With so many fabrics to choose from these days, picking a color palette for your next quilt can be one of the most exciting or daunting aspects of the quilting process. Fortunately, Tula Pink has become my go-to for suggestions. I’m prone to overthinking fabric choices and colors, which is one of the reasons I’m so drawn to Tula’s patterns and books.
Rather than tell you what to do, she provides tips and tools to help you make more informed decisions for yourself. Take Tula Pink’s City Sampler: 100 Modern Blocks, for example. Instead of prescribing colors, Tula shares three methods for picking a palette and offers a behind-the-scenes look at why she chose the colors she did.
Tula even numbered the blocks instead of naming them. “This was intentional,” she notes in the book’s introduction. “I may have designed the blocks and given you the instructions on what to cut and where to stitch, but I have not infused the blocks with any meaning. This is your quilt. The fabrics that you choose, the colors that you use, and why you are making it are what will give the quilt a purpose… In the end, it all comes down to this: Making something again is easy, making something new is brave, and making something personal is essential.”
Here’s a snippet from Tula Pink’s City Sampler with suggestions for choosing colors that help tell your story.
Three Methods for Choosing Colors
Near sighted — The Limited Palette
Choosing a limited palette means that you’re working with only a few colors. Don’t let the name fool you—there is a lot of room to move around within a limited palette.
In Trellis, I chose to work with only blues, greens, and yellows. Within that palette of three colors, I had the option of pulling in hundreds of shades. Because all three are next to each other on the color wheel, I knew they would blend seamlessly into one another. This gave me a lot of options. From blue I could pull in everything from navy to a soft sky blue; add green, and I can pull in all the colors that fall between blue and green, like aqua and teal. I added a third color (yellow) to bring a little sunshine to the color scheme. Yellow sits next to green on the color wheel and allowed me to add some lime and more yellow-hued greens.
Tunnel Vision — The Monochromatic Palette
Mono, meaning single, and chroma, meaning color, put together simply mean a single color. The monochromatic palette is all about your lights and your darks.
In Skyline, I focused on gray as the single color of the quilt. Gray at its darkest is black and at its lightest is white. This scale of dark to light is called the value or the shade of a color. Having every shade between white and black also gave me a lot to work with when making my blocks. Add in the option of prints, dots, stripes and solids, and that pool of options gets even deeper. When making a monochromatic quilt, value is king! The success of each block comes down to putting enough contrast into each piece. If I put two white fabrics next to each other, you won’t see the block. But if I put a black and white next to each other, that might be too much. There must be a balance so that you can see the shapes in each block without creating an optical illusion that might make you dizzy!
Scrap Happy — The Anything Goes Palette
The Scrap Happy palette is for the person who throws all the chips in the air just to see where they fall.
I approached Gridlock this way. I looked at each block and made them one by one without looking at the block I made before or looking ahead to the blocks I was going to make next. My intention was for my finished quilt to blend from one color to the next, and for that to happen I needed every variation of every color. For each block I began with the main fabric that was going to be the star of the block and then added in little pieces that complemented it. This method of fabric selection will make the whole worth more than the sum of its parts. Each individual block was nice, but when all of the blocks were put together, it made a spectacular rainbow of fabrics and pieces.
Whether you’re a person who can throw colorful chips in the air just to see where they fall or prefer the boundaries of a more limited color scheme, Tula’s methods are a helpful guide for navigating the color wheel and choosing hues that will complement any design.