Sunday, January 20, 2013

Confessions from a Color (Theory) Blind Quilter

All in Color

I have been struggling for weeks trying to decide what fabrics to use for the two BOM's that I joined in the New Year - The Skill Builder BOM at Pile of Fabric, and the Lucky Stars BOM at Don't Call Me Betsy.  I keep sorting and petting my fabric, hoping that inspiration will strike.  I would think I came to a decision, but then, "No, that won't do".  I had to have a heart to heart with myself.  I'm talking about some serious introspection, people.  I came to several conclusions:

First, not necessarily the most important, I needed to USE my stash.  I wasn't really considering buying more fabric for these BOM's - what I am talking about was the decision to actually use some of my higher quality fabrics that I've been collecting hoarding over the last year.  First a little background.

When I was new to quilting, my LQS' prices were just to high for someone who was ripping out so many seams that the fabric would fray before a block was actually completed.  I stumbled into Joann's with my coupons and went a little crazy.  This was back before I knew anything about fabric quality.  All I knew was that I wanted red fabric that day, and I had a vague concept that a quilter needed a "stash".  Fast forward to current times - I now know that many of those fabrics are pretty much crap quality.  Not all!  I do think you can find decent quality fabric at Joann's and I have some of it.  But plenty of what I do have is truly crap quality.  I've been holding on to this fabric anyway and using it in projects when it doesn't really matter too much, like practice pieces for me and my daughter, trying out new patterns, and shamefully QAL's where I intend to give the quilt to charity**.  I am not sure what I will do with the quilts from these BOM's, so my first instinct was to continue to pull fabrics from my huge bin of bargain fabrics.  However....

Over the last year, I have committed myself more fully to quilting, found reasonably priced online fabric sources, learned what quality fabric feels like, and joined several bees where quality fabric is a requirement.  So, I have been buying it!  Probably too much.   I have more yardage than I do scraps, and I am somewhat protective of cutting into it for some reason.  I also have a fair amount of fabric from Connecting Threads - quality that falls somewhere between bargain basement and quilt shop.  As I pondered what fabrics to use for these BOM's, I began to realize - what am I saving this stuff for?   It needs to be used!  So that was the first revelation.

The second came to me as I tried to figure out which fabrics to use for the Skill Builder BOM specifically.  Alyssa suggested choosing 4 to 5 colors, and selecting several values of each color.  Now, color theory is usually a "basic" shared in nearly every quilting book I own.  I've read it countless times and nodded my head up in down in color theory agreement.  I understand the color wheel and the terms used like "hue", "saturation", "complimentary", etc. etc.  But that's all it was, a "theory".   Practice, is a whole different story. Staring a bunch of bins of different colored fabric, I still didn't know where to begin.

Many of the BOM participants are using solids for the Skill Builder.  I LOVE solids!  And thanks to several rounds of the solids group of the 3 x 6 bee, I have a bunch of them.  With solids, it is easy to pick out differences in value.  I started to look at my stash of solids, but the second revelation struck me - I wouldn't be stretching my skills.  This is supposed to be a skill "builder".  Solids are easier for me.  With prints, you usually are getting some other color making the design that mucks up the value in your head.  I decided for better or worse, I needed to use my stash of prints.  I'll start with the ones I have the most of - pink and aqua.  I found choosing values for the pink easier than the aqua (or so I thought).

"Oh crap", I thought, "I still need some help."  Luckily, there are loads of experts out there.  I just needed to actually LISTEN to them!  So, I needed to really pay attention.  I started with one of my guru's, Rachel from Stitched in Color.  Late last year she was participating in a QAL with the main focus of using Color Value - Perfect!!  I had glanced over her posts last year, but now that I need them, I am reading them with fresh eyes.  Her QAL partners' posts were amazing too.  Yet, my head was still spinning a bit.

I pulled some more fabrics for the Skill Builder, some grays, blue-greens, greens and yellow-greens.

All in Color

I actually have one color too many.  Hmm, let's see if I have enough value.  Using the "camera trick", turning the photo to black and white, I can see the values easier.

All in B & W

Well, as you can see, I have a lot of "medium" values.  Not unusual, most of us choose medium values.

Colors in Color

I think I am going to ditch the grays.  I like them, but maybe I will use a solid gray for the background fabric for the blocks.  Although, white is predominant in my mind at the moment.

Now just looking at the colors, I obviously need some more greens.  I find it hard to choose greens.  I like green as a color, but I rarely see any green fabrics that I like.  Anyone else have trouble with a color like that?

OK, just looking at the colors now...

Colors in B & W

Yep.  A couple more darks and lights are needed in each color.  I can't believe it, even my pinks need more contrast.

Well, I have been saving up my allowance the last few weeks for the quilt show next week.  I guess I will have to keep my eye out for some new fabric.  Who would have thought?

Now that I've blabbed on and on about the Skill Builder fabrics, you might be wondering about that Lucky Star BOM.  Well, all those revelations took their toll.  I was mentally exhausted. -- I hear you chuckling!  It so happens that I had a "Clouds and Sunshine" fat quarter pack from Connecting Threads.  I am sure I bought it after becoming interested in the color combination from one of Esther's quilts.  I added a couple more values in both yellow and gray, and presto!  A three color scheme for the paper pieced blocks.  Here is a preview.

Lucky Stars Practice WIP

Until next time,


** A side note about the charity - my guild requests each member to make 2 quilts for the Highway Patrol in the mountain areas.  These quilts are typically kept in their trunks and used whenever they have to escort a youth away from their homes to a foster situation.  Sometimes the quilts are kept by the foster home, some by the kids, but many end up back in the trunk of the cop car for a while.  Thus the guild ladies have warned me NOT to use the fanciest fabrics.  They are more interested in quantity rather than quality, and practicality rather than beauty.  Well, OK.  I can use up those lower quality fabrics, but can't I make them a little pretty??  It is a balance I can live with.


  1. What a great post! I have a hard time with fabric selection and I'm pretty sure I have colorblindness which doesn't help. I let my husband pick for me. I would love to hear what you learn along the way about picking fabrics.

    I still buy fabric at Joann's, but usually just their Stonehill, Heidi Grace, DS Quilts, and Alexander Henry, and Kona of course. I've probably made about 30 quilts since I started and the only two which have ripped were one made with a cheapo fat quarter pack from Joann's and one made using Connecting Threads. :( I still buy from Connecting Threads though. I love the silky thick feel of their fabric and use their thread a lot too.

  2. PS I think it's great you make quilts to donate regardless of what fabric you use. It sounds like for their purpose you wouldn't want to make an heirloom quality quilt, just something to function and cheer someone up.

  3. I am a new follower. Thanks for the look inside your process of selecting fabrics. Very interesting. I have beem quilting a few years and still consider myself an "experienced beginner." The more I learn; the more I learn there is to learn. I also still have difficulty using (actually cutting) my lovely stashed fabrics. I have been only "shopping my stash" lately so some of them are now turning into blocks and quilts.
    Love the paper pieced block ... looking forward to seeing more of your lovely fabric and work ... :) Pat

  4. I have a definite issue with hoarding parts of my stash. Once I gain the upper hand on my UFO Collection I will be ready to work on using those Untouchables instead of just admiring them!

  5. Great post Jen! I love reading process posts like this - it's interesting seeing how different people approach fabric selection. I'm a huge fan of grey and goldenrod/yellow combo - gorgeous block!

  6. I think most new quilters fall into the pitfall of cheap fabric acquisition. When I first started quilting, I bought everything there, and I know I have more than I'd like in my stash. And it's easier to cut into those fabrics than my hoarded lovelies! I'm working on that too. All that to say, I love your stack of yummy, and your Lucky Stars block is lovely too! :)

  7. Great insight into the process! I have always, and probably will always, struggle with values.

    And a gorgeous block, too.

  8. Thanks for sharing your process with jumping into color theory and fabric selection. I feel like I'm exactly where you are in understanding the theory but scared of applying it. You've inspired me to attempt it, as I'm also planning to do the Skillbuilder BOM! :)

  9. This is such a helpful post. I'm planning on doing both of those QALs and am struggling with choosing fabrics!

  10. Oh wow, that's far more thought than I give my quilts fabrics, thank for building my skills too! I love that the highway patrol see the value of quilts, such a shame that they are needed, but I think they should be lovely quilts, and the kids should be encouraged to keep them

  11. How funny, I wrote about Joann's fabrics in my post today as well :). I have been struggling with fabric selection for this quilt along as well so this is very helpful!


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