Lets first talk about traditional/transitional. I put these two together because they can cross over into themselves. A traditional design would include large florals, roses, the "Waverly" look, Colonial design, toiles, and civil war. Plaids lend themselves to traditional when made in warm colors and tones but they can also be fun and playful. Lets not get too bogged down in names, just go to your LQS and peruse the racks and try to select tradtional designs. There are many fabrics that fall into this category and the coloring of the fabrics also plays into the category. A magazine where you would find the use of traditional fabrics and furnishings would be TRADITIONAL HOME.
Next, transitional, which bridges the gap between very traditional and modern/contemporary. I live in Florida and I have many clients who move here from northern and midwest states. In their past lives, they may have had very traditonal interior design in their homes and I help them "tone it down" to a more transitional design with the use of color and furnishings. They may have brought antique furniture or dining room tables with Queen Anne legs with them. We add brighter, more contemporary fabrics to the mix. The 1930's fabrics would suit this type of furniture well and bring it down to a more casual lifestyle. Traditional/transitional fabrics and design are the # 1 preferred style of the American lifestyle.
There has been a resurgence in the modern/contemporary look in the past several years, both in interior design and quilting and sewing. Modern fabrics include geometrics, solids, textures, stripes, flowers that have been "modernized" and more. You could also include Australian/Aborigine fabrics as they include very modern techniques with a traditional vibe. You should be able to identify modern and contemporary fabrics at the LQS because if you don't particularly like this look, you would breeze right past them into the more traditional section.
Lastly, lets talk about novelty fabrics and this includes a wide range of just about everything left. Fish, sailboats, juvenile, baby, Americana,; It's easy to identify novelty fabrics at the LQSMy interior design eye is trained to peruse the racks in the LQS quickly and land on the fabrics that I am either looking for, or that appeal to me. I can quickly eliminate those I'm not interested in. If you could train your eye so that you can eliminate and select, it would help you in your quilting. In many quilt shops, there are so many fabrics on the racks it is overwhelming, even for an experienced fabric selector such as myself. I visited the Keepsake Quilt Shop in New Hampshire two years ago and I was completely overwhelmed at the # of bolts on the shelves. In addition, they had all of their fabrics booked by color. If you were looking for a particular series of fabric, like Civil War, you wouldn't find them all together on the shelf. All the browns would be separated, all the blues, reds, etc. It can be very confusing if you are looking for a particular line. I had less than an hour to shop at Keepsake because my husband was patiently waiting in the car. If I could go back and spend half a day, it would be different! I hope this has helped you to be more comfortable in thinking about themes and grouping them into the three categories I've suggested. Quilting isn't a test and you don't have to be exact. We just need a few guidelines to make beautiful quilts. Until next time, visit your stash and group your fabrics into themes. Carol