Make Dramatic or Subtle Quilts with Fabrics from One Color Family
Using a monochromatic color palette can produce quilts of great visual power and sophistication. The secret is in the way light and dark fabrics are combined.
With fabrics of all colors piled high in every quilter’s stash, why should a quilter choose to make a quilt with a color palette that is deliberately restricted to just one color family? The answer is that no other color scheme can produce quilts of such powerful contrasts or gentle sophistication as a monochromatic color scheme.
Monochromatic Color Scheme Deliberately Limits a Quilt’s Palette
Making a quilt with a monochromatic color palette means choosing fabrics for the quilt from just a single slice on the color wheel. While this may sound severely limited, one color family actually includes a wide range of different color possibilities:
- The pure hue from the color wheel. This is the color without anything added.
- Tints of the color. Tints are pure color, made paler by adding various amounts of white.
- Shades of the color. Shades are pure color, darkened by adding various amounts of black.
- Tones of the color. Tones are pure colors mixed either with grey or with the color’s complementary color (the one that occupies the opposite position on the color wheel.) Red and green are complementary colors, as are blue and orange or yellow and purple. As you can imagine, the sheer number of different gradations of grey and complementary colors means that a wide range of tones is available for every color.
- Black and white. While neither black (the combination of all colors) nor white (the absence of all color) is found on the color wheel, they can both be used in any monochromatic color combination.
Create Quilt Drama by Picking Fabrics with High Contrast
A quilt’s visual impact is created by the contrasts between the light and dark fabrics you choose for the design. The more intense the contrast is, the more striking the quilt will be. The strongest possible contrast is created by combining white and black, which represent opposite ends of the value spectrum. Annette Guerero’s “Square Dancing” (Photo 1 below) is a good example of the visual power of black and white. Pure hues combined with white or black also make for quilts of high drama.
Make Subtle Monochromatic Quilts by Choosing Fabrics with Low Contrast
Monochromatic quilts can take on quite a different look if the quilter chooses fabrics that have less contrast with each other, like the beiges and browns in Yoke Helwes-Martin’s “Strata.4” (photo 5 below).
How to Plan a Monochromatic Quilt
It definitely takes more discipline to work with a single color family than to throw together a fabric here and fabric there from your stash. One way to learn about working with a monochromatic color palette is to pick out a fabric from your stash which hasn’t quite seemed to fit with any of the quilts you’ve made or other fabrics you’ve used. Give yourself the assignment of making a quilt with that fabric. It may be necessary to hunt around for other fabrics that fall in the same color family as the focus fabric. You might also decide to use the fabric with only white or black accents.
The payoff is a quilt with a sophistication not found in any other quilt color scheme.
The quilts pictured at the bottom of the page were all displayed at the Pacific International Quilt Festival 2009 in San Jose, California from October 15-18, 2009. They are:
- Annette Guerero, “Square Dancing”
- Patricia Delaney, “Inspiration Draws from Nature’s Art”
- Gerry Smeltzer, “Black-White & Chartreuse”
- Irena Bluhm, “Majestic Bugs”
- Yoke Helwes-Martens, “Strata.4”