Back when I started the Farmer’s Wife journey I had an idea that I would style each block photo based on the theme of the fabrics I’d fussy cut. This worked well for the first few blocks but then I hit the problem of not having fabrics with a “theme” in the block and I wasn’t sure what to do. I’d seen flat lay photos in the marketing and fashion industry that group items based on colour and as I was making blocks all of a single colour I thought this would be a fun thing to do. I had no idea those photos would be so well received and loved by people.
I am addicted to Instagram and one of the things that I love about it is seeing how people approach sharing their creative talents. I enjoy the challenge that comes with finding a good photo and over the past 12 months I’ve moved from being an Instagram account that is all about my life and sharing on the go photos to one that is more about sharing the best that I can be. (I know that some people don’t like that style of account, but I really enjoy the thrill of the challenge and look at Instagram like my scrapbook of awesome.)
So many people love and comment on my colour flat lays that I thought it would be a great excuse to run a quick challenge and get more people sharing their colour inspired stories. It’s especially good to do it now as so many people are making sampler quilts at the moment and there’s a glut of block photos on social media. I love a good block photo, but I really adore a block photo that is more than just a block on a cutting mat. I love a block photo that shows me who YOU are.
Now I’m going to share some of the behind-the-scenes that goes into making the colour flat lay photos so that you can make your own and then we can have a whole hashtag of coloured quilt block awesome. As an added bonus I’m going to be announcing some very cool sponsors who’ll be giving away prizes to those who participate! My hope is that you’ll learn to have fun with your block photos and tap into what makes you special and it will light a creative fire that sees you take this idea and branch out into other ways of displaying your work on social media.
Right, so lets get down to the how to!
What You Need:
- One quilt block that has one distinctive colour running through it. Whether it’s all fabrics from one colour tone or whether it’s one colour with small accents of another you want a block that you can pull a single colour from.
- A big variety of objects that are primarily the same colour as the one colour in your block you want to highlight.
- A clean plan surface to lay your block and objects on that you can easily get above and lay your camera lens parallel to.
- Good natural lighting.
This is where having a toddler in the house comes in handy. If you look at the majority of items in my photos they’re kids toys. The benefit of kids toys is that the colours are bright, they’re on the small side and they can be easily arranged on a flat surface (toy cars are awesome for this!).
I try for a variety of sizes but ultimately you need more small and medium sized object than large objects. This is because you’ll want to fill the space in-between the bigger items. Your items can have more than one colour on them but you want them to “read” as the colour you’re trying to focus on.
Places to Find Props:
- The third draw down in the kitchen. Our random utensils draw has some good quality coloured items in it. Measuring cups, spoons, bag clips, tongs – you name it we’ve probably got a colours one.
- Kids toys are great, but so are their book covers, puzzles, lego, cars, dinosaurs, playdoh tubs – the hardest thing will be keeping the child happy while you’re using their toys! (Many a photo has been ruined by a little hand stealing their toy back!)
- Stationery – pens are great, stickers, postcards, Project Life cards, washi tape, paper clips, thumb tacks.
- Kitchen Pantry or Bathroom Cabinets – packaging is great for this kind of thing. Especially for yellow – yellow can be a hard one to find items (the worst is purple). Just don’t go too big, you don’t want to overpower your photo. Confectionery is a great one for big bold colours, and you get to eat them when you’re done!
- Sewing and Craft Supplies – this is the obvious one, but it’s the easiest. Zippers, pins, thread spools, scissors, rotary cutters, rulers, seam rippers – the list is endless.
There’s no limit to where you can find things. I’ve started to keep an eye out in $2 shops and Op Shops for small toys that come in singular colours so that I can use them as props. I don’t go crazy, but I like to keep things fresh and so I try to use something not seen before in each shot.
How To Do It:
- Make sure your workspace is clear of fluff. I use a $10 white kids table from Ikea. White is good because it bounces the light around and it doesn’t compete with the items on the table. I’ve also used white floorboards, but they can get a little scuffed after awhile.
- Trim all the loose threads from the edge of your block. Make sure there’s no loose threads on your block (it’s so very annoying to get the perfect photo only to find a loose thread is sitting in the middle of your block).
- This is the thing that’s the hardest to learn: space. You want everything to be in and close to each other. You’re going to saturate the space with colour. Think of it like Tetris or a puzzle. This is where the fun is for me, I like the challenge of making it all fit.
- Get up above your collection and hold your phone or camera lens parallel with the surface you’ve used. You need to get your photo as straight on as possible. Make sure you’ve got a lot of indirect natural light flooding the photo area (a good thing to do is set your area up near a window before you start) and take your photo. (In fact you’ll probably want to take a few photos as you tweak the set up.)
Don’t be afraid to play around with things, take a photo and then tweak it if it doesn’t work. I’ve found it works best when there’s not big gaps around your block and your items. I start by making a border around the block with things that form a “straight” line around the block so you can get them in close to the block.
Then I just mix and match until I find a position for everything. A lot of times I will get a big group of items together and put 80% of the items on the table and then spend another 15 minutes hunting for “fillers”.
Where the Magic Happens:
This is the key to making the whole thing work… you ready… CROPPING!
Not sure what I’m talking about, let me show you:
I always take a full shot and then crop in to make the block 80% of the image. This means that I lose a lot of the things that I’ve set up around my block but it also means there’s no “dead” space where I was trying to guess the crop space.
If you’ve taken your photo on your phone Instagram will let you zoom in, straighten the image (especially handy if you’ve taken it on some weird slight rotation which I tend to always do) and play with light and dark value. I never use a filter on these photos because I want the colour to be as bright and close to natural as possible, but that’s my call, I’m sure some filters would really make the photos pop even more. It’s all about personal preference.
The Thing to Remember:
It’s not a science, it’s about having fun. Some photos are a screaming success and some photos you think you could have done better the minute you post them. The key is to have fun and to continue to learn, play and take inspiration (not plagiarism) from around you. Be inspired, try new things and have FUN!
Accepting the Challenge:
Now I’ve confessed my “trade secrets” it’s time for you to get out there and get started on making your own colour block magic. I don’t want you to make some random block, make a block you can use. If you’re not working on a suitable block at the moment then you can find block inspiration in the following places:
- Farmer’s Wife 1930’s Sampler Quilt Sew-along
- Modern HST Sampler Quilt
- Moda Sampler Block Shuffle
- Fat Quarter Shop Free Patterns
- The Splendid Sampler
It’s not so much about the block, but how you style it, so go nuts and make a block you love and can use. The only condition is that you’ll have to stick to a colour theme for your block.
You’ve got a week to get your block made and start thinking about the photo. Starting Wednesday 20 April AEST the challenge will be open for another week and I’ll be encouraging people to post using the hashtag #colourblockchallenge (that’s with the English English spelling so remember to include the ‘u’) and on Wednesday 20 April I’ll announce the prizes and how they’ll be awarded.
Entries will close 27 April AEST but that doesn’t mean you can’t go on sharing your blocks with big pops of colour and fun!
The Challenge will be open Internationally, however entries can only be made on Instagram. You can enter as many times as you like, you’ll just have to make as many blocks and photos as you like. (If you do blog about your photos and your experience taking the photos I’d love to see it so be sure to either email me or come back and link to your blog post!)
It’s going to be fabulous and I can’t wait to see a hashtag that’s just all colour all the time. Are you up for the challenge?