Evoking Themes with Color

by Lorie on February 25, 2009

Would you believe that all the quilts to the right are the same?  Each of these quilts uses just two blocks–one commonly referred to as the Pennsylvania block, and a plain filler block.

My 2-year-old, the color expert, helps me put together pleasing colors for quilts.  I know–you think I’m kidding, but I flunked 3rd grade art where we talked about things like color wheels and complements.  In my opinion, the science behind achieving great colors is not as important as playing.  Yes–playing.  When I want to evoke a certain feeling, or theme, I play with fabric colors to come up with combinations I like.   

One of the reasons I love to quilt is that I can change the mood of the end product just by switching up the colors.  If I want the complex blocks to pop, I choose a background that allows the foreground color to shine.  If I want a baby quilt, of course I choose soft pastels.  Maybe I’m in a traveling mood and I take the design to a certain country or place with colors I might find there.

It’s a great thing that fabric manufacturers come up with ”lines” of fabrics now that come in various colorways that coordinate.  Those clever fellows–you are almost assured of finding three or four fabrics to put together into a quilt.  Most fabric lines come with small- and large-scale prints and maybe a border print or panel, and then a mix of geometrics.  This makes it fool fool proof to put together a quilt lickety-split. 

For those one-of-a-kind fabs you picked up on sale without a mate, I recommend trying them against a stark black or white background.  (Oh–that reminds me–I have a gorgeous purple paisley that would look fabulous on black. )  The drama that black or white creates is sometimes just the thing to sharpen that favorite fab.   

Changing up colors can also lengthen the life of a favorite pattern.  Since the quilt above takes only two blocks, it’s relatively simple to put together for a gift.  Change the colors to match the event or the personality of the giftee–and you have a great gift without purchasing a new pattern.


  • Cut out the quilt block pattern from paper and color the blocks with markers.  Juxtapose different colors to find a favorite combination. 
  • Fabric manufacturers often offer a quilt pattern designed to a specific fabric line that you can get from the manufacturer’s website.  You can also find quilt patterns for specific fabric lines in magazines.  The fabric line is typically noted in the pattern instructions.  If you love the cover photo on a quilt pattern–try to get the same fabric line!
  • Cut out photos from magazines that make you feel good from a color perspective.  These photos can be anything–from landscapes to clothing, and decorated rooms to paintings.  Take those photos with you when you go fabric shopping and pick out similar colors. 
  • Online quilt shops and fabric manufacturers often have e-swatches of fabrics on their sites.  Print out the swatches and cut them up to put together a fabulous quilt design. 
  • OK–well I would be remiss if I didn’t tell you to pick up a color wheel at your favorite quilt shop.  If your two-year-old is better than you at choosing colors that work, a color wheel  can save you money and time by showing you complementary colors. 

Sew Now!  Quilt Now!



1 Shelli 02.25.09 at 5:12 pm

Great info, Lorie! Thanks for awakening our “color-awareness” and inspiring us for the endless possibilities!

2 Kris 02.25.09 at 8:05 pm

Those are some great tips Lorie! Give me a stash of fabric and I’ll play any day! I also really liked what you said about the different moods your color combos can invoke- for example baby quilts and such.

3 Courtney @ Sister To Sister 02.26.09 at 7:23 am

It is so cool how much you can change the same quilt with different colors! Loved your illustrations!

Picking out the fabric/colors for the quilt is always my favorite part! :)

4 Susan (5 Minutes for Mom) 02.27.09 at 4:36 pm

I love the girly and the spa ones.

Also, I Just thought I’d let you all know that our video interview with Kim and Kris is up now on 5 Minutes for Mom and you guys can take it and embed it on your site or whatever you like. We also will be releasing a second video shortly.


5 holly 03.02.09 at 5:09 pm

thanks so much for the tips. it’s amazing what changing around a couple of colors will do! i totally have the quilting bug now. i can’t wait to finish the ycmt quilt!!! (any ideas on when the next step will be posted???)

6 Kim 03.02.09 at 10:00 pm

Hi Holly!
Next step is scheduled for tomorrow. Then one more after that and we’ll be done. I’m so excited to see how everyone’s quilts will turn out! :)

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