Pairing Colors


Picking Colors for Your Quilt


I wanted to start off by saying THANK YOU for the big, warm welcome and for all your comments on my first post last week. What a fun start to this new gig - I already feel so connected to all of you! I have made notes of the suggestions I received for future posts, and I’ll do my best to work them in down the line. Keep ‘em coming!

This week I’m excited (have you started to pick up on the fact that I’m almost always excited?) to talk about color! Specifically, how to pick a color scheme for your quilt.

In my mind, there are two ways to approach picking your color scheme for your quilt - “scientifically” and “intuitively”.  Let’s break it down.


Is it possible to call something you learned in elementary school art class “scientific”?  When it comes to color, I think yes. Because, really, are we ever more advanced or in-tune with colors than in first grade?  I think not.

I can’t imagine I was the only one who learned about The Color Wheel when I was in school.  It seems so simple, but I have heard that it was actually designed by Sir Isaac Newton himself (see? SCIENCE!).  The theory is that any of the colors on the wheel will pair well with each other.


Colors exactly across from each other are called “complementary colors” (purple and yellow, for example). Choosing complementary colors for your color scheme is quite bold.  If you choose this route for your quilt, I suggest introducing some quieter neutrals as a backdrop for the bold colors, like a gray or a cream, to tone it down so as not to shock the eye so much.

If you pick three colors right next to each other, you’ve selected “analogous colors”.  This is, I think, my favorite scientific approach.  It gets you a subtle almost ombre effect, and isn’t as intense as complementary colors.

Another 3-color option is to select a triangle of colors.  Like perhaps a green, orange, and purple combination. This approach is a compromise between complementary and analogous - it gives you the fun color variety, but with a medium contrast instead of the stark opposites of complementary colors or the subtle variation of analogous colors.

Truly, you can’t go wrong with pairings on the color wheel! That’s the beauty of it - they all play nicely together.  

But when it comes to picking a color scheme for quilting, the color wheel may not take you all the way.  We’ve all shopped for fabric before and the options for colors are seemingly endless!  The human eye is capable of seeing 2.8 million hues, and the color wheel has only 12 colors.

So, okay.  Where do we go from there?  The simplest answer is - the internet!  I found a super handy color calculator which can be used to tell you what colors go together. Check it out, but be warned - it is addictive!



Remember those human eyes that can see 2.8 million hues? You, my quilting comrade, are most likely in possession of at least one human eyeball, if not two!  Trust those eyeballs of yours!

Intuition is my personal favorite way to pick colors.  The best part of using your intuition is that it is so fun and creative.  For me, it gets my heart beating and gets me excited about my newest project.

And if you use your intuition, you may even develop a unique, identifiable style. My sister-in-law (AKA the Quilter’s Mart Boss Lady) is one of those people. She has a way of picking colors that I, myself, would never imagine together. Every time I see one of her quilts, I wish there was a way to learn how to pair colors like she does.  We'll do a feature on her eventually, keep your eyes out for it!

But intuition can’t be learned, and I’ll never pick colors like my sister-in-law.  The good news?  I have my own intuition, which is unlike anyone else’s!  Here are a few of my quilts, with my color selections made by (pun alert!) my own Carolyn-tuition!



Go Primary:

Go monochromatic:

The moral of the intuition story is, have fun!  Let the colors lead you, and if you find a color combination pleasing, others will too!

Whatever method you use to select your color scheme, your quilt will be beautiful if you piece it with love.  Feel free to share your favorite way to select your colors in the comments!  Or, if you have a project you would like us to feature, please email us HERE!

Previous Post Next Post

  • Carolyn Knees
Comments 25
  • Debbie Shaffer
    Debbie Shaffer

    Thanks for reminding us about how easy it is to use the color wheel when selecting fabrics. I enter a quilt store and become overwhelmed with the choice of fabrics in the multitude of colors and patterns. This idea will help ground me as I continue on my journey to find the “ perfect combination” for my future quilt palettes.

  • Arianna Johnson
    Arianna Johnson

    This is my first time reading a whole blog. I have been quilting for 15 years, wishing I had started years before. I’ve taken classes and workshops, as well as picked up many tips at the classes from other quilters. I really enjoyed this blog on colors and look forward to learning more.

  • Arianna Johnson
    Arianna Johnson

    This is my first time reading a whole blog. I have been quilting for 15 years, wishing I had started years before. I’ve taken classes and workshops, as well as picked up many tips at the classes from other quilters. I really enjoyed this blog on colors and look forward to learning more.

  • Okemah Barton
    Okemah Barton

    I do intuitive. I used to do monochromatic, but I found after a few years it was hard to keep interested in my work. Now, I often choose fabrics that have zero commonality, and let it go Scrappy. The other way I do it is just choose one fabric I love, and match one two colors in common. They just have to have completely different patterns and styles.

  • Jan

    Thank you Carolyn for a informative post on the fantastic world of color. Color theory is fascinating and a world never ceases to amaze me with each quilt I make. This year I made 2 quilts that were total experiments in color and was totally surprised by the finished project. One quilt was Christmas themed and the only color requirement I used was the fabric had to be red, green, gold, and any range of creams/tans for the background fabric. I paid no attention to print at all, some were Christmas fabrics but many were not, and many were fabrics I really didn’t like at all (my uglies)!. Anyway, the quilt came out beautiful and even won a ribbon in our local quilt show. I will never look down on “my uglies” again. I would post a picture but I don’t know how.
    The other quilt color selection was using only earthy type fabrics with no distinct pattern mostly from Northcott Stonehenge collection along with some Jinny Beyer fabrics. I was able to purchase 20 or so fat eighths so I had plenty of variety. I had them for 3 yrs or more and finally put them in a simple quilt and it also came out gorgeous. I really didn’t know what to expect the final outcome to be but it ultimately looked like glowing stained glass. I used 3 different blacks for the background and it really made the colors shine. I was amazed at the result and had no idea that it look like that. I say to every quilter I talk to, explore color it never ceases to surprise! This quilt also won a ribbon this year. I entered 4 quilts in the show and the 2 others conformed to the pattern recommendations but they didn’t make the cut. Color wins! Yeah for color!

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts on color and allowing me to share my thoughts. ;)
    Happy stitching!

  • Patricia

    I choose my colours intuitively, but a good way to start is by choosing a fabric you love and then picking some individual colours out of that fabric as you already know those colours appeal to you.

  • Joanie

    Thanks for the color info as that is one of my hardest things to do and feel comfortable that I’ve done it correctly. I love making quilts but I see other quilts and I think why didn’t I think to use those colors. I couldn’t get the color wheel to work for me but I’ll try it again. Going to enjoy your posts so thanks again and hang in there you’re doing great.

  • HAzel SHepherd
    HAzel SHepherd

    Love your colours

  • Liz

    Nice article. Beautiful quilts. Love the cat quilt.

  • Cheri Erbert
    Cheri Erbert

    thank you

  • SUzanne HOoks
    SUzanne HOoks

    I need so much help with color choices. I know when I see something I like, but putting just the right color touch to it, I have to ask my daughter to help me! LOL. Maybe I’ve just got a mental block about it. I love your letters. Hoping I can step up to the plate and learn. Thank you

  • Maria

    Loved you color blog; it has helped me tremendously. I look forward to seeing and learning more from you. Thanks.

  • Cyndi Kemp
    Cyndi Kemp

    This is my first time to see your blog…and it won’t be the last. It was very informative. Choosing my fabric colors is the most exciting part of the quilt process. Intuition is what I use now . Your blog has inspired me to use this information to branch out of always using colors that I’m comfortable with. Thank you.

  • Cyndi

    Enjoyed your blog. Thank you for information on color calculator.

  • Mary Keller
    Mary Keller

    Your intuition seems to work quite well. I like it. I’ll try both to see what I refer. I use a lot of precuts which also works for me.

  • Ruth

    I always have trouble with colors. Others can say that is a red and it has orange in it or that blue has green in it. I can’t seem to see that but your blog has helped me a lot to understand the color wheel. I never knew about the colors across from one another or three next to one another so I think that will help me in the future. Thanks

  • Bunny Wilson
    Bunny Wilson

    I love the color calculator!! I have major problems when it comes to choosing fabrics so I usually stick with collections where the work is already done for me. This opens up a whole new world for me because there are times I see one fabric that I love and yet won’t purchase because I’ve no idea how to put other colors with it. Thanks for posting and sharing the link!

  • Jo-Ann

    Thanks for the info I really struggle with this I love colour and I love to mix them other look at my Quilts & I am sure they wonder

  • Vee

    I have always been better at color then making points meet. I love your black and white quilt. I love using black in quilts.

  • sam

    You are so right about the color calculator. Addicting and will be so helpful. Great starting place for picking colors. Had to bookmark it. Thanks

  • Susan Rattray
    Susan Rattray

    Very interesting

  • JoAnne Watson
    JoAnne Watson

    711 Wildcat Road
    Love your colors and the way you put them together. Thanks for the advice.

  • Margie

    I have always had trouble with picking colors. I walk into a quilt shop and drool, my eyes widen and i don’t know which way to go first. I drive my daughter crazy 9that is if I can get her to go to the quilt shop with me). I am learning value/tint stuff. Please keep up the great work. Thanks

  • Diane G. Craine
    Diane G. Craine

    Very interesting, as I do not feel comfortable putting the colors together. Thank you.

  • Sharon Younie
    Sharon Younie

    I always had trouble picking colours, but this is really good info, thanks

Leave a comment
Your Name:*
Email Address:*
Message: *

Please note: comments must be approved before they are published.

* Required Fields
60 Day Money Back Guarantee