Finding Color Inspiration


Although I have been drawing and painting since forever, when I first started quilting, the hardest part for me was getting the color palette right with fabric.  There is a marked difference between coordinating color for a quilt and color for a painting or illustration.  With a quilt, get it wrong and a lot of time and money for my efforts will have been wasted.  I know I gain experience, but it is deflating to see something you thought was going to be so right, turn out so wrong.  I can’t just paint over it with the stroke of a brush and be back on track.

So how do I solve this problem?  Sure I can draw my designs out in Illustrator and color them in with a general palette of colors if I wish, but matching that color with actual fabric on the market is a bit more tricky.  I dyed my fabric for awhile but found the colors to be dull and cloudy with cotton and I want clear and crisp. 

There are those who do hand dyes well, in particular Melody Johnson and Laura Wasilowski, Laura’s hand dyed threads are wonderful by the way.  They both create clear crisp brilliant dyed fabrics with silk that result in beautiful color as well as quilts.  However, with hand applique this isn’t an option for me.  Silk is miserable to hand applique with and I usually wash my quilts so for me it doesn’t work out as a viable option.  I will just have to admire theirs.

So back to my original point.  Most quilters don’t plan ahead two or more years for a quilt so one can be captive to current color trends on the market. One of the solutions I found was to tear out pages from magazines where the color palettes are appealing to you.  Magazines carefully coordinate colors in a photoshoot to reflect the current color trends and if you find a current magazine color selection appealing, then you will also be able to find current fabrics in that same colorway in the shops.  Of course if you are a stash buster, this won’t help.   I am afraid I would fail miserably as a stash buster. 


So then what?

Cut out swatches from the fabrics you think all work for your project and then arrange them by color and value.   Even stash busters can do this with what they have.  You don’t have to be exact, your eye will let you know when you have positioned something wrong or if it isn’t working almost instantly.  Trust your eyes.


A custom color guide ready for a quilt project
A custom color guide ready for a quilt project


When you have the color palette you like, paste the swatches down on a piece of sturdy paper and then use that as a general guide for fabric selection through the process.  This is a helpful tool to keep you in the right color and value ranges and is immensely helpful when you find you have to shop for a fabric color you may not have and want.

Do I have to say it is fun to look at the yummy colors all lined up too?

©2009 Sandra Leichner

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About Sandra

I am an Author, Designer, Illustrator and a major international award winning quilt artisan. I love working with fabrics and threads and they have become my medium of choice.

4 thoughts on “Finding Color Inspiration

  1. Well said!
    About the only thing I would add is that sometimes we are not influenced just by the colour combinations, but by the amount of each colour on the page. If you alter the amounts of each colour it doesn’t always appeal as much as the original mix. (Other times it becomes more appealing!)
    Judy B

  2. Just curious as to how much fabric do you aquire when your just stashing ?
    I usually get one FQ , and occasionally a 1/2 yd. But I always think I didn’t get enough . I hate buying too much because some of the stash I have , I would like to just trade for new stash . By the looks of my stash I have more that I don’t want than what I do want . Guess I need to buy more , LOL !

    Do you just buy enough for one project at a time or anything that draws your attention ?

  3. If a fabric looks to be a good background choice, I buy two yards. If it will be a fabric for applique elements I buy a half yard. I buy whatever strikes me as a possible candidate. I have too many times had a perfect color fat quarter and not had enough. I don’t think a fat quarter has ever been enough. But I think like a painter. I can’t mix my colors and I use so many values that if I don’t buy what I think would work when I see it, then when I need it I can’t get it. Obviously I just can’t mix up the color.

    I do over buy and then donate any fabrics I don’t think I will use to charitable groups when the project is completed. I just re-designed my sewing room and cleaned out some fabrics I had in my stash since I began (what a mother lode!). I have only a few prints now for piping and binding ‘sparkles’ and then thinned everything down to solids, tone on tones and read as solid fabrics. I know I will use these. I love pretty prints, but I know for my style they won’t work and not to buy them. However, I have an obsession with polka dots and buy everything polka dot. :o)

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