Last Updated on December 9, 2020 by wendigratz
I’ve got a post here with some tips for beginners on choosing what types of fabric to work with, and I include information with almost all of my quilts about the fabrics I used in my sample, but I realized I’ve never spelled out some general guidelines for choosing fabrics for a project – specifically choosing colors and prints.
Of course, choosing color is a pretty personal thing. 🙂 These are just the guidelines that I use to give my quilts their particular “look” and to make the blocks a cohesive collection.
First let’s look at the different groups I put my fabrics into. There are multicolor prints (fabrics that don’t “read” as a single color) which I hardly ever use. When I do, it’s often in a larger appliqué piece where the print makes sense, like this truck.
These fabrics are awesome and they make good quilt backs and doll clothes, but I rarely use them for appliqué, so I’m going to leave them out of this discussion.
What I’m left with is lots and lots of fabulous monochrome fabric – which makes up the bulk of my stash. Within that group I have solids, batiks, and tone on tone prints like my favorite Sketch collection from Timeless Treasures.
I usually choose one of those groups and use those fabrics for ALL of the background blocks in a quilt.
The Cats quilt uses solids for all the backgrounds. The quilting REALLY shows up on these solid blocks.
The Chirp quilt uses batiks for all the backgrounds. The quilting will tend to disappear in the dapply batik texture, so choose this if you’re not very confident in your quilting skills, or don’t want to put a ton of effort into the quilting.
Tone on Tone Prints
The Noisy Farm quilt uses tone on tone prints for all the backgrounds.
Choosing all your backgrounds from one group helps create a unified look right from the start. But what about the appliqués?
For choosing those I rely on The Rule of Two Out of Three.
I look at three categories, and I only choose fabrics that have contrast in two of the three categories.
This is the easiest. Look at those categories of monochrome prints and choose two different ones. If you have a batik background block and solid fabric for the bird appliqué, you have contrast in the texture category. If you have a solid background block with a tone on tone print for the appliqué, you have texture contrast. Here’s a good example of that. . .
This is also mostly easy. Warm colors are fiery – red, orange and yellow. Cool colors are watery – blue, green and purple.
Things can get tricky with neutrals – there are warm greys and cool greys, for example – but mostly this is pretty straightforward. If you have a cool background and a warm applique fabric (like that cat block above), you have temperature contrast.
This one’s easy too. Dark fabrics contrast with light ones.
It can be hard to read the value contrast, especially if your fabrics are different temperatures. If you’re having trouble, try this trick.
These fabrics look high contrast because one is warm and the other is cool.
Snap a quick photo of them on your phone, then use a black and white filter on them.
Wow! They have almost the exact same value!
Let’s audition some fabrics. . .
Even though that green/orange combination turned out to have the same value, they still pass The Rule of Two Out of Three, so I would still use them. They have no contrast in value, but they contrast in texture (solid vs. tone on tone) and temperature (warm vs. cold).
How about this combination?
This one has contrast in texture (solid vs. tone on tone), contrast in temperature (warm vs. cool) and contrast in value (dark magenta vs. light green). It passes on all three categories, so it will be a very successful block. And by that I mean it will have enough contrast that the appliqué won’t get lost on the background fabric.
Here’s another one.
I love red and orange together, but this combination fails. 🙁 They contrast in texture, but they are both warm, and both relatively dark. They only contrast in one category, so I’ll try again.
This one passes! It’s the same red (photographed at different times of day and not color corrected) but paired with a much lighter orange. They’re both warm, but now I have contrast in texture and in value, so I know this is a combination that will work.
So there you go – The Rule of Two Out of Three. It’s how I choose all the fabrics for my quilts.