Understanding contrast helps add depth to your quilts.

Contrast is Key

Understanding contrast is the one element that will make your quilt design pop. Contrast clarifies the design and makes depth apparent.

Many quilt patterns list the fabrics needed for a project in terms of their contrast (also called values)--light, medium, or dark. Learning to see fabrics in these contrast categories can enhance your fabric-selection success.

To understand how contrast works, look at this image. Without the contrast between the gold and the green pieces, the diamonds in this Tumbling Blocks design would blend together and the design would appear flat.

The same block takes on new dimensions when the fabrics--a dark purple, medium green, and light yellow--have more contrast than the fabrics used in the first block.

Contrast, however, is a relative concept. This block uses a medium-value purple for the center star and a darker purple for the background. Because the difference between the medium and dark values is not great, the contrast in the resulting block is average.

When the same medium-value purple is paired with a light purple background fabric, the resulting block has a high contrast because the difference in purple values is greater.

Lessons from Projects

This scrappy quilt shows that you can get a good fabric contrast when using your stash, as long as you use a variety of contrasting colors. Here, the design focuses on 30 medium to dark hues in green, brown, and burgundy, and when set among a range of pink prints for the quilt's background, stands out for a great look.

Quilt designer: Sheila Sinclair Snyder
Quilt name: Walled Garden, American Patchwork & Quilting, April 2006

When designing with a busy print, choose complementary fabrics with enough contrast to help define the design.

Quilt designer: Margaret Rouleau
Quilt name: Cherry Orchard, Quilting Ideas, Winter 2002