One of the most challenging aspects of quilting is choosing color. I've talked with numerous people who say they struggle with color selection and placement and often are disappointed with the final result.
When I first started quilting, I worked mostly with solid colored fabrics. I was drawn to the style of Amish quilts with the intense saturated colors and the use of black to make the colors pop. I gradually started using print fabrics but got lost in the design and forgot about overall color of the print. It's hard to know how that print reads until you put it in a quilt. Viewing the fabric from a distance or through a reducing lens will help clarify the true overall color of the piece you are using.
It helps to understand the color wheel when choosing colors for your quilt. There are many articles written about this subject and often quilting books will have a section on color selection. I tend to instinctively choose colors I find pleasing together but there is a science behind it. I won't go into detail about it here, but one tool I find helpful is a 3 in 1 color tool that you find in many quilt shops or buy it from Amazon. It looks like a paint chart with a rainbow of colors in different hues and saturations. The tool will help you select colors that may pop out on your quilt in unexpected ways and has been a real benefit to me.
Something else the color tool has are filters in red and green that allow you to view colors in a different way. Looking at a range of colors through a green or red filter will turn them gray. This allows you to evalute color on a different level which is value. It's been said that color gets all the credit while value to does all the work.
Value is the range of color from dark to light. It can sometimes be hard to see when you are looking at either prints or solids because your eye is so busy looking at the color. Value plays a key role in movement, design and basic color choices. One way to test value it to take a picture of your fabric selection on your smart phone and then edit the photo to black and white. You may be surprised at the result.
Below is a picture of a quilt I made using solid colors and a picture of the same quilt in black, gray and white. What do you notice about the two quilts? Isn't it striking how the black and white print really stands out in the value study? Notice that the blue and red are almost the same value in the black and white photo, but in the color photo the red really pops. Yellow and white are nearly the same value but doesn't the yellow jump out more? If I placed the yellow and white together the impact mght have been complete different.
Another thing to think about with color is whether you are always choosing the same palette for your quilts. I have certain "go to" colors but I don't want all my quilts to look the same. So sometimes I challenge myself to start with a color I don't normally use like orange and then start to pair it up with my favorites to see what happens. On the quilt above, I wanted a cool color palette of blues and greens. When I laid them out on my cutting board, they looked a bit boring to my eye. I starting adding colors from the opposite side of the color wheel like red and yellow and then things started getting interesting. I threw in the black and white print at the end just for fun.
I strongly suggest you try a few of these tips on you next quilt. Start by challenging yourself with a different color palette and just play with your selections until you come up with an array of color that makes you smile. After all, we quilt because we love it and color is just one way to enhance our experience.
Mary Ellen Straughn