Category Archives: Color theory

Color Theory for Quilters: Choosing a Color Scheme

Standard’m not the most tech-savvy person, and I’ve never been drawn to computer games. So I was surprised when I found this online color scheme designer and enjoyed it. It is easy to use and will give you an infinite variety of color schemes for your quilts (and your home). This is also a site that you’ll definitely want to bookmark.

Please enjoy the Color Scheme Designer.

Color Theory for Quilters: The Meaning of Color


Most of us have some sense of the meaning behind certain colors. Wearing a navy suit, for example, denotes power. We know that purple is the color of royalty. And we intuitively know that a child’s bedroom should be not be painted red if we want them to calm down and go to sleep.

These same principles can be applied to our quilts. We can use color strategically to create a mood with our designs. Here’s a great article about the psychological affects of color. It is interesting that each color has both positive and negative psychological connotations.

Looking at article above, I can see how one could get overwhelmed in choosing a color. Remember that no one from the Quilt Police: Color Division is going to show up at your house and critique your choice. The purpose of this series of articles is to increase our knowledge of color theory and expand our color selections in quilts. Knowing about the meaning of color is just one way we can do that.

This video describes the surprising historical origins of some colors. If you’ve ever wondered why barns are painted red, take a look!

Color Theory for Quilters: Color Dominance in Quilts


A successful quilt will almost always have contrasts. It will have light and dark fabrics, so that the quilt has depth. It will generally have a range of prints — from busy, bright or large-scale to solids and blenders — so that your eye will have a place to rest. Finally, a successful quilt will have a range of colors.

Dominant colors are the colors we notice first in a quilt. They tend to be bright — such as yellow or orange — and to pop out when you view the quilt. Sometimes you only need a little bit of this color — traditional log cabin blocks, for example, used bright red or yellow only in the smallest center block. Neutral colors such as beige, grey or black will  recede into the background of the quilt.


Note how the bright dominant yellow seems to come forward in the quilt, while the black recedes.

The secret to a successful quilt is doing some planning. Look at the fabrics carefully — especially prints — to determine the underlying colors. Choose one or two colors to be dominant and let them draw people’s eyes into your quilt.

This article will help you learn about color dominance in quilts

The degree of dominance will help determine the look of your quilt. Have a look at these color schemes  and see if you can determine the dominant color.

As with all color decisions, there is no right or wrong answers. However understanding color theory will enable you to make informed decisions that can only enhance the look of your quilts.

Color Theory for Quilters: Hue, Tint, Shades and Tones


Color theory has a language all of its own. The words used to describe colors are known as the “properties of color.” These properties include hue, tint, shades, and tones.

Hue is pure color. It is any color on the color wheel — either a primary color or some mixture of primary colors. Hue is shown on the outside of this color wheel.

A tint is formed by adding white to a pure color. A shade is formed by adding black to a pure color. And, to get a tone, you add grey to a pure color.

Although there are no rules in quilting, understanding how tints, tones and shades are made can help you make better decisions. If you are making a monochromatic (single color) quilt, you may want to include many tones, tints and shades to provide depth and contrast. Or you may discover that the tones (with grey added) distract from a quilt made of hues, tints and shades. In addition, you can choose complimentary colors (colors that are opposite on the color wheel) that include more than just the hue (pure color).

It is also interesting to look at your stash of fabric. Many of us love buying pure colors and tints, but have very few tones and shades. Adding these to your fabric stash can give your quilts more visual interest.

This website shows an example of how to mix tones, tints and shades.

This short video contains some good information about mixing colors and color theory. I’ll admit that she is not the most engaging speaker, but there’s some great information — if you can make it through the 4 minutes

Color Theory for Quilters: Warm and Cool Colors


We hear a lot of talk about “warm” and “cool” colors in color theory. Warm colors are yellow, red-orange, yellow-orange and orange. Warm colors remind us of fire. These colors tend to stand out in our quilts. They also create a sense of warmth and excitement.

Cool colors are blue, green-blue, blue-violet, and violet. These colors remind us of grass and water. Cool colors tend to recede into quilts. They create a sense of peace and calmness.

In quilting, knowing about warm and cool colors helps us to make good design choices. I am currently making a red and white quilt. Because red is such a warm color that stands out in the quilt, I am balancing the red in each block with a white background.  If I’d chosen a warm color for the background — such as yellow — the quilt would be very intense and the red color would not stand out as much.

If you are making a quilt that is predominantly cool colors, you may want to add a pop of a warm color to create additional visual interest. Such is the case with traditional log cabin quilts, which were generally cool color blocks with a red or yellow middle. Why? I’ve heard because the center block represented fire, which was also the center of the home. A color theory explanation is that our ancestors knew that warm colors — red and yellow — stood out so much in the quilt, that only a little square in the center of each block was enough.

This Youtube video does a good job of explaining warm and cool colors.

There’s another benefit to knowing about warm a cool colors. If you color your hair at home, it can be difficult to choose the most flattering shade. You can follow my method, which is buy whatever color is on sale! Or you can understand color theory and choose a warm or cool color, which will flatter your skin tone. This video tells how to use your knowledge of warm and cool colors to select your next shade of hair dye.

Color Theory for Quilters: Understanding the Color Wheel


Being able to understand color theory begins with understanding the color wheel. (Trivia point — the color wheel was invented by Isaac Newton in 1666.) At it’s simplest, a color wheel has 6 colors — 3 primary (red, blue and yellow) and 3 secondary (orange, violet and green).  Between secondary colors we can add tertiary colors (red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green, yellow-green, red-orange, and yellow-orange).

As quilters, our goal is to use the color wheel to develop pleasing — and interesting — combinations of fabrics. Say you have a guild challenge that requires you use to violet and one or two other colors.  I’m sure your first thought would be to skip that meeting! But here’s how you could use the color wheel to come up with a color scheme:

1. Analogous Color Scheme — these are color schemes using three colors, with a primary color in common. Violet could be paired with a blue-violet and blue, or a red-violet and red.

2. Complementary Colors — this is the color directly across on the color wheel. Violet’s complementary color is yellow.

3, Triad — three colors equidistant from each other on the color wheel. Violet would be paired with orange and green.

Now that’s progress! Would you have thought of pairing violet with blue, red, yellow, orange or green? Maybe. But it might taken you a long time to puzzle it out. Using the color wheel will allow you to quickly organize your thoughts and create a great quilt.

Here is a short Youtube video that does a good job explaining the color wheel:

Here is a great article on using the color wheel and color schemes.

Color Theory for Quilters: Black and White and Grey All Over


On Tuesday, I mentioned that I was taking a color theory course. Our first assignment was to create a 12″ quilt using black, white and grey fabrics. The quilt had to contain at least eight different fabrics, as well as a pop of color. The teacher challenged us to experiment and use techniques that were new to us.

I had created a large black and white quilt last year, so I had a substantial number of scraps left over. Being a natural overachiever, I took advantage of these leftovers, cut the scraps into 64 two-inch squares, and arranged them from dark to light. My goal was to create a darker frame with a lighter center. I used two birds as focal points. I did a bunch of free motion stitching that was supposed to look like a tree (left side) with leaves, and then as water and clouds. I was somewhat successful. For the required pop of color, I added red stitching around the binding.

It is very easy to sew tiny squares into a quilt. I used fusible interfacing and marked 2″ squares using my ruler. I then arranged the squares on the fusible interfacing and ironed them on. This blog shows a great step-by-step demo of the process:

(If you can’t see the photo, please check out my blog at

Final project

Color Theory for Quilters: 50 Shades of Grey Fabric


I am taking a color theory class. I think that most quilters are like me and choose our quilt colors intuitively, without really knowing why we like them or not. That’s why I’m starting a blog series — called “True Color Tuesday’s” — so that we can explore color theory together.

Grey fabric. Note that colors “change” depending on adjoining fabric.

At my color theory class, the first assignment was to bring in the greys from our stash. (This was not a huge deal as most of us didn’t exactly have a huge stash of grey fabric.)

The next step was to lay our grey fabrics on the table. It was very interesting to see that most of the greys changed color, depending on what shade was around them. Some of the greys began to look yellow, while others looked blue or green. After pulling out all the greys that were not a pure color, we were left with very few.

I admit that I’ve spent very little time studying grey fabric, so I was surprised. How can grey change color? Don’t you just mix grey from black and white? Nope. Grey can also be made from mixing a variety of colors. A warm grey will be composed with yellow, orange and red, while a cool grey will contain blues and greens. A true grey will be made from black and white.

So keep this in mind as you’re planning your quilt. If you’ve got a blue quilt, and you are adding grey, you probably want a grey that is made from a combination of cool colors. Ditto if you’re making a quilt with warm colors. Or maybe not. The trick is to realize that, just because you purchased a fabric labeled “grey,” doesn’t mean it will look grey on your quilt.

On this Youtube video, you can see grey being mixed from yellow, orange and blue.

Wikipedia has a great explanation of making grey, as well as examples of warm and cool greys.