In Figure/Ground, the “figure” refers to a design motif or pattern on the fabric while “ground” refers to the background upon which the figure is placed.
Use fabrics of different scales
When you cut up small-scale fabric, the shape of the piece is larger and more dominant to the eye than the shape of the figure on the ground. When you cut up a large-scale print, the size of the figure often competes with the size of the piece, making it hard for the viewer to see the pattern of the quilt. You can’t see the pattern for the fabric, so to speak.
The human eye understands patterns as a result of visual hierarchies. When the hierarchy is unclear in some places and clear in others, the eye stays in one place trying to make sense of the mess.
The larger-scale prints will always have ambiguous edges when cut up, but placing these pieces next to smaller-scale pieces with clean edges will improve the visual clarity of the quilt.
Consider the contrast
Another thing to keep in mind is the level of contrast in the fabric. The higher the contrast between the figure and the ground, the harder it’s going to be to see the shape of the quilt piece. Use fabrics with higher contrast with those with less contrast to balance the visual impact.
More might be better
With the eye always trying to sort out visual hierarchy, a single large-scale print can look much larger than the same print does when combined with a bunch of other large prints. When we were auditioning fabrics for this quilt, we found that adding lots of other large-scale prints made each individual print seem less dominant.
It’s kind of like a party
In the end, think of a large-scale print as a gregarious friend at a social gathering. One or two really loud people in a room discourages interaction between others. But if you have a whole group of people with various personalities with none dominating, then you really have a party.