How To Choose Dynamic Colors, Fabrics And Themes For Your Quilts?

How do you choose the fabrics, colors and themes for your quilts?

Ricky: I work very intuitively. I like color so I’m not afraid of it. I’ve really thought about this lately on the rhapsody quilts in the new book coming out with C&T; Publishing and the quilt that I’m working on today.

I just started with a piece of fabric that I like and then cut out another piece that I thought would go with it. I look at my fabric stash and think, “That will look good,” and I keep adding with contrast and value more than color.

The reason I say that is because, especially as a quilter, I think you make stew with the ingredients of color. If you make a stew one night and you’ve got certain ingredients in the refrigerator, you’re going to have a stew that tastes pretty good. The next time you make a stew you may use some of the same things, but might throw in something different. It’s still going to be pretty good.

It all gets blended and splattered around. On the quilt, establish your color palette that you think looks good together, whether they’re the tonal values that look good or the variety of colors. If you then stick with that genre of color and don’t suddenly pull in something new, then they will stir together the way a good stew stirs together. They will blend on the surface of the quilt.

Honestly, I understand and teach color theory, but I do not think about color theory much when I’m working. Ultimately, I try to teach that your intuition will guide you. I really do believe that. I believe whenever somebody says, “I don’t know if I like that,” then don’t use it. It’s not necessarily the color they don’t like. They’re just looking into how it fits into the bigger scheme of things.

Penny: It’s interesting because last month we had Joen Wolfram on our call. I know Joen is a friend of yours and she has the same attitude toward color. Her latest book is about taking photographs and using the colors that are in those.

Ricky: She’s got great books on color. I have learned from them. One of my first quilt books was from Joen Wolfram, The Magical Effects of Color. Jenny Beyer had a quilt color book back in 1991 or 1992 called Color Confidence. Those books certainly influenced me.

When I teach color, the number one thing I want students to know is the value. I want them to understand value is all relative. You can look at the big picture and say, “This is medium, this is light and this is dark,” but in your quilt that medium may be the darkest fabric you have or it may be the lightest fabric you have.

It all ends up relating. If you can get the value of the quilt working right, the colors come. It’s the value that makes the design pop. That’s why I go for value much more. A large scale print that has lights, mediums and darks on a black background with floral or all kinds of crazy things on it can be a beautiful fabric but gets muddled inside of quilt if you’re trying to show the actual design.

Different fabrics work in different ways but you’ve got to keep it in the values family more than the color family.

By Ricky Tims & Penny Halgren of

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