Quilting 101: Color Theory

I imagine most of you crafty, quilty people out there have a natural sense of color — what you like and don’t like, what colors work together, etc. — so you may dismiss any sort of deep dive into color theory, preferring to stick with your intuitive sense of color rather than thinking too much about it. I totally get that! And I don’t necessarily disagree. Trusting your own color sense is very important as an artist. But I also believe that knowledge is power, and having even a little bit of knowledge can elevate your color game.

Before I go any further, I have a big ol’ disclaimer. I am by no means a color theory expert. I have sat in on a couple different color theory classes, though never as an actual student. This post is just brushing the surface, so if you are fascinated by the topic or you want to really up your color game I strongly urge you to check out some of the resources I’ll list at the end of the post.

Something to keep in mind is that color is science. Every color is a specific frequency of light that we can see because of the rods and cones in our eyes. And while most of us do not need to spend years studying the science of light and color theory in order to create visually stunning pieces of art, having a basic understanding of how colors actual work together can help you in those moments when something is just not coming together and you can’t intuitively figure it out.

Most of us learned about the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors in grade school. You start with pure red, yellow, and blue. Those are your primaries.

When you mix red and yellow, you get orange. Yellow and blue give you green. Blue and red = violet. Those are your secondaries.

Then your tertiary colors are red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, and red-violet. All of these colors can be beautifully organized in a color wheel to show their relationship to each other.

As a heads up, many color theory classes these days work with a different set of primaries, secondaries, and tertiaries based on printer colors. I am not going to go into any detail, but I just wanted to mention it in case you encounter it elsewhere. So if someone tells you that the primary colors are magenta, cyan, and yellow, they are not selling you a line of BS. They’re just working with a different color wheel.

When I’m thinking about color and a quilt design, I generally think about figure, background, and contrast. What do I want to stand out in my quilt? What do I want to blend in? Do I want any transparency effects? These questions are often better answered when you have a grasp on color theory versus just relying on your intuition.

In order to understand how color can help define a figure from a background, let’s start with some basic color vocabulary. To get a grasp on these definitions, I’m going to use one color. Let’s go with green. Hue is the name of a color. Green is a hue.

Saturation is the intensity, or purity, of a hue. Adding gray to a hue will lessen the saturation, making it look duller.

Value is how light or dark a hue is. Adding white to a hue gives it a lighter tint. Adding black to a hue gives it a darker shade.

Looking at a color wheel can quickly help you see the relationships colors have to each other. The colors that are opposite each other on the wheel are complementary. Red and green, blue and orange, violet and yellow. Complementary colors provide striking visual contrast. And depending on the saturation you use, it can even make your eyes do some funky things and create visual effects.

Analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel. They blend together very easily which is often soothing to the eye.

When I’m thinking about a quilt design, I think about what I want to stand out, which I call the figure. The “figure” could be an actual object, but it could also be just the main design motif that I want to emphasize in the overall quilt. Most everything else is the background.

Here’s something you have possibly never really thought about. If you want to create depth in your design and you’re using a dark background color, warm colors — red, orange, yellow — will appear closer, and cool colors — violet, blue, green — will appear farther. However, if you’re working with lighter backgrounds, the opposite is true. Isn’t that fascinating? This is one of those examples where knowing the science can be helpful because you wouldn’t necessarily know this intuitively.

Sometimes I see people struggle with losing their overall quilt design because they smashed together all of their favorite colors rather than selecting colors that provide enough contrast to create figure and background. When you’re looking at your quilt design, decide what part of the design you want to stand out. Use your favorite colors for that part. Then use a neutral for the rest, and that will be the background of the design. Your “neutral” can even be a color, but make sure it is very different in saturation and/or a significantly different tint or shade from the main colors of your design.

If you’re still struggling with your figure disappearing into your background, take a photo of your quilt design with your chosen colors with your phone. Then use one of your photo editing apps to turn into a black-and-white picture. Now you can really see the saturation level of each color by seeing them in the grayscale.

If all of your colors are close to or have the same level of gray in your picture, you might want to pick some different tints or shades of certain colors so that the main part of your design will stand out.

And stepping away from color just a bit, what I just said above can apply to print patterns as well. I love me some scrappy quilts, but make sure you’re creating contrast with high-volume prints and low-volume prints so that your overall design doesn’t disappear due to lack of contrast among all of the different prints you’ve chosen.

I think I’m going to stop now because, honestly, my knowledge only goes so far. However, I want to give you some great resources if you decide you want to really dive into the details of color theory. My first suggestion is find a local color theory class offered by a college or university or local artisan. Not only will you get firsthand knowledge from experts in their field, but you’ll also work on projects that will really cement the lessons. If that’s not possible for you, there are plenty of tutorials online. One of those tutorials is “Color Theory for Quilters” with Katie Pasquini Masopust for iQuilt.com. It is not free, but it is specifically geared for quilters so it’s worth a look. I also really like the website worqx.com. It goes through many aspects of color theory in a relatively simple manner. There are also some fun games you can download to your phone like I Love Hue and Blendoku. Either game is a fun way to get a better feel about how colors work together.

I would LOVE to hear from YOU about your own color theory journeys and ideas. We all see and think about color differently, and no one is ever wrong as long as they love what they’ve created. Please share your stories in the comment section below. Happy Quilting!!

Designing My First Original Quilt: A Step-by-step Guide

The quilt featured on my home page is the very first original quilt I ever designed, pieced, and quilted all on my own. In making this quilt I had the epiphany that I feel so much more joy when I create a quilt from scratch rather than following someone else’s instructions. This is not a judgment for anyone else’s process or creative expression. We are all on our own journeys, and I respect and honor that. But for me, I find more fulfillment realizing my own creative ideas versus someone else’s. In this post, I want to take you through the process of creating this quilt from start to finish. If you haven’t tried designing your own quilt, I hope this inspires you to rise to the challenge. You might be surprised how it could change your outlook on your creative process!

This particular quilt started with a prompt. The Brooklyn Quilters Guild was gearing up for its 2018 quilt show, and the co-presidents put out a mini quilt challenge to celebrate the guild’s 25th anniversary. We were given the following parameters.

R E Q U I R E M E N T S :

Shades of gray (white OK)

A drop of red, not more the 3 x 3 inches or less than 1 x 1 inch.

40 x 40-inch quilt

Quilt pattern of your choice

Quilt must have sleeve, label, and name attached.

Keep in mind that we are celebrating the 25th anniversary of our guild, our new location at Industry City, and a little modern twist. Be creative, have fun, and make some beautiful fiber art.

I didn’t really know this about myself at this point since this was my first original quilt, but I have since realized that I love prompts and parameters. Creating something out of thin air does not come easy for me, so I need a starting off point, even something rather open like the above prompt. I began thinking about being a Brooklyn quilter and a New Yorker. I had been seeing a lot of New York Beauty quilts online recently (see photo below), and I thought it might be fun to do an industrial twist on that idea.

I opened up Electric Quilt 8 (EQ8) on my computer and drafted a block that resembled a quarter of a cogwheel.

One of the many benefits of working in EQ8 is that I was then able to print out paper templates for the block.

I grabbed some fabric scraps and created a very rough draft of the block just to make sure everything fit together and the dimensions were correct.

Then I went back into EQ8 to begin playing with the overall quilt layout. The images below are just a couple of layouts I tried out. Using the computer program allowed me to make quick adjustments without having to actually sew all of the blocks together like you would with a design wall.

Now it was time to figure out the real fabric I wanted to use. I found a great fabric shop on Etsy called AA Cotton Creations, and they had just what I was looking for. I chose a light gray background fabric with just a touch of metallic glitter to honor the silver anniversary of the guild. Then I decided to go with Kona Cotton in Metal because, you know, the cogwheels are made out of metal. Nothing too mind blowing there! Once the fabrics arrived, I began cutting them up and piecing them together into my 16 blocks.

After piecing all 16 blocks, I realized I might not like how the center spokes come together once the blocks are sewn to each other. I decided to piece four of the blocks together to make one complete cogwheel to see how it would look.

AAAHHH!!! That is NOT what I wanted the center of my cogwheels to look like! I went online to look at actual cogwheels and realized I was missing the essential central hub. So I picked these blocks apart and added another quarter circle to each block.

Wow! What a difference that made! I talked about process in my previous post, and this is yet another example of how the creative process is usually not a barrier-free journey from beginning to end. Don’t let these challenges discourage you. Get that problem-solving brain working and overcome these obstacles because the end result will be so much more worthwhile!

Now that the top was pieced together, it was time to quilt. I really liked how modern this quilt looked, so I wanted the quilting to reflect that same feeling. I decided to quilt straight lines going from top to bottom in the background. But because I wanted a feeling of movement to come from the cogwheels, I quilted straight lines moving in the direction of each of the teeth of the cogs. I filled the hubs with thread to give them a fun texture.

I had my friend Ryan come over as a second pair of eyes to look at what I had done so far, and he wanted to see some red thread used in the quilt. That’s when I thought of having the red piece start to emit its own light in opposition to the rest of the lines. Then I quilted gem-like lines in between the center spokes so that I could have the red “gem” start to crack and break. I thought a silver metallic thread would be a fun way to add just a bit more glitz to the quilt to emphasize how this red piece was breaking out from the machine.

And that’s pretty much it! I love how this quilt came together. There were many frustrating moments, but I couldn’t have been happier once it all finally coalesced into my first original quilt. I’d love to hear your thoughts on what you think about creating an original quilt versus following someone else’s pattern. What brings you more joy? Tell me what you think. Happy Quilting!!!

Pennsylvania National Quilt Extravaganza, September 2018

Quilting 101: Resources

When I started my quilting journey back in March of 2017, I did what I always do whenever I have no idea where to start.  I Googled. I quickly found Craftsy.com (now mybluprint.com), and saw what a rich resource of all things crafting it was. Because I’m still somewhat new to the quilting world, I still use the Internet all the time to find out more about techniques and patterns, to shop, and just to get inspiration.  In this post, I’ve listed a bunch of resources that I use on a regular basis. I’m sure this list will continue to grow over the years, and I welcome any input you would like to see added. I’m always eager to learn as much as I can about all things quilting!

Quilting/sewing resources

YouTube — Go to youtube.com and search for the names listed below.  If you like the videos, be sure to click on the thumbs up icon and also Subscribe so you don’t miss out on any upcoming videos.  

Missouri Star Quilt Co. — Jenny Doan is an inspiration both as a quilter and a businesswoman.  She and her family have built a true quilting empire in Hamilton, Missouri, and I love how she is able to come up with easier ways to create traditional quilt blocks.  If you like working with precuts, this is definitely the channel for you!

Midnight Quilt Show — Angela Walters is the free-motion quilting queen!  She also has a great sense of humor, and I love her quilting philosophy of how finished is better than perfect.  I particularly like these videos because they’re short and very well produced.

Man Sewing — Rob Appell has A LOT of energy and enthusiasm for all things sewing, including quilts.  He gives great advice and offers a large range of different sewing techniques and projects.

Mr. Domestic — Mathew Boudreaux has an infectious joy that comes through in all of his video tutorials.  He also has incredible technique. If you’re looking to hone your skills and get ready to show your stuff for juried shows, you should definitely check out his videos.  

Fat Quarter Shop — Kimberly Jolly has created an amazing business with Fat Quarter Shop.  Not only is she a great retailer, but she produces so many informative videos on a regular basis that run the gamut of all things sewing.  She also has block-of-the-month clubs and other sew-alongs that help you feel like you’re part of a big quilting family.

MADE Everyday — Dana Willard’s YouTube channel has tons of very highly produced sewing tutorials.  Only a handful are quilting related, but this is the first channel I go to whenever I need to learn a technique such as sewing piping around a pillow or inserting zippers or making a vinyl bag, etc., etc., etc.  

Social Media — Before I started quilting, I was not that much into social media.  I originally joined Instagram as a way to chart my quilting progress, but I quickly discovered the enormous amounts of inspiration that can be gained from following all the amazing quilters through social media.  It’s a great way to become part of a worldwide community without leaving your sewing room.

Pinterest — This is the place to go when you just want to scroll through pretty pictures of whatever you’re interested in.  You can create your own folders and save the pictures as a reference whenever you need inspiration.

Instagram — I’m totally an Instagram convert!! I love following the many awe-inspiring quilters all over the world and seeing what they are producing every day.  It gives me motivation to keep producing my own work so I can show off what I have to offer, too.

Facebook — Facebook is a little trickier when it comes to following quilters because you have to request to be their friend unless their account is set up so that you can follow them.  However, pages can be set up on Facebook which you can join and share photos, thoughts, and compliments about whatever your group is focused on. When I was working on a mystery quilt challenge through National Quilters Circle, I joined their Facebook page, and it was such a great way to chart my own progress along with everyone else’s.  

MeetUp — This is a great app when you’re looking to actually meet people in real life.  Gasp! Yes, people actually still want to hang out in real life together these days.  I haven’t actually used MeetUp for anything quilting related … YET … but I have used it for other purposes and it’s been great.  If you’re having trouble finding a local quilters guild or a group of like-minded craft enthusiasts, I highly suggest you start your own MeetUp group and see who wants to join you.  

Local quilt shop/sewing/craft store — I’ve traveled all over the country, and it seems like there’s a quilt shop just about everywhere I’ve gone.  Not only do the people who run these shops have great knowledge to share with you as a customer, they also offer classes and bring in professional quilters for trunk shows and lectures.  I have yet to go to a quilt shop where the staff hasn’t been incredibly friendly and generous with their time.

Local/national quilters guild — When I realized I was actually a quilter I decided I needed to meet other quilters.  At some point I heard the term “quilters guild” and did an online search to see if there were any in my area.  Sure enough, there were several. I went to a Brooklyn Quilters Guild meeting and immediately joined. I’ve been a member since the fall of 2017, and it’s been so wonderful being part of a quilting community.  Not only do you get to share your love of quilts with like-minded people, but most guilds do a lot of charity work and that is good for the soul.

Websites/blogs — Sometimes I don’t necessarily want to sit through a YouTube video to learn a simple technique, so I just do a quick Google search for blogs.  A lot of these blogs are also retail sites, so you can do some shopping while you’re browsing online. If there’s a blog that speaks to you in particular, you should subscribe to their newsletter so you stay up to date with their regular posts.  

Local colleges — A lot of the local colleges offer classes for non-enrolled students.  I took a basic sewing class at the Fashion Institute of Technology several years ago that helped me get over my fear of my sewing machine.  Learning from an actual live person and having a structured curriculum worked really well for me.

Books/magazines — Honestly, I don’t really buy many craft books or magazines these days.  I pretty much find everything I need online. But there are still lots of amazing books and magazines being published today, so if you’re someone who loves filling their shelves with crafting books to show off to your visiting friends and families, go out and get some.  What I like most about crafting books is that the authors usually mix technique with their own personal stories. There are also great coffee table books out there if you just want to look at high-quality photos of pretty, pretty quilts.

Non-sewing resources

If you’re looking to step up your quilting/crafting game and go beyond following someone else’s pattern, I suggest you start thinking like an artist.  I’ve had the fortune to sit in on a lot of art classes over the last several years, and I’ve seen how much students grow and evolve over their college years because of technique and theory classes as well as structured critique from their professors and peers.  I’ve listed a few things to consider if you want to think outside the box. It can be so helpful to let ideas and techniques from other artforms influence your own work.

Color theory — As a crafter, you probably have a natural sense of color theory, but learning the science behind color can really boost your crafting game.  One of my favorite aspects of color theory is the idea of transparency. There are some really great guidelines out there if you want to create the optical illusion of overlapping colors in your quilts.  

Worqx.com — This website has TONS of color theory information at your fingertips.  I highly recommend taking a glance through it.

Interaction of Color by Josef Albers is the go-to color theory book most art students have to read in college.  These color theory principles serve as the foundation for your work with color.

Art history — Looking at what artists have been doing over the millennia is so inspiring.  As a quilter, I’m not looking to mimic any artist or their work, but I love seeing what they do in their own medium and thinking about how I could maybe apply one or two elements into my own work.  

Other creative arts — There is inspiration to be found everywhere!  This is just a tiny list of areas that might spark an idea in your own process.  

  • Photography
  • Painting
  • Drawing/illustration
  • Commercial design
  • Architecture
  • Textiles and patterns

Quilting 101: What Is a Quilt?

This is the first of a series of posts I’m calling Quilting 101, where I’m going to walk you through the basics of quilting as well as introduce you to some vocabulary.  

Today’s post will start to answer:  What exactly is a quilt? At the most basic level, a quilt is made up of three layers, also known as the quilt sandwich. The front of the quilt is often called the quilt top.  Then you have the backing.  And in between you have the batting.  Those three layers are sewn together, and that is called the quilting.  

That said, I am by no means a quilting purist — I do not belong to the Quilt Police — and I truly believe the answer to “What is a quilt?” can be far more varied and nuanced.  In fact, I want to emphasize this one very important point. There are no hard and fast rules to any of this. Some of the most exciting pieces of fiber art I’ve seen were created by people who broke all of the so-called quilting rules and just went crazy with fabric and thread.  First and foremost, quilting is and should always be fun!

As I go through this introduction, keep in mind that everything in the quilting process that involves needle and thread can be done by hand, on a sewing machine, or a combination of both. Because I prefer using a sewing machine over hand sewing, most of my posts will be dealing with machine piecing and quilting.  But people have been creating beautiful quilts completely by hand for centuries, so if that’s what you prefer, go for it — see the last sentence of the previous paragraph, please.

The beginning of the quilting process usually starts with creating a design for the quilt top or choosing a premade design.  Once you’ve made that decision, it’s time to find the fabric — oh, the pretty, pretty fabrics!!

If you haven’t already done so, please find your local quilt shops and bask in the glory of their gorgeous merchandise.  I certainly buy plenty of fabrics online, but nothing beats seeing the colors and prints in person and actually feeling them before deciding what you want for your project. And even when I do buy fabrics online, I try to buy from quilt shops through Etsy versus big retailers like Joanne or Fabric.com.  That said, sometimes you want something very specific and you just have to buy it where you find it.

You can technically quilt with any kind of fabric — cotton, silk, denim, jersey knit, even leather! I mean, the list goes on and on, but most quilters use quilting cotton or a medium weight cotton because it’s the easiest to work with, so that’s what I would recommend to anyone just starting out.  

Quilting cottons come in a huge variety of prints and solids.  Printed fabrics will have a right side and a wrong side.  The right side is the side with the printed design on it.  The wrong side will look like a faded version of that design or not have the design on it at all.  Solids usually don’t have a right or wrong side — both sides are the same.

There are many ways to create the quilt top.  Most quilts use piecing methods or appliqué or a combination of both.  Piecing is when you put two pieces of fabric right sides together and sew a seam along the edge.  

Appliqué is when you sew a piece of fabric on top of another piece of fabric.  In other words, you apply a piece of fabric on top of another.  

Another way to create a quilt top is to use a panel.  Panels are large pieces of fabric with an image printed on them.  Depending on how the panel is printed, you can use it as a single piece for the top or you can cut it up and sew it back together to form a new design or you can add borders around it so that it becomes the centerpiece of your pieced top.  

You could also create a whole cloth quilt, which is simply a large piece of fabric, usually a solid, with no piecing or appliqué.  The purpose of a whole cloth quilt is to show off the quilting.

Most pieced and appliqué quilts will require you to cut up fabric and sew it together. There are a variety of tools to expedite the cutting process including self-healing cutting mats, rotary cutters, quilting rulers specifically designed for rotary cutters, and of course scissors.

If you are piecing a quilt top, you usually create a series of blocks and then sew the blocks together into bigger blocks and on and on. Most blocks are pieced using a quarter inch seam. You might also hear the term “scant quarter inch,” which means a seam that is just one or two thread widths shy of a true quarter inch.

Once you’ve pieced two pieces of fabric together, you need to press the seam with an iron.

The middle layer is the batting.  There are many kinds of batting made of many different fibers.   For the purposes of this post, just know that the batting is the fluffy stuff in the middle of the quilt, which is what makes the quilt all warm and cozy.  

The bottom layer is called the backing.  Just like the top, there are many ways to create the backing of a quilt, though most quilters use either a single piece of fabric or very large pieces of fabric sewn together rather than any sort of complicated piecing techniques.  Of course, some quilters are over achievers and love to make the back of their quilts just as visually interesting as the front of their quilts. Again, see my statement above about doing whatever the heck you want as long as you’re having fun.  

Once you’ve prepared the three layers of your quilt, you need to baste them together before you quilt them.  Basting is simply a no-nonsense way of putting layers together so they don’t move when you are ready to do more controlled sewing. At this point in my quilting journey, I pin baste all of my quilts using curved safety pins.  However, there are several methods for basting a quilt, and the method you choose is simply a matter of personal preference.  

Once your quilt is basted, it’s ready to be quilted.  A lot of quilters do not find any pleasure from the actual quilting process, so they pay someone else to quilt their tops for them.  However, it is totally possible to quilt any sized quilt on your domestic machine, so if the only reason you’ve avoided this step in the past is because you’re afraid to try, stop being afraid and just go for it! You might be surprised at how fulfilling you find this part of the process.  I certainly was!

There are a few different ways to quilt on your home machine.  A very popular and relatively fast way is to attach a walking foot and quilt straight lines from edge to edge.   

There’s also free-motion quilting, which is basically “doodling” with thread on your quilt.  

Of course you can always hand quilt the layers together.  

And finally, you could do any combination of these techniques or even come up with a new and creative way of securing the three layers of your quilt together!

Once the quilt has been quilted, it’s time to square it up, which eliminates all of the extra fabric on the edges of your quilt and gives you a clean, raw edge.  

After you’ve squared it up, it’s time to add the binding or facing, which are two different techniques to cover up the raw edges.  

And that’s it!  You just made a quilt!  (Or at least you imagined making one.)  Have you started your quilting journey yet?  If so, what is your favorite part of the process?  What’s your least favorite? Post your comments below and let’s share our joys and tribulations with the quilting community.  Happy quilting!