Quilt Making Basics: Choosing Your First Fabric Colors


If you are new to quilting, choosing your first fabrics, both type and color, may be an intimidating process.  There are many books to help you learn about color choice, value and texture, but for our beginner’s project we will stick with the basic color wheel.

On the color wheel, every color is arranged in a circle with complimentary colors on the opposite sides of the wheel.  The basic structure to the wheel is the arrangement of 12 colors, beginning with the primary colors of red, yellow and blue.  Every color thereafter is an arrangement or combination of the primary colors.  Beginning with the triangle of red, yellow and blue, the melding of those colors present the next three colors.  Red plus yellow is orange, blue plus yellow is green, and blue plus red is purple.  These colors are known as the secondary colors on the color wheel.

The third set of colors on the color wheel, the remaining in-between colors, are the tertiary colors.  These are double-named colors, such as blue-green, yellow-green, red-orange and so on.  These colors are created when mixing a primary color with a secondary color.

When planning a quilt, using basic color theory will give you a more pleasing and attractive quilt than randomly picking colors that you like.  Sometimes when we just pick those colors that are attractive to us, we end up with a quilt that is “muddy” looking or simply boring to the eye.  Instead, quilters strive to create a work of art that will complement the room and enhance the atmosphere through fabric placement.

For example, if yellow is your favorite color, its complimentary color on the wheel is purple.  Therefore, any quilt that has the combination of yellow and purple will be striking and eye-catching with enough contrast to be interesting.

Some people, however, prefer their fabrics to be in the same color family.  They will choose colors that are tints and shades of the same color.  A tint of a color is a color that has white added to it to lighten it and a shade is a darker variation with black added to the true color.

As this is just a smattering of the elements in choosing color for your quilt, some quilters use a tool called a quilter’s wheel to help them select their fabric colors.  Dritz Rainbow Color Wheel Selector makes the decision so much easier, as it gives you a breakdown of value and color on a rotation dial.  With this product you just pick your focus color, the one you want to use the most in your quilt, and it will show you the complimentary, secondary, and tertiary colors that will make your quilt sizzle and pop.

For our first quilt, I suggest we use three colors.  Pick your favorite color on the color wheel, and then experiment with the color selections to see the directions you want to follow.  If you like contrast, pick a complimentary color scheme, with a neutral for your third color.  A quilt made of purple, yellow, and black for the neutral will be a very stunning composition.  If you are more comfortable with muted tones, pick a tertiary color scheme of three colors that are placed together on the color wheel, for example, yellow, yellow-green, and green.  If you want even more subtle colors, use nature as a palette and pick greens, blues and browns.

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3 Responses to Quilt Making Basics: Choosing Your First Fabric Colors

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