Aaack! How do I choose fabrics?!

Do you ever get stuck in a color rut? You know, where you use the same colors over and over? Or you only put fabrics from the same line in a quilt just to be sure they go together? How do you decide which colors play nicely together, and which are likely to bonk each other over the heads with a toy truck? (Whoops, sorry, sandbox flashback.)

I admit, I actually enjoy the fabric choosing process. But so many people I know are leery of going out on a color limb. Here are some great suggestions for becoming a bit more adventurous with color.

First, the most awesome color book I’ve found is Visual Coloring by Joen Wolfrom. The basic premise is that you use nature photos to help you choose colors. If you look veeerrrrryy closely at the photos you’ll find colors that you initially overlook. You assume that a purple flower is all purple, for example.

Passionate Purple

But when you look closely, you’ll find bright pinks, pale blues, creamy yellows and greens at the center – all colors that could combine to make an interesting quilt.
purple quilt
There’s a lot more involved than my simple description, and the book gives you a detailed explanation of proportions and other important considerations. It also has some truly incredible photos that you can use for inspiration, as well as many MANY quilts and their inspiration photos. There are even some patterns in the back. And of course, she’s much better at this than I am!
Medium Image

Another way to find interesting color combinations is in your magazines, particularly home decorating magazines. Look at the photos, including the ads, and note what combinations they use. These were designed by professionals, and color theory is color theory, whether it’s intended for use in quilts, ads, or home design. Pay close attention to the small accents, not just the large pieces. A vase of yellow flowers in a predominantly blue room wasn’t chosen by chance. Check out some of these magazines online:
House Beautiful
Architectural Digest
Country Home
Better Homes & Gardens

Speaking of rooms, look at paint chips. Some paint companies show color combinations in their brochures. Paint company websites also offer color selection tools.
Behr Inspiration
Sherwin Williams Color of Inspiration
True Value Color Inspirations Made Simple
Dutch Boy Colors

There are all sorts of color tools on the Internet. One of my favorites is called Color Schemer, which is a color matching application that you can purchase. However, people can upload their color schemes into the gallery, and viewing the gallery is free! You can browse the schemes, look at the most popular, and even search for keywords. Another great tool for quilters is Color Wizard, which is a tool that will help you with those “fancy” color theory ideas like monochromatic, analogous, triadic, complementary, split complementary… Just drag the sliders (Red, Green & Blue) until you find a color you like, or click Randomize until something pops up that you can work with. You can click on any color you see to choose that color as your base. Then click the tabs for monochromatic, analogous, etc. color schemes.

Don’t forget the old standby of fabric selection – the focus fabric. Find a print that you really love, then choose fabrics to match the colors in it. Be adventurous – don’t use the focus fabric in your finished quilt!