Tips & Techniques for Choosing Fabrics for Quilts

Shelves of Fabric

Choosing fabrics for a quilt or sewing project can be a lot of fun; however, sometimes it’s easy to become overwhelmed with the huge array of possibilities, making what should be an enjoyable task, stressful. When I first started sewing, I worried a lot about my fabric selection, but over the years I’ve learned some simple tricks that have made choosing fabrics not only much easier but also something I really look forward to!

Begin by thinking about color; try to find the right shade or hue for your project by keeping within the same color family or by using complementary, split-complementary, triadic, or analogous colors with guidance from the color wheel. Be sure to vary the print, pattern, and scale in the group you choose. Florals and geometrics can play off of one another and create excitement and movement within the quilt top—whereas using similar print, pattern and scale will lead to a more subtle and harmonious look.

You may prefer to use a single fabric collection—a grouping of prints and solids that all “go” together in coordinating colorways. Fabric collections can often be purchased in convenient pre-cut bundles of fat quarters, fat eighths, 2 1/2’’ x width of fabric strips, 10’’ squares, 5 ‘’ squares, and even 2 1/2’’ squares. The fabric designer has already done the hard work of balancing scale, texture, and values when they created the entire line. Purchasing from a single collection allows you to recognize and experiment with the mixture of print, pattern and color until you get more comfortable making those choices on your own. You can also use a single collection as a springboard for creating your own unique palette by eliminating or substituting fabrics. Quilt shop staff are often willing and eager to help with fabric and color selections too—sometimes another opinion is all that is needed to help get the perfect combination.

If you have been struggling to find a great combination for thirty minutes or more, select some potential fabrics and then leave the room, coming back to look again a few minutes later. If anything seems like it shouldn’t be there, take it out of the stack and repeat this process until you have achieved a pleasing balance. Just looking at fabrics from a distance can really help you see the grouping as a whole. Taking a digital picture of possible fabrics and viewing them on your camera is another way to achieve this perspective. Conflicts of value can be seen a lot more easily by looking at a photo.

You could even make a small project or a single block with a potential fabric combination before starting something larger. A table runner, bag, or even a pincushion can provide a good sense of how the fabrics are playing together and can help refine fabric choices.

Finally, I recommend storing your fabrics by color and experimenting with auditioning a few different hues from within the same color family. Fabrics you didn’t initially think “matched” may actually work together well in a group; scrap quilts are a great way to see this theory in action. Colors that don’t seem to go together well at first, can be wonderful when found in combination with a variety of other fabrics.

I hope these tips will help you on your next fabric adventure! Which color groupings do you enjoy working with?

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