Choosing Colors – May/June 2006

BY Sally Collins
I really enjoy making miniature quilts, but these color techniques work equally well for any size project.
When looking at a quilt, most people recognize and respond to color first. This reaction is either positive, negative, or indifferent. The challenge for quiltmakers is to create color and design balanced quilts that embrace viewers from a distance and then draw them closer.
For some quilters, successfully choosing colors for their quilts is easy and almost instinctive. Others feel inadequate, inexperienced, and unfamiliar when facing this task. Making successful color choices is a process that improves with time, experimentation, and study. As I have worked to improve my color choices for quilts, I have found these thoughts and techniques helpful.
Teeny Tiny Stars, 9¾” x 9¾” (Instructions for this Ohio Star quilt are in the May/June 2004 issue of Love of Quilting.)
Style and Inspiration
To develop your personal color style, begin by noticing only color when visiting quilt shows or looking at quilts in books and magazines. Take notes on the color combinations to which you are drawn—brights, pastels, or jewel tones, for example. Determine if your preference is one- or two-color quilts or scrap quilts. Deciding this will help to clarify your personal color style.
Color inspiration can come from anywhere—an object, nature, a holiday, or a specific quilt style such as Amish, country, or Victorian. Another source of inspiration can be a multi-color fabric. If the color composition of the inspiration fabric is beautiful, those colors will also be beautiful when used in the same proportions in your quilt.

Color Palette Fabric
Choose a pleasing multi-color print or plaid fabric as your Palette Fabric. Be discriminating when purchasing your palette fabric. I often buy a very small amount of this fabric and may not actually use it in my quilt—I just use it as a guide for my fabric choices.
Note the colors in the palette fabric and choose one fabric of each color. These are your Basic Colors. Tan, green, yellow, red, and purple are the basic colors in the plaid palette fabric shown above.
From each of the basic colors, choose fabrics of dark, medium, and light values. These are your Expanded Colors. Pick varied visual textures, created by the size and style of the print. Choose a variety of geometric designs, florals, and nearly solid prints.
This expanded grouping of fabrics should now “feel” like the palette fabric. These are the fabrics you will choose from to make your quilt. You do not have to use all of the fabrics, but you will have a nice variety of choices.

Making the Quilt
Sometimes, as in the case of my Ohio Star quilt (on page 84), I combine my expanded fabrics, and then divide them into groups of light, medium, and dark values. After looking at my block design, I assigned value placement, making all the backgrounds light, the star points dark, and the secondary triangles around the center square medium.
When I chose the background fabric for each block, I selected fabric from the light pile. Each block’s background has a different visual texture and color, but remains light in value. I selected fabric from the dark group for star points and the medium group for the secondary triangles. The value placement remains consistent, but the color and visual texture of the fabrics change. I created increased interest and variety in my quilt blocks by changing color and visual textures while maintaining continuity and repetition with value placement.

Choosing a Border Fabric
When it is time to add the border, be sure the fabric you choose is not based on the fact that you have bought three yards of it and feel committed to use it. Let your quilt speak. More often than not, the palette fabric is not the best choice for the border.
As you add each element, fabric, and color to your quilt, be sure the addition is making your quilt better.
Working this way is comfortable and successful because it is structured in format—you’re not just randomly choosing fabric and hoping it works. It is best to start working on your quilt with a plan or outline, knowing changes can be made along the way.

Include a dark fabric of one color in the palette to give the quilt order, unity, and a resting place for the eye.
Cut actual size windows of shapes from index cards. View possible fabric choices through the windows to see how that fabric will look when cut into small pieces.
Fabrics with a large amount of white can be distracting. Tone-on-tone fabrics with concentrated color and visual texture usually work well.
Use quiet fabrics (rather than busy, multi-colored prints) for miniature quilts so the piecing is the focal point.
Maintain a comparable proportion of color from the inspiration object or fabric to the quilt.
When in doubt, keep it simple.

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