Quilting Blog

Shabby Chic Quilting: What Is Low-Volume Fabric?

The trend to use low-volume fabrics in quilting is actually a very classic idea. Many antique and vintage quilts feature low-volume prints as background fabrics simply because solid fabrics were a bit harder to come by. If an early quilter didn’t have solid fabric yardage, she most certainly had leftovers of light prints and calicoes that could be used as background fabrics.

This same technique is trending again with many of today’s quilts featuring low-volume quilt fabrics as backgrounds and appliqué foundations. Not only are these fabrics perfect for these uses, but an entire quilt can be pieced with these fabrics, creating a “shabby chic” classic look.

What is low-volume fabric? Read on and learn more!

Low-volume quilt fabrics

Photos via Sherri McConnell at A Quilting Life

Low-volume fabrics are defined as fabrics that “read” as light fabrics but at the same time have a secondary pattern or design. Just one of these fabrics can be used as the background for an entire quilt, but it’s even more fun to combine many different low-volume fabrics for stunning quilts.

Many fabric collections come with a mix of bold prints along with lighter prints that are perfect low-volume fabrics. Low-volume prints from a single collection can be used, or fabrics from a variety of collections can be combined. Start collecting these prints now to use for special projects and quilts.

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Sweetwater's Elementary collection for Moda Fabrics

Tips for collecting and using low-volume fabrics:

  • Purchase low-volume bundles of fabrics offered by fabric companies and retailers who combine fabrics from a variety of collections to create beautiful low-volume bundles. Sweetwater’s Elementary collection for Moda Fabrics, shown above, contains a variety of low-volume prints.
  • Make a low-volume scrap bin by saving extra low-volume prints from previous projects in a designated container so it’s easy to find and use them for future projects
  • Don’t forget to add in a few solids here and there. While you won’t want your low-volume background to contain a majority of solid prints, it’s good to mix in a few of these fabrics as well.
  • Save and organize low-volume prints from collections by a favorite designer together.
Scrappy log cabin block

The light fabrics in this scrappy log cabin block by A Quilting Life feature a variety of low-volume prints.

Tips for working with low-volume quilt fabrics:

  • Make a plan for using low-volume quilt fabrics by starting a list of quilts that might work with low-volume backgrounds or focus fabrics.
  • Use low-volume fabrics in scrap projects. These fabrics add an extra special touch when used as backgrounds for scrap quilts.
  • Use low-volume fabrics for appliqué backgrounds.
  • Use bigger pieces of low-volume fabrics for fun scrappy quilt backs.
  • Use 2 1/2″ x 11″ strips to piece scrappy binding from low-volume fabrics.
  • Save low-volume fabrics in useable pieces: cut 2 1/2″ strips, 1 1/2″ strips, 5″ squares, 2 1/2″ squares and other commonly used sizes so they are ready for projects.
  • Use low-volume prints instead of solids for half-square triangles, four-patch and nine-patch blocks. Watch your quilts come to life with the additions of these fabrics.
Tone it Down quilt

The background fabrics in this scrappy Tone it Down quilt designed by Lissa Alexander and pieced by Sherri McConnell are all low-volume prints from a variety of collections by Sandy Klop of American Jane.

Nested Churn Dash quilt pattern

All of the scrappy low-volume fabrics in this Nested Churn Dash quilt pattern by Want It Need It Quilt and pieced by Sherri McConnell are from Minick & Simpson fabric collections.

Start today to work with these fun fabrics which will add interest and variety to quilts and projects!

Get Your FREE Scrap Quilting Handbook!

quilting scraps guide

Find fun new ways to put your leftover fabrics to use in this FREE PDF scrap quilting guide, available exclusively on Craftsy.Get My FREE Guide »


Vicky Roche

do you have shades of purples


I’m very sorry I am a true novice at quilting and none of that about Low-Volume Fabric, made any sense to me at all. Is there somewhere else I can look for a simpler explanation?


Hi Mazz,
I’m not sure if I’m explaining this any simpler, but I’ll try. This is my understanding of what low volume fabrics are. They are fabrics which are light in color and are used instead of solid fabrics for the background. An example of a low volume fabric would be of a light calico print being used in place of a solid because at times finding enough fabric of a solid color can be difficult. I hope I have explained it correctly and simplified it somewhat. Just trying to help. I’m not an expert by any means, someone will probably have more information about this than I do.

Pamela Gilfoyle

Very interesting , I had never heard the term low volume until I was just in a block swap and was asked to use low volume in the blocks !

Lois Barker

its difficult finding it on the web. Ae there any low volume jelly rolls or fat quarters out there?

Sandra McKinley

Many times a retailer will have bundles of “shirting” fabrics. These tend to be low volume prints. Try Keepsake Quilting, for instance.

Natalie Jacob

I have found some low volume bundles on Etsy and fatquartershop.com

Julie D

Great article and well explained – thank you!


I just hate seeing us misusing the English language so badly! The words light colored, white, off white, or even the correct term for colors with White added; TINT would all be correct, and are the way this sort of color choice in quilting has been described forever. “Low Volume” …. color has no “volume”! Volume can describe and amount of water, or other material… but a color? Must we come up with a “new” way to describe something (or a catchy marketing phrase?), just to be “modern”….?! Sorry, I won’t be using any “low volume” colors for backgrounds (or foregrounds) in my quilts or quilt blocks. But you’ll continue to see a whole lot of light tints, whites, off whites, prints that read “light” or perhaps even grays in much of my work!

frRayna Gillman

Thank you!! Makes me crazy: volume is either sound (auditory) or physical/mathematical – as in how much space something takes up in a barrel. I prefer to call them low contrast or light prints and like you, refuse to use that ###### and ungrammatical term. The other thing that makes me nuts is “graphic prints.” Anything that is printed is graphic – whether on paper or fabric. A graphic designer is a professional who deals with designing anything printed. Grrrrr…. there are high-contrast prints or strong patterned prints…I could go on, but I won’t! Glad I am not the only one!


I assume ‘low volume’ means a ‘quiet’ or restrained print as opposed to a fabric which is ‘loud’.

Natalie Jacob

I agree Sarah ?

Natalie Jacob

It’s interesting how language evolves and this term is now being widely used to describe this type of light colored background with print, and while not used in a physical/mathematical sense, is used as a description of “quiet prints”. It’s okay with me 🙂 especially if it’s a term a community of quilters can agree on to easily describe a class of fabric that encompasses such a wide range over pretty much every style and design of fabric. Also as an artist and graphic designer, I believe when fabric is referred to as having a graphic print, it is using the artistic style definition of “graphic” which is used in fine arts to describe something drawn, printed, etched, engraved, or photographed, as opposed to the also correct and more general term graphic-referring to anything printed-such as a graphic artist.


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