How To Choose Colors For My Quilt Project?


A wonderful discussion on how to choose colors for my quilt project.  Includes contrast, complimentary, and pop color discussions.

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How To Choose Colors For My Quilt Project?

Begin with color. There is so much to enjoy about color, but it is difficult to communicate about. Color gives power through how it makes you feel, the memories associated with specific colors, and how different colors play with each other.

The author of this article, Donna Slater, passed away in April of 2017. I want to dedicate this last article she ever wrote for us to her and her loving family. You will be missed by all at and on QuiltingHub.com.

How to choose colors for my quilt project?


When we create a quilt project, we say we are looking for the perfect color, but really it is much more than color. When selecting fabric for our quilt project, we are putting all our expectations into the idea that color will make this quilt be the perfect or best quilt yet. Size and amount need to be planned for. It is exciting; it is a new beginning. Ideas and hope spring forth. The points will match, the project will give love and good feelings to whoever it is made for. The corners will be mitered and square and the quilting design enhance the project. Nowhere do we talk about quilt colors, and yet that is the most often asked question—How do you choose the colors and what goes together for my quilt project?


The reason color is difficult is that the words we use to describe color are vague and frequently misunderstood. We tend to use technical terms such as "value," "saturation" and "chromatic" or go to more simple words such as "bright," "pure," "shiny" and "dark". Realize that it is not color, but how it reads by the value, by the geometrics, by the light or darkness of the color.


Begin with what you know. Have confidence. You already know what color you like or what your favorite color is. Look in your closet at the clothes you wear and how you coordinate prints and solids.


Projects dictate the color. If it is for a baby, pink or blue will be the top choice. If the sex of the baby is not known you will match the theme of the nursery or pick a pastel or softer color because babies are soft. Maybe a T-shirt quilt for memories is on the agenda for graduation. Then the school colors are what you will build on. A specific project such as the American flag states that red, white, and blue will be used.

Flag Quilt


Coloring in Kindergarten taught us that red, yellow, and blue are the primary colors on the color wheel. Secondary colors are what goes in between.


Orange is made from red and yellow and goes between. Complementary colors are opposite of each other on the color wheels. The best example is Christmas fabrics. The holiday dictates the colors so red and green are already chosen for you. But wait!! The selection for holiday fabric is overwhelming; it is sensory overload. Some shops not only have a large selection, they may have a whole room dedicated to holiday fabrics. You are not choosing the color of red and green; you are choosing the contrast between fabrics. Which print grabs your eyes; do I like the way they look together? Complementary colors can be tricky to use in large doses and give an unsettled feeling. Both red and green could stand alone and are strong colors. Variety of light, medium, and darks are needed. Add white or black and look at how the interaction changes.


Analogous colors are next to each other. They usually match well and create serene and comfortable designs. Analogous colors on the color wheel would be blue and green. Green grass and blue sky are in front of you every day. They are both cool colors. Another analogous set would be yellow, red, and orange. These are very comfortable together but give a sense of warmth. Orange sun, red flames, the pink sunrise all feel warm.


Black is all colors combined, and white is the absence of light. Add either one of these to the mix of fabric selection and the other colors behave differently or play together better. Learn to trust your personal judgment and educate yourself on making good choices.

Quilt Color Contrast


This is where contrast or value of color jumps in and we start to find out what makes the cookie crumble. Add white to red and you get a tint or hue of pink. Add black to any color and it becomes darker and goes to the dark side. One color has many shades or tints and you can line them up from light to dark. Monochromatic is choosing one color and using lights, mediums, and darks. This is one of the most comfortable ways for quilters to make fabric selection.

Purple Quilt Color Example


Ideas that help put variety in your project are readily available. Purchasing a kit; the pattern is what attracts you and the fabric color is already in the package. If you purchase a jelly roll or set of layer cakes from one line of fabric, the range will be from light to dark and all the fabrics play together nicely, and are already coordinated for you. When you purchase a higher grade of fabric, the selvage has color dots that indicate all the dyes used in the printing of that particular fabric and you can select other fabrics by using lights, mediums, and darks of the colors of the dots.


Three different things to look for in contrast are

  1. Scale of print: large, medium, and small. Look for variety: tone on tone, tiny allover prints, geometrics like stripes plaids, or polka dots
  2. Intensity—-high voltage vs. calm and serene; warm vs. cool
  3. Variety of light, medium, dark.


Quilt Color Contrast Example


Be powerful and create. Five guidelines to create are to experiment. Use your favorite color, but then take a chance and add a kicker, something complementary (opposite on the color wheel).

Quilt Color Complementary Example


Mix designs

Contrast can also be achieved with small print and large geometrics. The size of the print makes a difference. Some small prints real like solids. Large prints make great focus fabric, but when cut into smaller pieces you may loose the beauty of the mixture. Know where to put large and small pieces in your block.



Audition fabrics by folding out only the amount that will be in the block. If it is going to be a 2" border; fold the fabric so only 2" is showing to get an idea of how it will look. Taking a picture on your cell phone gives you an overall look and is such a surprise to see how fabrics interact. Make your picture black and white and you will see the value much clearer.


Be brave and go beyond the normal

Consider a mix of the right combinations but use a variety of light, medium, and darks. A blue can be dark; it can be light; it just depends on the hue and what the blue is sewn next to.


Pause and look for the pop!

Lay out your fabric and see what jumps out at you. If there is nothing that grabs your eye choose another color that fits in your palette, but is brighter. Look at the focus fabric and choose an accent in it.


Confidence with color gives the ability to create and enjoy the process.

Quilt Color Pop Example


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The basic unit of a quilt top, usually square but can be rectangular or other shapes. Blocks can be pieced, appliqued or plain.
A strip of fabric or pieced strip of fabric joined to the edges of the inner quilt and used to frame it.
Color Wheel
A circular device that has colors marked on it so you can see the relationship between primary, secondary and tertiary colors and the tints and shades of each.
Complementary Colors
Colors that are directly across from each other on the color wheel.
The outer edge of both sides of a woven fabric where the weft turns to go back across and through the warp. This is a stiffer and denser woven area of about 1/3-1/2 inch and is usually trimmed off and not sewn into a quilt.

Same As: Selvedge
Tone on Tone
Refers to a printed fabric that is made by combining different shades and tones of the same color. These fabrics often appear to be solid when viewed from a distance, but their printed motifs become recognizable on closer inspection.
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