How to choose fabric to make boxes - Colorway Arts

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How to choose fabrics to make boxes

First of all, the "art of making boxes" out of cardboard, fabric and glue is called CARTONNAGE! It's an amazing technique that combines our passion for fabric with passion for crafting and making new and different projects that can be beautiful functional handmade gifts!

I'm Claudia Squio, the designer and teacher from ColorWay Arts, and I have been making and sharing this amazing technique with thousands of fabric/paper lovers around the World through my local and online classes!

One of the questions that I most receive is: What is the best fabric to make the boxes?
Plus, I always receive compliments for the fabrics I choose to make my projects, making them so unique, one-of-a-kind. So, I decided to tell you a few tips about that subject, what I have been using  and how  I choose the material! Hope you enjoy and also let us know what you do to choose the perfect fabrics for your projects!

What kind of fabric is better for Cartonnage projects?

100 % cotton -  that's the best ever! Quilt cotton, if you are familiar with. This is your first and easiest choice to have a great project, wonderful finishing and don't worry about gluing, because it does glue very well.  Fat quarters are my first choice for lots of projects. I have designed several projects to be made with only two coordinating fat quarters. Wonderful gifts, easy to make and so unique. Check the variety of DIY kits available in the shop.

Avoid solid fabric -  Do you know Kona cotton? So, that kind of fabric is NOT good for cartonnage, the glue passes through so easily and the fabric get marked on the right side of it and it's more difficult to remove. So, if you like solid fabrics, I would say go with a fabric that has some shades, like Grunge fabrics, or other fabrics with shade.

Batiks  -  Yes, yes, I love batiks, they behave so well when making our boxes! They are thinner fabrics, the glue work perfectly and the corners, oh, the corners are so easily done and are perfect. If you never tried batiks in Cartonnage, I do recommend you to test, very good to work with!

Light or dark fabric -  it depends.....if it's your first project, I recommend light colors, as you haven't practice gluing yet and you may mark some points of the box with glue. Darker fabric will show up the glue marks more, so, for more fun, start with a lighter fabric until you are familiar with the gluing process, then, go to more darker ones!

Synthetic fabrics? - do not start with them.... you can make beautiful projects using some synthetic fabrics like suede for example, but there are some important differences and I wrote another blog post only about this. So, check it out if you want.

How to coordinate fabrics to make a box

Here is where actually the fun begins.... planning your box, choosing your fabrics, have fun shopping... (who doesn't right?).  l love spending some time in a quilt shop finding good selection of fabrics for my boxes. I know, this year, we are mostly buying online, so, as we can't feel, touch, is more difficult to decide, but anyways, we are learning to do that too! 
For most of Cartonnage projects we use 2 coordinating fabrics. We can use more, of course, but with 2 you can have a great contrasting and beautiful project. 
 I usually choose first the "pattern" fabric I want to use, like floral or other ones, and then find the coordinating one for it. 

So, let's see here some tips for choosing the main fabric:

1) Who is this box (or other project) for? Does the person you are making the box for have a preferred color choice? Maybe a favorite fabric designer? Or any subject of preference? So, this is the first thing to think about if the box is a gift. Sometimes I don't really like the fabric I'm using, but if it's not for me, that doesn't matter.. it's important that the person I'm making it for like it.  So, in this case we use a lot  sewing related fabrics, or fabric with dogs, cats, etc.  For a long time I have made/sell  fabric kindle cases and the number one fabric for that project was always the "library" theme fabric, I would say for obvious reasons.... take a look how unique:

2) Is there a new fabric released?
 I have to confess that I like going to the shops and look at the new fabrics that are just released.... but this is just a preference, I have done wonderful boxes and projects out of fabrics that were in my stash for a long time. Actually that's another great tip....check your stash... you probably have many good options at home already!

3) Go to the shop and simply "unfocused"... What? Yes, that's my favorite way of choosing fabrics.... I go to the shop, look from a little far away of the fabric shelves, kind of trying to "unfocused".... I don't look straight to something in specific, and wait to see which one mostly catches my attention.... seems crazy? but for me works very well... there are so so many beautiful ones, so, it's difficult to choose one. This way works perfectly for me, out of many, one or another catches my attention and then I go look closer and start comparing and choosing. 

4) Ask opinion - sometimes is hard to decide. In those cases, I ask the opinion of the staff of the store. What do you think? Which one will be better for a box? Which one are you selling more?? Then I add that opinion to my decision, but not always follow it....(LOL) . By the way, the first day I asked the opinion of a fabric in a quilt shop I returned to show the project I made and was invited to teach at that shop.... great memories! 

Now that you have your main patterned fabric, it's time to choose the coordinating one, and here there is also so many options. So, let's see here some tips for choosing the coordinating fabric:

 1) Check the same collection/designer of fabric - that's far the easiest way to go. And if the shop keeps the whole collection together is even easier. So, if you are not sure how to coordinate, look for the suggestion of the designer, they usually have some coordinating ones to go with the fabric you have chosen.  That's usually my way to buy online. In the computer is usually difficult to identify the real color tone, so, if you buy same collection, suggested by the shop, you will certainly go right.

2) Pick a variety of fabrics that may coordinate with your main fabric, put them close (like in the picture below) and see which one you like most.... here my suggestion is.... choose 1 color that you mostly like in the main fabric and find a fabric of that color that may work.  Here, we have many options, fabrics only with shades... with polka dots....with geometric designs...

See how different the project can be using this floral as a main fabric and changing the coordinating one. Which one do you most like?

Did you see?  Same main fabric, but if you choose a different coordinating one, your project will be completely different. So, may be you would prefer the colorful one or the light pink if the project is for a little girl (like I did, check picture of my box below), may be if is for you, you would like the geometric.... the possibilities are endless... same as the fun time!

Here is the Charming Fabric Box/Suitcase that we made in the  Online Cartonnage Retreat, from 2020.

3) Are you adding embroideries or other arts?If you are adding your embroideries to the boxes, it's very personal, but one good option is using a neutral fabric that will help show up your embroidery better. So, for this case, fabrics like "grunge" or other ones with a very small design or shades work better.  See below 2 of the same boxes as above, but in the first one we added the machine embroidery and in the second one, we used hand-embroidery. 

4) Do you need very contrasting fabrics? Not everyone likes very contrasting fabrics together, I have to confess that I only started using this option this year, and I'm really happy with it. Sometimes a good contrast will show up the project and the main fabric so much better than if you use like 2 "busy" fabrics.... see the Mystery Glue Along box that we had an online class this year. 

 Earlier this year I also made a box with a quilt block on the lid. That was also lots of fun, and I'm so glad I chose contrasting fabrics, so, the quilt block really shows up (even shows that I'm not a quilter and don't know how to sew straight and neat...LOL... I know, I just wanted to show a possibility so you can do better!) :

 5) Most important: Have fun!Cartonnage is SO unique and fun to make and I don't believe you will get wrong.... any of your favorite fabrics will work out great and you will be making unique boxes, having SO much fun!! Just start with quilt cotton and you will be absolutely fine! 

Those are the tips I have for you to choose your fabrics! Have fun because the possibilities are endless.... and let me know in the comments if you have additional tips for us! Let's get connected!

Be connected in a community of fabric lovers that are having lots of fun making boxes, show your fabric choices, ask your questions or opinions in our Facebook Group: Cartonnage Fabric Boxes.

And now, it's the right time to join our next FREE workshop from April 17-19, 2024. Let's make a beautiful and unique Sliding Lid Fabric box while learning so much about this technique? Don't wait a minute, click here for more information and register today!

See you soon! Happy gluing,


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  • Sandy HearthApr 15, 2024

    Hi Claudia! In this blig post about choosing fabric colors you mentioned that you made fabric covers for Kindles. Is there a DIY Kit you can recommend for making one? Thanks in advance.
    Colorway Arts replied:
    Hi Sandy, there isn’t a kit as there are many types of kindles. But in the Club members area there is the tutorial showing how you can make one for the kindle you have! Fun!!Sent from my iPhone

  • Donita RadaApr 10, 2024
    Very well written comments about choosing fabric.
  • Elaine de ChantalApr 10, 2024

    Sorry but I need to back out this time. Have a great class!

  • GloriaJean McCormickApr 09, 2024

    The project look awesome, can’t wait to try them.

  • Bev GordonOct 29, 2021

    Hi Claudia, thank you for this information this helps immensely with choosing correctly. Happy Gluing. 💐

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