The Dress Test

We recently filmed an episode of Quilty about building a fabric stash. Yes, there are actually some guidelines — or “do’s” and “don’t” when you’re doing this and yes, rules are meant to be broken, so go ahead and buy more fabric and damn the consequences.

Still, who wants a whole bunch of fabric that you never, ever use, right? Right. Not this quilter. I’d rather use what I have and buy more of what I love. It is in this spirit that I realized I do something called “The Dress Test” when I buy fabric. This is how The Dress Test goes in my head:

Me: Ooh. I like that fabric.

Myself: Yes, it is delicious.

Me: If this print were magically a dress at my favorite department store, would I want to try it on and wear it all the time and feel pretty and happy?

Myself: Yes. I would like to be twirling in this fabric as soon as possible.

Me: I’ll take it.

If the answer to my question is “No, if this fabric were a dress, I would either pass by it on the rack or I would buy it and never wear it because it actually is not that great,” then I don’t buy the fabric.

The reasoning is simple: if I like a fabric enough that I’d put it on my body, I’m pretty much guaranteed to put it into a quilt. And why should I ever, ever buy anything that *doesn’t* pass The Dress Test? There’s so much fabric out there, I feel like I should be in love with every single one.

Below is a very, very sneak peek at my latest quilt. I’m calling it “My Little Black Dress” or maybe “42 Dresses” or maybe “Twirling Skirts.” All of these prints (featured in the lovely and visually rockin’ Cracker Jack block) most definitely passed The Dress Test. In fact, I wish they WERE dresses! And for all those fashionistas out there, the red and black has significance for the setting… All of these dresses would look great with black Louboutin heels, no? Et voila.

Viva la fashion!

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Mary Fons

About Mary Fons

Mary Fons hails from a prominent quilt mafia family. A professional writer and performer, Mary co-hosted the nationally-airing PBS program "Fons & Porter's Love of Quilting" along with her mom, famed quilter and educator Marianne Fons. In 2010, Mary began hosting Quilty, an online show offered weekly on In 2012, Mary became editor of Quilty magazine. She holds a Theater Arts BA from the University of Iowa.

12 thoughts on “The Dress Test

  1. That is a great fabric test!! I like to use up my fabrics, too, but I will admit to sometimes buying fabric I don’t LOVE just because it is on clearance. Ugh trying to save a buck.

  2. Jackie!!! I was hoping you’d see it!! Everyone reading this should know that the setting of the Cracker Jack block was absolutely inspired by Miss Jackie. A student of mine at Sievers, Jackie was the one who played around with the blocks I had and gave me a real “a-ha!” moment. xoxoxo!

  3. Thanks for the shout-out!!! And red is my favorite color! The green quilt top has been pieced. 5 blocks by 6 blocks. It looks awesome!! Thank you for the inspiration. I am calling it Sophe’s Emeralds. In honor of the studio and you. xoxo

  4. Boy, do I love this predominatly red and black spectacle! Are you using the same red fabric for all the squares? And are the black ‘fins’ around the centers the same size or as they appear – cut kinda wonky?

  5. Hi Marry! I just recently found your podcast and want to thank you sew much ! I am a beginner-ish quilter and need like a quilting nanny 🙂 anywho, I too try to be selective in my fabric purchases. I ask myself if I would find that print at one of my fav stores or used by a favorite designer.

  6. Love what you’ve done with black and white. The color red always seems to add a touch of elegance and fun to black and white. Thanks for another great idea for that combination and also the block is just great.

  7. Now there are times when you might buy a perfectly wonderful fabric that you wouldn’t want to wear as a dress, but would work awfully nice in a quilt—landscape fabric, “kitchen” fabric, “character” fabric, some brights, possibly not “dress” worthy, but quilt worthy!