In earlier posts, I’ve talked about picking fabrics at the quilt shop using a color wheel or laying the fabrics on the counter together to see how they play together, but I haven’t talked about how you want your quilt to look. Color contrast among your fabrics plays a large roll in this. Whether it’s the colors in the blocks themselves, the background fabric or even the different size prints for each fabric you have chosen. That’s what I will talk about this week and hopefully this will add even more to the fabric choosing knowledge you take with you shopping. So let’s get started.
Color Theory & Contrast
Before you can learn about contrast, here’s a little color theory that will help. Contrast is achieved by considering the value (tint or shade) 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. This photo below shows that:
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 to achieve good contrast is by combining “warm” and “cool” colors or have blocks that alternate between warm and cool colors throughout a quilt. Like I talked about in a previous post, the color wheel can help with that.
The 20″ line on the cutting mat in the photo shows you the dividing line between warm and cool colors. Notice how the colors next to each other on the wheel have less contrast between them than colors further away. For the highest contrast, choose colors that are opposite on the wheel.
Here’s an example of auditioning fabrics for contrast. This first stack of fabrics has pieces very close in shade so there is very little contrast:
Now look what happens when I replace two of the fabrics with colors that are a lighter (tinted) version of the same color it replaced:
Now, I will remove two of the cool colors and replace them with warm colors and you can see how much contrast will be in the blocks I make from this combination!
Background Fabric and Fabric Prints
Another way to minimize or create contrast is in the size of prints you use and also the background fabric color. Below are two quilts I made using the same pattern but with different fabrics. Contrast plays a role in how the design appears, but so does the choice of background fabric. For the quilt on the left, the person receiving it wanted the design to be very subtle and the colors very subdued. The quilt on the right shows how the same pattern looks with high contrast between fabrics, including a very light background (I did change the piece border a little bit for that version).
Here is an example of how fabric color, a design or an appliqué pattern is intensified by simply changing the background fabric from light tan to black.
I also chose colors for the quilt with the black background that had more of a lighter tint to them.
Prints in fabric can be tricky for blocks and backgrounds, although not so much for a truly scrappy quilt. I refer to scrap quilts as “colorful chaos” so when I am making one, I’m not too concerned with print size. But, that if you are making a one block quilt? Let’s take some of the blocks from my Scrappy North Stars quilt and see how fabrics play. Here’s the quilt:
Now here are two blocks from the quilt:
For the block on the left, I used fabrics with prints about the same size in the block pieces, including the background. For the block on the right, not only did I use a lighter background fabric, I also alternated in print size depending on where the pieces fell in the block.
Next up is my quilt, Sister’s Reunion:
Here’s some blocks from this quilt:
The fabrics in the block on the left both have a larger, busy print than the fabrics in the block on the right. See what a difference prints in fabrics can make?
So, I hope this explanation of fabric color contrast, background fabric color and fabric print and how they effect your design makes sense! Hopefully, this will help when you pick out fabrics for your next project.
Leave me any comments or questions on this topic below. I will answer what I can. It will also enter you into a drawing for the two patterns of mine I used as examples! If you are outside of the US, you will receive the patterns as PDF downloads if you are chosen. The drawing will be on Monday, September 13th. Good Luck! **We have a winner! Congrats, Kay McCaffery!**
Cathy B says
How interesting to see the differences the fabrics make, such contrast, adds so much and changes so much. Thanks for these examples.
Thanks for this post, I always feel unsure about color and contrast, your explanations with samples was very helpful! Have a great week!
Choosing the fabric for a quilt is always a struggle for me… I loved your block samples, though. They really put a visual to your lesson.
Donna S says
I love to play with the colors of the quilt, but it does take me time. Just keep going until I find what works best for me.
Kay McCaffery says
Thanks for the lesson on contrast. I saw a quilt the other day that was very well done, but no contrast between the background & piecing. It ruined the look of the quilt.
Awesome tips as always! Anytime I can see a block or quilt done in different colors and fabrics, it’s so helpful. Thank you!
Eugenia Read says
Such great tips to answer questions about colour and contrast.
Leslie McJunkin says
Thank you for the thorough explanation of shade, tint & tone. I’m making a copy of your whole article to refer to when doing quilts in the future.
Adding warms to cool, print size all seem to make more sense with your examples.
Thank you again
Sondra Grimes says
I often play with shading and contrast in fabric selections, I thoroughly enjoyed the above suggestions.
Daphne Brown says
Do you sell the color wheel that is shone to pick your colors for a quilt. If so
Please let me know. So I can order one.
I do not sell them, but here is a link where you can get the one I use from Amazon: