Building a Color Palette


When deciding on a color palette for a quilt project, many of us head to the local quilt store and shop the latest fabric lines. The fabric designers are great at creating colorways that blend together perfectly. Hands down, the easiest way to build a color palette for a quilt project is to use ________ (you fill in the blank) fabric line and let the designer choose for you.

But what do you do when you want to create a project using fabrics from your stash? Then colors can get tricky.

Here are some tips to help you build a color palette with confidence.

Consider your light source. Like a painting, you direct light with the values of your fabric selection. Use value to create depth, drama, and focus.

  • Frame a quilt by going from darker outer borders to a lighter center.
  • Open a quilt by going from a darker center to lighter outer borders.
  • Ground a quilt by using a darker value background fabric.
  • Create focus in a quilt by using a light value background fabric.

Settle on value by coloring your quilt in gray scale using blacks, whites, and grays.

Work with what you cannot change. Is there some part of your quilt that must be a certain color? Start there.

  • If there is a huge green tree in the center of your quilt then you know green is in the palette.
  • If your daughter wants a quilt in hot pink, hot pink it is.
  • If you have a white cat and you want to camouflage the fur on the quilt as much as possible, your cat is in your palette. (Thank you to the quilter who explained this important color deciding information!)

Pick a color. If there are no constraints or dictates, pick your color. What is the predominate color for this quilt?

  • Consider the mood the color will convey.
  • Work with a color you have enough variety and yardage of to complete your palette and project.
  • Pick your favorite color of the day.

Use your main color to influence the rest of the palette choices.

  • To create strong contrast or movement, add fabrics of the same color but that have a lighter or darker value (monochromatic). The stronger the value contrast the more the drama.
  • Arrange your stash in Roy G. Biv order. (Red, Orange, Yellow, Green, Blue, Indigo, Violet) Select colors beside your main color (analogous). This creates a cozy palette.
  • If you are looking for pop, split your stash in half. Put the greens under the reds, the blues/indigos under the yellows. Add the color above or below your main color to your palette (complementary). This will add pop!

This gives you a good start to building a color palette you will love for your next project. Play around and have fun. If you don’t like something, try again. If you get stuck, it always helps to ask a friend. 

But most of all, have fun!

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