Fabric selection is a difficult part of quilting for many people, and it can make the difference between a quilt you like and a quilt you love. It can be hard for beginners, because many people have not had much experience choosing color combinations for much more than their wardrobe, and that’s often decided by what’s available in the stores at any given time. There are many color theories that you can apply, and they all work. Here is a practical way to decide, even if you don’t know about color theory. First, look at a few quilts. Your local supplier is a great place to start. They should have many display pieces—some you will like, and others you may not. That’s alright, sometimes identifying what you don’t like will help you decide what you do like.
What you want to use is all up to you, but when you are first starting out, you may not know what you want. There are a few things that you can do. First, decide if you want a certain look for your project. For example, do you prefer modern, traditional, abstract, etc.? If so, the style you choose may dictate the color combinations that you choose.
Look at the design and decide how many colors you need. Let’s say that you are making the design shown here. You may prefer to do it in a different color scheme, say purples and greens. Look at the fabric choices you have and narrow them down to a manageable few. By this we mean, if you are choosing at the store and they carry 300 pieces of fabric, you will need to choose a few types of each color that you think you’d like. Perhaps you will change your mind as you go along, but trying to choose a combination of five or six colors from 30 is much easier than trying to choose them from 300. It’s O.K. to choose some colors just because you like them, or perhaps they match or complement a color that is in the room where the quilt or wall hanging will go. You see what we mean.
Once you have manageable few choices for each part of your design, narrow down the choices a little more by looking at the colors together. Look at your pattern in terms of the percentage of each color that will show in the finished quilt. Let’s say that for this design, you have decided to make the block backgrounds light purple, dark purple and green (could be light, medium or dark). You will also need a border and binding, in addition to the strips made from your stash. With just a quick glance at the pattern, we can estimate that you need equal amounts of the three background colors. The next larger amount of fabric will be the border, and finally, the binding. Hopefully you brought your scraps for the strip, but if you didn’t, gather a bunch of colors that look about right, or a multi-color stripe.
Choose a piece of fabric for each part of the design and lay them out with the approximate amounts showing. Now, replace the colors until you are happy with the combination. This will help you see whether any particular color washes out or overpowers the others. It is a good idea to step back, look away, then look back at your selection. Another trick is to squint as you look at your selection. This will help you to identify the dominant colors. You will be surprised how quickly you can make a decision that you will be pleased with!
You should always consider asking your supplier for help in this area. They have a distinct advantage because they know their inventory. They can also show you combinations of fabrics in finished projects, and may offer you some suggestions that you may not have thought of. Finally, remember that you (or the person you are making the quilt for) ultimately need to be happy with the fabric selection.
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Vicki has over 30 years of writing experience with many successful publications such as Stained Glass News, SGN Publishing and Quilter's Digest. For more information about Vicki, visit www.stainedglassnews.com