Choosing Fabrics for Your Quilt – Part Two

Colour Value

In the last post in this series, I mentioned that value should be given the most consideration when choosing fabrics for a quilt. Value refers to how light or dark a colour is. This is the main tool you will use when deciding how to arrange your colours so that different parts of the quilt pattern either blend or contrast.

See how differently the colours work together in each quadrant of this quilt.

It can be very difficult to determine the differences in value when they you are not dealing with fabrics that are all the same colour hue. It is much easier to tell the difference between a light blue and a dark blue, but we often make mistakes when comparing, for example, a blue and an orange or a red and green. We will often assume that the blue or the green is darker because it is a cooler colour. But this may not be true. If you take a look at the picture to the left, you can see that the gold is actually darker than the blue.


The best way to get comfortable with colour value is to practice! Try arranging your fabrics from dark to light. When you blur your vision (don’t focus on any one piece), see if the colours fade gradually. If one pops out a little too much, try shifting it left or right. To see how well you did, you can take a photo in black and white–when you take out the colour hue, it’s much easier to see value! If it you didn’t quite get it right (and it’s very difficult to get right at first!) don’t worry, just try again. I tried this below with fabrics from the shop and (as you can see in the black and white version below) a few colours need to be shifted around to get a nice fading gradient.


You will find that the majority of fabrics fit into the ‘medium’ category, with only a few lights and a few darks. Having said that, a medium value red can appear to be dark when placed next to a white or cream. Using only lights and darks together will create a quilt of high contrast, while mixing in mediums will give it a softer feel. You can create a nice blending effect by making arrangements that fade from light to dark or dark to light.

It is important to decide in advance which sections of the quilt you want to stand out, so choose a fabric that contrasts with what’s around it. Here are a couple of examples of how Katie (from used value to define specific areas of a quilt. These two use a similar pattern, but by placing lights and darks differently, a completely different effect is achieved. You can see that there are all different colours interspersed in these quillts, but it is the difference in value that creates the pattern and draws the eye to different areas.

Katie has a full tutorial for creating a value quilt. To see it, click here.


There are many books and tutorials available on colour harmony, and this is just a taste of what’s out there! But as always, the best way to learn for yourself is to try it!

Check back for part 3 of this post series about using a colour wheel!

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