Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Color Journey

“I love your use of color” is a comment I’ve received and given. I’ve been thinking about it lately and thought I’d share my thoughts with you. Also, I just saw that Kathleen Tracy posted about color on the Sentimental Quilter. I ‘d love to hear what you think, either by commenting here or posting on your own blog.

Look at all my yellow tags! They mark quilts I just love!

I love Roberta Horton’s book Scrap Quilts -The Art of Making Do. She does a fabulous job explaining fabric selection (including color) for scrap quilts. I also learned from Jinny Beyer on Simply Quilts and more recently at her color confidence lecture. Color Confidence is also the name of one of her books, but it is out of print and my library system doesn’t have it. I’ve heard it is very good.

When I first started quilting (about 20 years ago) I made 3 fabric quilts. It was difficult for me to go beyond that. I remember going to a quilt shop to pick fabrics for a Quilt In A Day trip around the world pattern. It was taking me a while, so the shop gal helped me out. Thinking about it now I can see that what she picked out was pretty tame – an assortment of dusty pinks and blues (it was the 90’s). I stood there for a while thinking about it and then put all the bolts back and then I bolted. I just wasn’t ready for it. I don’t remember how much time elapsed, but I went to a different shop (I was too embarrassed to go back to the other one) and purchased fabrics. I guess I had had time to think about it or maybe this shop gal read me better, but I went home with about 8 different pinks and blues and made the quilt.

Several years of going to guild meetings, quilt shows and reading books passed. I was working 32 hours a week back then and had 3 children so there really wasn’t a lot of time to quilt, but I fit it in when I could. At some point, I realized that I wanted to make scrappy quilts. These were the ones that I was really drawn to. Building the stash was the easy part. I just bought a lot of fat quarters and tried to vary the color and pattern. I remember reading somewhere that you should buy fabrics that don’t really appeal to you to mix things up. A couple of years ago I found myself with lots of fabric, but not many of the 19th century reproduction fabric that I love the best. Duh!

Basically, when I pick fabric for a quilt I pull from my stash and line it up and just add and delete based on what I think looks good. If it is really scrappy, I just put in lots of variety. If it is controlled, like Quiltville’s RRCB I would make sure I had lots of shades of each color (a variety of pattern). For the quilt I’m using as my background, I started with one fabric line (I think it was called English Oak by Moda) and then I added lots of other fabrics to it.

There are some fabrics that I really like to use because I think they meld things together. I call them off colors – they are softened shades of salmon, turquoise, teal, coral, periwinkle, clay, grey, etc. These fabrics are hard to find. Here are a few examples.

love this paisley

the purply pink

the grey and the plaid

the stripe

That said, I do love 2 color quilts – even those that are solid white and another solid color. Is it that the quilting on these is typically extraordinary? I’m also enjoying Lori’s Midnight Stars quiltalong and I’m using the same colors and types of fabrics she did. There isn’t a lot of variety in that quilt. Is it pleasing to me because it is a small quilt?

Seems like I’m asking more questions than answering. As with anything else, I think making quilts (practicing) is the best way to learn about color. After almost every quilt I make I realize I would do it differently if making it again. It isn’t that I regret what I did (I have a finished quilt after all), but think of it as a learning experience. I guess the point I want to make is that I think we each have an evolving color sense; it isn’t something we have or don’t have. Learning about color is the same as learning quilting techniques. It is all just part of the process.


  1. I totally agree that working with color gives you more confidence. You have to make mistakes to see what works. Two of my favorite colors to put in a quilt are purple and orange, however, my palette seems to stay in the fall color range. I am doing Lori's quilt in her colors and it is hard, because I am not a blue person.

  2. So, funny, of all the books I have, it was this one that I took down to look at this week. You are so right, Roberta does a great job with the color section.
    I usually choose colors intuitively, whatever that means. All I can say is I loosely use color theory then go off in my own way -
    great post.

  3. I love that book too!! I'm a scrappy girl but really love two color quilts too.

  4. Thank you for sharing your thoughts Maureen, you have given me some things to think about and a few little activities I can experiment with. I will keep an eye out for Roberta's book. I participated in a few block swaps last year and they really gave me some freedom to play around with different colours.