The last few weeks, we talked about one block quilts and two (or more) block quilts and how the design of those blocks effects the look of the quilt. Now it’s time to talk about color. Choosing fabrics and color is often something that gives quilters nightmares when they are beginning a project. I’m here to help you get rid of those fears with some color theory and fabric choosing tips. Let’s go!
Color Theory – Just a Bit!
Color: Before you shop for fabric, dig out this little contraption and let’s have a lesson:
You probably recognize the color wheel from grade school art class. We learned about the primary colors of red, yellow and blue. From those colors, all the other colors are created. That’s why they’re called “primary” colors.
The first group of colors created by combining primary colors are called secondary colors. These are orange (from red and yellow), green (from blue and yellow) and violet (from blue and red).
The color wheel can help you with getting the right contrast in your quilt in addition to picking out fabric colors. Notice the closer that colors to each other are on the wheel, the less contrast between them. The most contrast is achieved with colors that are farther away from each other. This is where complimentary colors come in. A color that is opposite of another on the wheel provides the most contrast and is called complimentary. For example: red and green are across from each other so they are considered complimentary and there is high contrast between them.
Shade, Tone & Tint: Knowing the difference between shade, tone and tint and how that effects the contrast between your fabrics can go a long way in helping you choose fabrics.
- Shade is taking the pure color, for instance blue, and adding black to it to make it darker, for a dark blue.
- Tint is taking the pure blue and adding white to make it lighter, making a light blue.
- Tone is adding grey to a pure color to make it less intense. Most colors around us in the world are tones of pure color.
Another way contrast can be achieved is by combining “warm” and “cool” colors or have blocks that alternate between warm and cool colors throughout a quilt.
Summing it up… if you want a quiet, muted quilt, choose colors close to each other on the wheel, with the same shades, tints or tones. If you want a high contrast quilt, choose colors far away from each other on the wheel, with different shades, tints or tones. Of course there are a lot of complete books on color theory and this is just a tiny snippet of information. If you are interested in a more in depth explanation, you can surely find some of these books at the library or online.
Using Color Theory in Choosing Fabrics
So here’s a real world example of some of what I talked about above.
One way contrast is achieved is by considering the shades and tints of the each color you choose. Tint is when white is added to a color to make it lighter and shade is when black is added to a color to make it darker. For example,
pink is a tint of red where maroon is a shade of red.
See the difference in these fabrics? They’re all the same base color, red, but when used in a quilt, they will each make it look a bit different.
Here’s another example. Pick out fabrics you would like to use in your quilt and stack them up like these fat quarters I used below:
There is not much contrast between these fabric because they are all close to the same shade within their color family. But now, in the photo below, I have switched out two of the fabrics for fabrics tinted lighter than the originals.
The above are all cool colors as well and close to each other on the color wheel. Look what happens when I add in some complimentary colors from the warm side:
Removing the brown and purple fabrics and adding the gold and red fabrics makes the stack of fabrics more vibrant.
Building a Colorful Quilt
So here’s a fun little experiment. Here’s how to build a colorful scrap quilt starting with the primary colors. Let’s say the quilt pattern you have takes a yard of each color fabric (not including the background) and has 12 blocks from each color.
The quilt made from these 3 colors would be pretty enough. But what would it look like if you added more colors based on some of the lessons I gave you earlier. Instead of, for example, getting a yard of each fabric above and making 12 blocks from each, you can turn this into a scrappier quilt by taking each of the yards of fabric and splitting them into three 1/3 yard cuts in each color family. For instance, instead of 1 yard of red, I substitute 1/3 yard each of red, pink and a brown fabric that has a red/pink print (middle stack in the photo).
I did the same for the blue and the yellow fabrics as well. Now I can make 12 blocks from each stack, but instead of them all being one color there will be 4 of each color. See the side by side comparison of the 3 color quilt and the 9 color quilt below:
Or you can even mix the colors within each of the blocks to make it even scrappier like I did in this block below:
So here ends the color theory lesson. Hopefully this gives you more confidence when you look at a quilt pattern and wonder what colors you want to use to make it. Step out of the box and have some fun!
Donna S says
Thanks for the review of the color wheel & combinations. Picking fabrics for a quilt sometimes takes me a while to get just the zing I want.
Your timing is perfect as I begin to pull fabrics for grandson’s wedding quilt! Thank you!
Marlane Gutzwiller says
Thank you! The examples really helped.
Thanks for sharing, I loved seeing the examples!
This is the hardest part of quilting for me! Your examples are so helpful!
Thank you Deanne! I love how you so generously offer these helpful tips. I especially struggle with color selection after I get my pattern! This was a very concise reminder of how to make an often daunting task less so!