Nancy’s Quilting Classroom: Choosing Colors for Quilt Patterns – Fons & Porter

Take the guesswork out of choosing colors for quilt patterns! Choosing fabric colors doesn’t have to be intuitive or instinctive, there are a practical ways to choose colors for quilt patterns.

To gain confidence when choosing fabrics, for colorful quilts or even two-color quilts, it’s important to understand how colors go together and how color schemes are derived from a color wheel. Using a color wheel can add pizzazz to your quilts. Color wheels are available online and from art supply stores or, you can make your own color wheel…

Choose at least one fabric to represent each of the 12 colors on a color wheel. I recommend using medium-sized pieces, no larger than a fat quarter. Fold the fabrics into manageable pieces and arrange them into a circle (see below). Chances are that your fabrics won’t exactly match a color wheel. That’s OK! Think of the wheel as a guide. Once you’re pleased with the arrangement of colors, cut a wedge of each color and glue it to a piece of white cardstock.

Color Wheel for Colorful Quilts

Color schemes are logical combinations of colors taken from the color wheel. Complementary colors, like yellow-green and red-violet are across from each other, as you can see above. Complementary colors create high contrast in quilt patterns and are appealing to the eye. I used complementary colors to make “Batik Magic” from Love of Quilting May/June 2011. The high contrast between the two colors makes the quilt blocks appear to be rectangular, even though they are actually square. Adding a little black to this otherwise two-color quilt, adds a touch of drama and allows the other colors to pop.

Batik Magic -- Colorful Quilts

A double-complementary color scheme uses two complementary pairs of colors. The distance between the selected complementary pairs will affect the overall contrast of the final arrangement. I combined turquoise, yellow-green, red-orange, and red-violet to make “Rock Candy” from Love of Quilting May/June 2011. In this quilt, the navy sashing is a neutral and adds dimension to the design of this colorful quilt. Adding a little bit of appliqué to the outer border repeats the colors and enhances the overall look.

Rock Candy -- Colorful Quilts

A triad color scheme consists of three colors that can be found using an equilateral triangle. This color scheme is bold but balanced and is usually medium contrast. I used orange, purple, and green to make “Whirling Pinwheels” from Scrap Quilts Spring 2014. To add visual texture, I used prints in a variety of scales, and included stripes, dots, and geometric prints. I also used fabrics in each color that ranged in value from light to dark.

Whirling Pinwheels -- Colorful Quilts

You can also go crazy and use all 12 colors on a color wheel in one quilt. Think of this color scheme as using all the crayons in the box. In this color scheme, value is very important! Color is the star in “Color Wave” from Love of Quilting May/June 2011, but using different values of each color is what makes the design work. And, using a black background makes the colors glow. Talk about colorful quilts!

Color Wave -- Colorful Quilts

Color inspiration can be found in a variety of sources and nature is one of my favorite places to look. I love the contrast between the hot, orange flowers and cool, blue-green leaves on a Red Aloe plant, also known as Cape Aloe. These wonderful complementary colors were the perfect choice for “Gallery Walk” from Love of Quilting September/October 2012. Using a lighter value of blue-green adds depth to the design and creates a sense of movement.

Red Aloe -- Colorful Quilts
Gallery Walk -- Colorful Quilts

I love gardens with lots and lots of color. Using a field of wildflowers as inspiration, I chose a variety of colors to make “Chain Link” from Quilting Quickly Fall 2014. Then I added black and gray prints to balance the explosion of color.

Wildflowers -- Colorful Quilts
Chain Link -- Colorful Quilts

I’m sure you’ve seen those cute color dots on the selvage of most fabrics. Those dots are a clue to the colors used in a specific fabric. The dots can be used as a starting point when choosing a color scheme or an accent color. You can also use other quilts as inspiration for color! Go through your quilt magazines, books, and quilting catalogs. Don’t pay any attention to the design, focus on the color combinations.

Want more information about choosing colors? Be sure to check out my webinar, Mastering Color for Traditional Quilts, where you’ll find lots of examples and tips for choosing colors for your quilt patterns.

Nancy Mahoney, Fons & Porter Guest Blogger


Happy Quilting!



Other topics you may enjoy:

Leave a Reply