When we ask quilters what they struggle with most, choosing fabric is always toward the top of the list. Here are 10 great tips to help you find the color palettes and combinations that work best for you.

August 04, 2020
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First, let’s talk about inspiration. Inspiration is everywhere, but we have some specific suggestions for places to look to help get you started.

1. Start with a photo that you love, whether it’s one you’ve taken or one you’ve seen online. These photos can be from your vacations, from magazines or advertisements, or artwork. If you find yourself drawn to a particular image because of the color palette, why not try pulling together fabrics that are similar?

2. Use a multicolor fabric print to pull together colors. Whether you plan to use the particular print in your quilt or simply use it for color inspiration, it’s a great way to get started. When the fabric was created, the designer already did the work of creating a color palette for you! Use the colors from the fabric to pull a palette of your own.

3. Look at the selvage of the fabric for a color palette. If you aren’t familiar with fabric selvages, take a look along the bottom edge of fabric. You’ll usually see the name of the fabric line, the fabric designer's name, and some color dots. The color dots are each individual ink color used in the fabric printing process. If the fabric has more than one color, you’ll see the color dots, which you can use to help pull together a palette.

4. Dive into color theory. You might remember learning about color theory when you were in school, and that theory hasn’t changed no matter how long ago you learned it! There are a lot of great resources for learning color theory, including using a color wheel or reading books on the topic. Color theory is a very specific way of learning about color, but if you need a little help getting started, it can be an excellent resource.

Now let's look at tips for mixing and matching fabrics to make a beautiful quilt.

5. Once you’ve figured out a color palette you want to use, think about the scale of the prints in your project. In order to create a nice visual push and pull, it’s great to have a range of large, medium, and small prints. This will add nice texture and movement to your quilt. If you're averse to large prints, try adding a small stripe or floral. Sometimes even a small print can make an impact against tone-on-tones. (There are a few exceptions to this rule. If you're making a quilt that is all solids, obviously this rule doesn't apply. If you're making a quilt with small pieces, choosing a large-scale print can overwhelm the small blocks.)

6. Up the contrast! Contrast means having a mix of light, medium, and dark fabrics. The best way to easily see if you have enough contrast is to take a picture of your fabric selection on your phone and change it to black and white. This will allow you to see the contrast variations without being distracted by the colors themselves. If all your fabrics are the same in contrast, you’ll have a quilt design that looks undefined and mushy.

7. Once you’ve selected your fabrics taking scale and contrast into consideration, think about where each of those fabrics will be placed in the pattern. Color and fabric placement can make such a huge difference in your quilt. Many times, a pattern has a secondary design you can highlight with your color placement, so it’s really fun to think about where your colors are going and what part of the design that will bring forward. You can do something similar by using computer programs such as Electric Quilt. Some patterns also come with coloring pages where you can color in different options for color placement.

8. If you’re feeling unsure about color placement, consider making a test block. Make sure you have enough extra fabric before you do this, that way you don’t run out when you make your actual quilt! If you don’t end up using the test block in your quilt, you can set it aside and practice quilting on that block later.

Move forward with confidence in your fabric choices! (And follow these tips for some extra fun when picking a palette.)

9. Have a go-to color palette. We're all naturally drawn to specific color combinations (look at your wardrobe or home decor.) If you're feeling stuck and unsure of what fabrics to pull, start with this signature color palette, then add in new colors or swap some out for a new combination.

10. Our last tip is to play around and have fun! On the next rainy day, go to your stash and start putting fabrics together (it's ok if you don't have a project in mind). If you make a combination you love, take a photo so you can remember it.

BONUS: Just remember that there are no rules. These tips can help you find the palettes and combinations that work best for you. But if you like the fabric that you’ve selected, that’s all that matters.