I received such an interesting question by email (thank you Deborah!) about my favourite background fabrics and, like many of your email enquiries, I thought it would be a great subject for a blog post. Background fabric - just like background music - really sets the tone, so it's an important consideration when planning a quilt. Especially as you tend to be buying a lot of it. Most quilters start to develop passionate opinions about the subject.
Let's stick with the music analogy and start with the ivories :-P
I do have a couple of favourites that I keep coming back to, both Moda Bella Solids. My first love was Bella porcelain (182) which I like to think of as the "Farrow & Ball" off-white, slightly creamy but not too yellow, with the merest hint of grey. It works really well with the soft, vintagey fabrics I'm drawn to, like Tilda, Fig Tree, Lori Holt and French General.
For my brighter/lighter favourites, such as Bonnie & Camille, Corey Yoder and Lella Boutique, I prefer Bella off white (200). I don't think I've ever used true white in a quilt as it can look grey - and not in a good way - if not paired with saturated colours.
Although I don't often choose printed backgrounds, or blenders - as they're more expensive than solids - I do really love printed linen textures, like French General Linen Texture in pearl, which adds an extra subtle layer of detail to a quilt.
As well as those go to ivories, I also enjoy using soft aquas, which allow me to use cream prints in my blocks. Again these are all Moda Bellas. Hometown sky (9900 177) pairs beautifully with porcelain as it has the same 'knocked back' colour tone; ruby ice (9900 169) is the cleaner, brighter version and breeze (9900 132) is slightly warmer and greener in tone.
If I'm looking for a linen or warm grey background - which again works with cream prints - I've used French General Linen Texture in oyster or, if I need a solid, Riley Blake's Confetti Cotton in Ash (C120-ASH), which is the 'goldilocks' choice: not to light and not too dark; not too cool and not too warm.
Lately I've been using darker backgrounds, which are more dramatic as they really make the prints sing out. Moda Bella etchings charcoal (9900 171) and the slightly lighter etchings slate (9900 170) both have a warmness to them which is softer than true black or dark grey. I also love Makower's Linen Texture in - from dark to mid tones - charcoal, slate and storm.
Liberty introduced their Wiltshire Shadow blenders last year, which I was excited to try. I used the greys and an off white in my Sweetbriar quilt. And I also have a Riley Blake Swiss Dot in steel - actually a warm dark grey - which I've bought to substitute for the background print in my Spellbound Sampler kits.
Lastly, let's not forget the bold backgrounds, which I've had varying success with. My Sailing By Sampler used a white on cobalt blender from the range of fabric I was using (Feedsacks True Blue by Linzee Kull McCray for Moda) which I still love but sadly can't get any more of, but I have a bolt of white on denim blue Riley Blake Swiss Dot, which I'm looking forward to experimenting with.
Experimenting with background colour an a mock-up of my Carnation cushion...
The Midsummer Sampler used four different background colours - pale pink, primrose yellow, mint green and duck egg blue - all drawn from the Lori Holt Granny Chic prints used in the quilt. Lighter colours are definitely a safer way of experimenting with background colour.
My Tulips from Amsterdam quilt used a shot cotton by Oakshott, which I have mixed feelings about. It added some beautiful texture to my quilt and definitely captured the 'watery' look I was going for but is was an expensive choice for such a large quilt.
I also used a red background - Bella geranium (9900 258) - on the Stepping Stones quilt I made for the Moda Bakeshop. Red is a bold colour and, in retrospect, I wish I'd gone for a linen texture blender or dot to mute the colour. Next time!
If you're still looking for just the right background fabric for a particular collection of prints, many designers share details of the solids that match their fabrics. And if you're keen to try something new, draw up a shortlist and buy a few Fat Quarters to audition your prints against. You'll have your own favourites on shuffle before you know it!