Many people are worried about choosing quilt colours.

Do these colours go? is a frequent lament.  You choose colours every day:  which top with these trousers? which curtains will go with the rug?  Choosing colours for your quilt follows the same idea – go with your instincts and what you lik.

Having said that, it is worth looking at the foundations of colour and how colours vary.  White is made up of all colours together, as I’m sure you learned at school.  The scientific theory is that grass looks green to us because the grass absorbs all the light except the green portion.  It reflects only green light back, so it looks green to us.  We don’t need to know that, but I thought it was interesting!

Primary colours

Primary colours

Primary Colours

The three primary colours are red, blue and yellow.  You can obtain all other colours from these three.  When  each one is mixed with one of the others, it produces the secondary colours of violet (red and blue), green (blue and yellow) and orange (red and yellow).

If you then mix a primary colour with a secondary colour (for example, mix red with green), the result is known as a tertiary colour.  This could obviously go on for ever, mixing a primary colour with a tertiary colour and so on, but it does give you some idea of how the colours we see in quilting fabric are built up from the basic three colours.

Fabric colours

Fabric colours

I recently attended a fascinating workshopon fabric dyeing and one of the things we did was change the proportions of the three basic dyes to produce a huge array of colours as shown.  This helps to explain why some reds just don’t look right together – they may both have red in the colour, but one might be mixed with more blue while the other might be mixed with more yellow.

Colour tints, shades and tones

Fabric shades

Fabric shades

So now we have a range of colours produced using the pure primary colours.  No – that’s not the end of it!  A tint is a lighter version of a colour, made by adding white.  The obvious example is pink made from red and white.

A shade is a darker version of a colour, made by adding black.

A tone is a duller version of a colour, made by adding grey.

The fabric shown runs through a range of versions of red and is great if you are doing any quilting like tumbling blocks that needs to show light and dark.

Colour wheels

Colour charts

Colour charts

You can see colour wheels in most fabric shops so that you can look at colours and see how they look against each other.  Don’t forget that they will look different under natural light rather than the artificial light in the shop.  I personally use a paper crafter’s colour companion which I find very helpful.  It is made up of cards that give the pure colour and the shades, tints and tones of that colour.

It’s quite fun to make up a colour wheel of your own by cutting a snippet of fabric each time you have one of a particular colour and sticking it on a home made card circle.

Colour codes on the selvedge

Colour codes on the selvedge

If you are really unsure of whether you want to use a particular colour in a quilt, there are two failsafe options.  One is to ask the ladies in the fabric shop – they know exactly what fabrics they have in the store and can suggest ones that you might not even have noticed.  That has happened to me many times.

The other option is to look at the colour dots along the selvedge of a fabric.  They have numbers which identify which colours have been used in the pattern.  It is often easier to match a fabric against the dot more easily than against a bright pattern.

I hope that helps with the idea of colour in quilts.

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  1. I love your web site and you explain things so well. I am just a beginner and have learnt so much.

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