Phoebe Moon Quilt Designs

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Color in Quilts

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This is part one of a three part article.

Have you ever agonized over choosing the exactly right fabrics for your quilt? Choosing the correct fabrics for a quilt can make an otherwise ordinary pattern sing but there is no need to agonize over it! Assuming you have been dressing yourself for a few years, you probably already know the basics of an effective design.

Interior decorators will tell you to pick a item you love and design a room around that. When you choose the clothes you will wear that day, don’t you do that? Based on your activities for the day, you decide you want to wear your favorite slacks and then pick the blouse, shoes and jewelry to complement them. Depending on which blouse or what jewelry you wear that day can change the effect of your outfit from very dressy to downright casual.

It is the same thing for choosing the fabric in a quilt. Based on the eventual use of the quilt, decide on your main or focus fabric and choose the fabrics that will complement it. Don’t stress over every piece of fabric. It is the overall effect that matters. Don’t judge fabrics for your quilt up close - put them together and then stand back at least six feet to get the overall effect.  If you are planning a wall hanging, put the fabric on the wall in light similar to where you plan to hang it. If you are planning a quilt, lay the fabric on the floor and darken the room a bit. 

When choosing fabric for a quilt, use the interior designer trick of incorporating both different scales and different values. Try to use a variety of scales in your quilt - large, medium and small, as well as variety of values - light, medium and dark. Even perfectly smooth fabrics can be described as having a texture depending on the print. Try including a variety of textures, such as a smooth tone-on-tone or a choppy alligator print. Don’t try to be too matchy-uppy with your prints. It’s often the unexpected that makes a quilt into a treat.

It’s value that does all the work in a quilt, although it’s often color that gets the credit. Usually described in terms of light and dark, value determines how close a color is to either white or black. The right values can make the difference between a quilt that sparkles and a quilt that doesn’t. A good scrap design, for example, depends on clear value differences between the fabrics.

Having trouble with the difference between values and color? Think of it this way: If the world contained only black and white, every color would still have its place on the grayscale and that place would be its value. If you aren’t sure, photocopy your fabric in black and white. By removing the color, you can more easily determine the value of a fabric. You could also use a value finder, a small device that looks like a slide with a piece of red or green cellophane in the middle (you actually need both.) Holding a value finder to your eyes and looking through it will help you determine the value of a fabric.

Here are some commonly used terms relating to color:

  • Hue: Another name for color
  • Intensity: the brightness or dullness of a color in situ
  • Tint: color + white, resulting in a lighter value.  (pastels).  Think spring.
  • Tone: color + grey, resulting in a muddier, low intensity value. Think predawn or dusk.
  • Shade: color + black, delivering the darkest versions of color


Next Page: The colorwheel can help!

Have another color tip to offer? Send it me, and I will add it here. 

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