Choosing Fabric

Choosing fabrics for a new quilt can seem like a daunting task, however, there are a few simple ‘rules’ that can take your quilts to the next level.

First, think of fabric choice in the same way in which you think of an outfit. Choose one fabric as the focus and then choose ‘accent fabric’ which will enhance or compliment your initial choice. By choosing one main focus you will not have competing fabrics. Once you have your focus piece you can better design the rest of the “outfit”. Try not to stress about every fabric choice individually, as it is the sum of the parts that creates a beautiful quilt. Remember to always take a few steps back (literally) and look at your choices. Fabrics at close range can be overwhelming, choose fabrics that you like together, then stand back and take them all in as a whole (bare in mind the final product of your quilt, is it a wall hanging? what type of lighting? The more you know about your finished product the better you will be able to choose the fabrics).

Two of the main focus areas when choosing fabric should be VALUE and SCALE. Think of value in terms of where the fabric colour would fall on a line of white to black, therefore you want a variety of light, medium and dark, as for scale you also want a variety of large, medium and small.

Fabric ScaleScale seems to be an easier concept for people to grasp, think of scale as the texture of a fabric. Texture, whether tactile or implied in design, is always welcome in any quilt, however, too much is overwhelming and too little leaves something to be desired. Start by choosing fabrics and prints that you like, then divide them into small, medium and large scale print, from here you will be able to better decide which prints work together and which prints take away from one another. Try not to be too “matchy” with your textures, as our eyes are often drawn to the unexpected. Moreover, if all you choose is large floral prints, even if the colours are different our eye will draw parallels in scale and much of the quilt techniques will be lost in the design of the fabrics, rather try to offset large print with solid colours, different textures or small and subtle print designs.

Value is often harder to wrap ones head around. Value is what makes a quilt ‘pop’ though colour is often how it gets described. Try to imagine that you’re looking at your fabric through a black and white lends and everything in grayscale (or better yet grab your camera, or camera phone and snap a black and white photo of your fabric), how close to white or black is your fabric? Now try to find a range of “grays” to make your quilt pop!



Now let’s think of your colour wheel. The colour wheel can be an excellent way to establish your fabric choices. The colour wheel divides all colour into 12 “pure” colours, which are distributed in the same order around a wheel. This wheel can provide a great background for your fabric choices. The colour wheel can seem a little complicated at first, but it is actually quite straight forward. The following are the basic principles to remember:


Primary Colors: Red, yellow and blue
In traditional color theory (used in paint and pigments), primary colors are the 3 pigment colors that can not be mixed or formed by combination of other colors. All other colors are derived from these 3 hues.



Secondary Colors: Green, orange and purple: These are the colors formed by mixing the primary colors.



Tertiary Colors: Yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green & yellow-green
These are the colors formed by mixing a primary and a secondary color. That’s why the hue is a two word name, such as blue-green, red-violet, and yellow-orange.

ctheory_leafAnalogous colors are any three colors which are side by side on a 12 part color wheel, such as yellow-green, yellow, and yellow-orange. Usually one of the three colors predominates. To spark an analogous quilt, use an accent color which is directly across the color wheel from the center analogous color. For example, yellow, orange and blue-violet.

ctheory_orchidComplementary colors are any two colors which are directly opposite each other, such as red and green and red-purple and yellow-green. In the illustration above, there are several variations of yellow-green in the leaves and several variations of red-purple in the orchid. These opposing colors create maximum contrast.


The colour wheel can also be divided into warm and cool colours. cool-warm

Warm colors are bright, passionate and energetic, and tend to be eye-popping colors. Warm colors include: red, orange, and yellow, and variations of those three colors.

Cool colors give an impression of calm, and create a soothing impression. Cool colors include: violet, blue, and green.

Again the warm or coolness of a print or colour is only something to keep in mind when choosing the overall feel of a piece, like all other aspects of colour, there are not hard fast rules and colour is meant to be played with! Have fun with it and happy quilting!



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