It’s not breaking quilting news to declare that color makes a big difference in a quilt’s design, and it can look drastically different depending on how color is chosen and applied. The challenge is figuring out which colors to choose and where to put them to get the best possible effect. It gets even trickier when value (how light or dark a color is) is introduced into the equation, which it almost always is since most successful quilt designs have plenty of value variation to make the design interesting.
The digital design tools at our disposal, like Electric Quilt (from the Electric Quilt Company) and Adobe Illustrator, make project planning much easier these days. I can color, edit, plan and recolor until the design looks exactly how I want it to, without cutting a single piece of fabric. So when McCall’s Quilting received a three-color quilt design, based on the traditional Hattie’s Choice block from Jean Nolte using the Hattie’s Choice Template Set, I thought it might be fun to experiment with color and value to make the pretty design even more impressive. Jean’s design, Hattie’s Dream, is in the January/February 2018 issue of McCall’s Quilting.
The original coloring design, shown above, is nice just as it is, and would look great in scrappy red, white and blue prints. But in the office, we have been discussing color variations in recent months, specifically designs in which the color gradually shifts from the top to the bottom of the quilt, or from side to side, etc. This design was a great candidate for bringing those discussions from concept to reality. Carolyn Beam, our Content Director, suggested trying shades of red, so I started there.
I tried several different variations using shades of reds, oranges, pinks and purples in the wedge-shaped C patches, making value and color changes with each iteration (click for a larger view).
Next, I decided to switch up the values of the diamond-shaped patches, just to add another design element. I kept the diamonds black in the lighter blocks, but changed it to increasingly lighter shades of gray as the block backgrounds became darker. I also arranged the diamonds in the pieced border in a gradation of gray to black, to reference the quilt center.
For the next variation, I kept similar colors but changed the composition to a central focus radiating outwards. It’s successful because of the block layout—there are an odd number of blocks vertically and horizontally, so one center block acts as an anchor for the design.
I tried altering the values of the diamond-shaped patches for this central composition as well. I think it would be better if the light gray was even lighter, with more variation between each shade of gray.
Which brings me to the final version. I changed the reds and purples to green, blues and aquas, and fixed the grays so there is a definite distinction between each one. Though none of the previous designs were bad, this one just looked better to me. The play between color, shape and value makes the design sparkle in a way that is missing in the other versions, perhaps due to the palette, or to the clear distinction between the grays.
Going through the different color variations for a single pattern really emphasized for me how design is a continual process, rather than a specific skill. Each idea I had would spark another, and I went on a journey, complete with detours and U-turns, ending up at a completely different place than I had originally envisioned. If I had stopped after the first or second color variation, I wouldn’t have been able to explore all the other ideas that they inspired. Each of the many versions of this pattern would make a gorgeous quilt, even though we only chose one in the end.
Even when working with somebody else’s pattern, the colors and values that a quilter chooses can say a lot about his or her creative vision, and we encourage all quilters to play around with color ideas before deciding on a plan. We recently started adding coloring pages for some of our patterns to inspire this process, and hope it’s helped. You can make photocopies of the line drawing to color multiple variations, or even scan the diagram and color it digitally in Adobe Photoshop or similar art software for ease and speed. You never know what you can come up with until you try!
To learn more about color, check out the following courses offered by CraftU: Understanding Value in Quilt Design with Grace Errea!
Block Builders Workshop: Color Selection Using a Focus Fabric. Designer Karen Taylor discusses strategies for composing a pleasing fabric palette. Click here to view the FREE video lesson.
McCall’s Quilting 101: Value as a Quilt Design Element with Ellie Brown. Click here to view this FREE video lesson.
The Hattie’s Dream pattern is available in the January/February 2018 issue of McCall’s Quilting. Subscribe here.