How To Choose Colors For Your Quilt?

Joen Wolfrom, an authority on color, shared with us the straightforward and innovative process that she uses to select the hues that will go into her quilts.

Penny: You suggest in your book Visual Coloring that we look for a photograph that we particularly enjoy or one that evokes a particular feeling and then use that image as the foundation for the colors that we use in our quilt. Could you elaborate on how something like that operates?

Joen: To begin, every individual possesses their very own unique color personality. It’s possible that mine would be different from yours. Yours would be unique, as would that of your best friend, and so on. Accumulate photographs, paintings, and other images by using calendars, greeting cards, scientific publications, and travel magazines over the course of a day or two, a week, or even a month, depending on how long it takes you. Get them from locations where you can find interesting colorations or combinations.

Take a seat, look through those publications, and even examine some of your own photographs. You’ll find that as you read through them, some of them strike a chord deep within your being. They will have something that brings a smile to your face or simply causes you to take notice. It catches your attention and brings it to its focus. There is a powerful appeal to the emotions.

When you notice and feel these, remove them and put them in a separate location. Continue your search for these things. Invest at least one or two days in concentrating on accomplishing that. You’re going to be shocked when you see the color combinations that you really adore. It’s possible that you have never given these things any thought before.

Pull them out once you’ve accumulated a sufficient number of them and decided that you want to start making a quilt as soon as possible. Put all of them in front of you at once.

You’ll find that the ones you pull out can almost certainly be organized into a variety of different categories once you do so. For example, fall is my favorite season for the colors. I have an autumnal file. I like the colors of winter. I have a file that is cold and understated. Because I adore vibrant and eye-catching hues, I’ve created a file dedicated to such hues. In addition to that, I like colors that are light and airy. I have a folder dedicated to those.

Every individual will have her own particular kind of grouping or file. Because of this, visual coloring is such a wonderful medium. You will discover whatever it is that best suits your needs. It won’t be what another person wants out of you.

Each of those color and image collections that you find should be saved in their own separate file. It needs to be a file to which you have quick and easy access. You are able to take a look at it whenever you like. You can take a look at them during lunchtime and allow yourself to be motivated by what you see.

When you are ready to start a quilt, you should take those files out of storage and arrange all of your images on a table in front of you. Learn from them. Examine the ones that have the greatest impact on you emotionally and pull at you the most. There could be one that draws you in more than others. It’s possible there are two or three of them. Put everything else to the side. Place them back in the appropriate folder.

Consider the ones that you have pulled out while you look at the others. After you have selected one, take the image you want to use with you when you go to your fabric stash. You might want to blow up the image if it’s really quite small to begin with. That is not something that I engage in on a regular basis.

Find the color that stands out the most in your picture or image, and then look through your fabric collection for options that correspond to that hue. Move on to another color that is readily apparent and take those out. Maintain your focus on working through it.

As you continue to work and switch your gaze frequently between your picture and your supply, the colors in the images begin to shift in a way that is comfortable to your eyes. It’s possible that at first, you didn’t notice them. Bring out those colors and continue to experiment with them until you either run out of fabrics or colors and are satisfied with what you have.

You’ll find that some of the fabrics in your stockpile have multiple tones that are compatible with the colors in question, and this is one of the reasons why. There could be one or two additional colors that are present in the image that you have. If I were you, I wouldn’t use those. Unless you can cut those pieces of coloring out, they will be an eyesore and a distraction to the viewer. If it’s part of a larger design scheme, you probably shouldn’t use them. Put that piece of fabric aside for a later project.

If you are still at the table and have not chosen which of your two or three images to use, then there are times when you will need to be more pragmatic about your selection. These three pictures are very special to you. You are thinking about creating a design. Which illustration or color scheme do you think will complement that design the very best? There are times when it is abundantly clear which option will or will not work well.

It’s possible that one feels an intense emotional pull toward working with the image or the design. It’s possible that after looking at this one image, you realize that you don’t own any of those fabrics or very few of those fabrics. If this is the case, you should stop looking at the image. You can’t even get started quilting with that.

The selection of colors for quilts and the subsequent search for fabrics in those colors is a challenge for many quilters.

The way I approached it came very easily to me. When I first started quilting, the majority of the quilts I made were not to my liking. I was aware that the colors weren’t right, but I couldn’t put my finger on the issue. I am not aware of anyone else who has gone through this experience. It seemed like there was always a surprise waiting for you when you finished each quilt. They were not welcome surprises by any stretch of the imagination.

While I was educating myself about quilting, one of my favorite magazines was Architectural Digest, and I devoured it. My family has a long history in the field of architecture. Every issue featured breathtaking photographs of natural scenery.

Within one of the issues, I discovered a photograph that immediately drew my attention. I couldn’t help but fall in love with it. The colors were beautiful to me. I had the thought, “That is the quilt that inspires me to create my own!” It’s only the colors; none of the imagery.

It didn’t take long before I started piecing together a quilt using the colors from that design. The quilt was beautiful to me. It addressed me directly. That piqued my interest in the topic. Another photograph that I saw had colors that really appealed to me. I removed the fabrics from the pile and paired them. The outcomes were the same for me. It was unbelievable.

The fact that I was using these pictures as a color guide was something that piqued my interest. The more I worked with colors and the more accomplishments I achieved with my quilts, the more at ease I felt working with them. I spent more time exploring the world on my own. The working process flowed easily and effortlessly.


In the beginning of this year, I made the decision to make a quilt by putting some of Joen’s ideas into practice. The first thing I did was look for a photograph that featured the colors that I liked, and then I started looking for fabric for the quilt.

The photograph I used to choose the colors for the quilt on the right. The quilt I made using fabric selected from the colors in the photograph. This is without a border. 

By Penny Halgren of

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