My Top Five Ways to Choose Quilt Fabrics


Are you overwhelmed by the process of selecting fabrics? Or you can’t see the potential in color choices or fabric lines? You are not alone.

Here are some ideas to help you choose quilt fabrics.

Color Wheel Fan

1. Color wheel.

Traditional quilt patterns treat the fabric like a crayon.

Some fabric lines, such as vintage prints, lend themselves well to favorite pieced quilts. Tiny all-over prints that read as a solid can work next to grunge or faintly-lined fabric staples. Use the color wheel to build excitement or add zest! Side-by-side colors, colors across from each other, or skipping across thirds, are just a few examples. Using different values to help colors pop can add interest. You can buy a color wheel, or find a library book to help you experiment. Choose solid, or near-solid fabrics.


Using Matching Fabrics of a Fabric Line

2. Fabric line.

Use a single fabric line to ensure that everything matches in your quilt.

You don’t get clashing reds, for instance, and the fabrics compliment each other. Fussy-cutting some of the pieces ensures that you highlight the portion you like in the piece you need. An example might be centering a square you need to cut over a flower. This can take the guesswork and indecision out of the planning process. Many times, if you google the fabric, you can find a pattern suggestion, and you can often find the name printed in the selvedge, or edge of the fabric. Clothworks’ “Spring Robins” all match, and while the suggested pattern is not as cute as the fabric, it can provide inspiration to find the perfect pattern.


Make Quilts Pop

3. Light vs. Dark.

Employ light, medium, and dark quilt fabrics.

Use the “makeup test”–that is, squint through your eyelashes at your fabrics, and if they blur together, they are too similar in color value. Or, if you are doing a pattern using fabrics that need to blend from one to the next, you will see if one stands out too much. Another way might be to take a photo of your fabrics using your camera phone, then view the thumbnail image.

My friend’s monochromatic quilts were stunning in Hoffman white to cream, because she excellently employed use of color value to create lights to darks, which kept her quilts intriguing even though, officially, they were only one color.


Use Patterns and Solids to Create Structure

4. Patterns and Prints.

Offset or highlight using different prints to keep the final quilt design sharp.

Plaids with florals, solids with allover prints, and combinations thereof can build very distinct quilts. Mixing prints used to be seen as a no-no! But the smashing visuals of a Kaffe Fassett quilt invite experimentation and wild freedom using everything you love in the same project.

Using plaids in a border to frame parts, or making lattices that look twisted by mixing prints, or combining large to small prints to create movement are just a few uses for prints you may not like on the fabric bolt, but enjoy in a finished quilt.


5. Favorites.

Use a fabric you loved at first sight!

Cutting it into smithereens seems like such a waste. You would lose the design that inspired you in the first place!

Those fabrics need to stay in larger pieces within the quilt. Use a focal square, or rotate the images into a pinwheel, perhaps fussy-cut your circles, and highlight it again in wide borders. Find patterns that preserve large squares or rectangles, with other fabrics echoing the colors in pieced elements throughout the quilt. Patterns can also be found for using pre-printed panels with matching borders in a quilt. (Extra panels can make beautiful pillowcases or throw pillows!)

For most quilts, it helps to use several fabrics that read as a solid.

I made the ugliest quilt top in the world by using all prints and no solids in a log cabin design that was meant to be mountains, beach, forest, and a cabin in the corner. The idea in my head was not at all realized in my fabric choices, but I learned a valuable lesson:

You do not need to love every fabric in your project!

Some fabrics are meant to be used like a crayon, just to provide the shade of color your other fabrics need.

Plain Fabric in a Prize-Winning Quilt

Many books are available in your favorite local quilt shop, or your public library. Experiment with something new in your next project! ~Kaari


As an avid crafter with a passion for home improvements, I also dabble in heritage arts.

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