticed that many new quilters are still confused as to what Modern Low Volume fabrics are.

From here on I will refer to Modern Low Volume fabric as MLV and Traditional Quilting Neutrals as TQN.

Traditional Quilting Neutrals

Photo credit - Keepsake Quilting Butter Churn bundle

I think I need to explain first what TQN fabrics are, or at least what I think they are. 

I made this quilt many years ago in Civil War Repros.

Back in the day (yuck that makes me sound old) - when I first started quilting I was a traditional quilter, I used Civil War reproduction fabrics, 1930's reproduction fabrics, muddy colors and lots of beige. 

A baby quilt I made as a gift in 1930's repro.

I used a lot of what was called Neutrals or now called TQN fabrics for backgrounds. I  loved them at the time, and the simple truth is that was all we had available for background fabrics other than the typical solid fabric or muslin.

Traditional Quilting Neutrals

Above is an example of TQN fabrics commonly used in traditional quilts as background fabrics. TQN are usually tone on tone prints ranging from off-white to beige with a warm tone to them.

Example of TQN used in the background. I made this quilt as a challenge to use all stash and scrap fabrics. 

Most TQN have little to no color other than the cream to beige range, although they can have a little color in them - small amounts and very subtle.

Mini Log Cabin Heart quilt made using TQN.

While the quilts above are beautiful, they say to me 'Traditional' as opposed to 'Modern'. I can appreciate a traditional quilt just as much as I can appreciate an 'Art' quilt or 'Modern' quilt! And it doesn't hurt my feelings if you call them traditional, because I understand the concept between Modern vs Traditional. (and those are my traditional quilts I am showing above :)

Modern Low Volume Prints

With the Modern and Modern-Traditionalism quilt movement came the use of modern prints for background fabrics and thus created the MLV trend.

MLV fabrics are often graphic prints with white or light gray backgrounds, and can contain color.

The MLV fabric use was slowly building until the book 'Sunday Morning Quilts: 16 Modern Scrap Projects' by Amanda Jean Nybery and Cheryl Arkison was published, then the quilting world exploded with MLV fabric bundles and projects.

Photo credit - Westwood Acres Inside Voices Club

MLV fabrics are bright and clean as opposed to the TQN that are more muted and warm in tone. When looking for MLV fabrics look for graphic prints on white or very light background.

Riley Blake's Geekly Chic Glasses on off-white
I try and stay away from fabrics with a cream or beige background that has very little contrast or no color. With the exception of graphic prints on off-white backgrounds. Sometimes you will come across MLV fabrics with a muted background like the example above. Riley Blake's Geekly Chic Glass fabric in off-white is a modern graphic print and an excellent MLV.

Tailored Key by Annette Tatum for Free Spirit

Annette Tatum's fabric 'Tailored - Key' for Free Spirit graphic print with royal blue on a crisp white background is a great example of a MLV fabric. Using a bold color in a tiny print that is toned down with the white background.

Posy by Aneel Hoey

'Posy' by Aneel Hoey is another example of a MLV fabric, a whimsical print with a white background and small doses of color. 

While just about any pale modern print fabric can be classified as a MLV, it is more about the use in a modern quilt for the overall visual effect.

Photo credit - Film in the Frig's quilt Marcelle Plus 

In the Marcelle Plus quilt by 'Film in the Fridge', Ashley Newcomb uses many MLV fabrics for the background and bold color prints for the pluses. The bold color prints stand out but play nicely against the MLV fabrics. Your eye is drawn to the pluses and the MLV blend into the background.

This lovely low volume quilt was made by Rita Hodge of 'Red Pepper Quilts'  she uses all MLV fabrics here. In this quilt she lets the low volume fabrics sing, and though some may stand out more than others, this quilt has a calming feel to it.

Mod Pop by Anne Sullivan of Play-Crafts

Mod Pop by Anne Sullivan of Play-Crafts is a wonderful example of MLV in tones of light gray and bright bold blue prints. Not only a very modern use of fabric but a very modern design.

Pillow Tutorial by Amanda of A Crafty Fox

Amanda from 'A Crafty Fox' created this pillow pattern and tutorial using MLV, bold colorful prints and Essex linen. Again a great example of using MLV fabrics to make the bold colors pop - the orange hexagons are the first thing you see.

Here in 'Her Light Within' a mini quilt, I used a few MLV prints in two quarters of the large sun to contrast the stark white, orange and aqua prints.

Both MLV and TQN have been used as backgrounds in quilts and both are equally beautiful, yet they have totally different aesthetics and create an overall different visual outcome.

Hopefully I may have helped you and not added to the confusion of the question 'What is a low volume fabric?'.

Will I make more quilts with TQN? Of course! Will I make more quilts with MLV? You can bet on that!!


PS - all the spelling and grammar errors are free of charge ;)
(I am a notoriously horrible English student)


  1. Thank you so much for this lovely explanation! It clears a lot he evolution of the quilting world!

  2. Thanks so much for explaining this! Wonderful!

  3. I love your TQN heart! Thank you for the tutorial, you made it so understandable and I have been mixing them up to make one big TQNMLV quilt.

  4. I think that shirtings while they fall strongly into the traditional (civil war reproduction) camp, they work well with modern low volume prints too. (The thimbleberry type neutral might be a harder one to make play nice though.)


Related Posts with Thumbnails