Susanne Woods, founder and publisher at Lucky Spool Media, compiled the Essential Guide to Modern Quilt Making as an all-inclusive guide. Through the book’s 10 workshop chapters, expert quilters teach you modern quilt-making design principles, providing support as you practice a variety of quilting techniques and concepts. Including in this informative guide are 16 new quilt patterns.

Instructors like Denyse Schmidt, Jacquie Gering and Angela Walters share the pages with over 250 beautiful photographs and more than 100 additional illustrations, guiding you through the elements of modern quilt design and construction. Workshop topics cover everything from the principles and composition of color, multiple curved piecing techniques,  tips and tricks for large-scale piecing, fundamentals of improv and paper piecing plus info on modern machine quilting. Essential Guide to Modern Quilt Making brings an authoritative voice from modern quilting experts, putting that expertise in your hands for access and success any time!

Susanne and Lucky Spool are sharing excerpts from the Essential Guide to Modern Quilt Making in a weekly series at Sew Mama Sew, starting with today’s look at the Principles and Composition of Color in quilt making. The instructor for this portion of the guide is Kari Vojtechovsky of Craft Happy, a graphic designer who provides targeted insight into working with color as a quilter. We’ll be back next week with more from the guide!

Goals of the Workshop: The Principles of Color

Working with color is one of the most challenging hurdles for quilters which is why this is the first workshop in the book. No matter how great a piecer you are, if you aren’t working effectively with your color choices, your results may be frustrating. Kari and Susanne made this chapter a solid basis for the entire book, with a variety of pieced combinations and real life examples that show how and why certain quilts achieve great harmony and how you can too. Some readers skip over the introductory material on color in many pattern books to get straight to the patterns, but then end up selecting very similar colors to the original project. Kari is all about educating readers to experiment with their own color selections, to create unique projects from any pattern. She even includes a fantastic troubleshooting guide at the end of the chapter to help readers along.

How do you get different values and saturation levels for a hue?
In any quilt, you will need to select a range of values for your design. You will also be choosing from various saturation levels. There are three ways to create colors of different value and saturation of a hue: by adding white, black or gray to that hue. The technical terms for these colors are tints, shades, and tones, respectively.

These fabrics are as close as we can get to a pure hue with commercially available fabrics.
They are highly saturated and have mostly mid-range value.

A tint is a pure hue with added white. All tints will be lighter in value. The more white there is in the color, the lighter in value and less saturated it will be. Tints are light, pastel and clear.

A shade is a pure hue with added black. All shades will be darker in value. The more black there is in the color, the darker in value and less saturated it will be. Shades are rich, dramatic and dark.

A tone is a pure hue with added gray. Because a gray can be almost white or almost black, a tone of a hue can be of nearly any value and saturation. The tone can just have a hint of a hue in it (like a gray that is just a little blue), or it can be nearly as saturated as a pure hue. Tones are complex. They can be earthy, sophisticated, moody and subtle.

Putting It Together:
Here is a visual to help pull these concepts together. The diagram below charts the interaction between the three aspects of a color– value, hue, and saturation– and how tints, shades, and tones take a hue from more to less saturated and from light to dark in value. Every color we see can be plotted out like this, starting with its pure hue and analyzing what other qualities it has.

Real-life Examples:
Let’s practice recognizing these characteristics in real quilt blocks by comparing the Churn Dash blocks.

Hue: First, let’s look at hue. Even though all of the colors are very different, each of these blocks uses the same hues in the same position. The background is turquoise, and the churn dash design is made of orange and red.

Value: Next, let’s examine how value is used. Within each block, the value relationship is the same: orange is lightest, red is darkest and turquoise is in between; however, each complete block has a different overall value, with lightest block in the middle and the darkest block on the right.

Saturation: Finally, let’s compare saturation levels. Within each block, the turquoise, orange, and red are similarly saturated. The block on the left has the highest saturation of the three. The middle block is desaturated by containing fabric colors that are tints. The block on the right is desaturated by containing fabric colors that are shades.

Now that you are familiar with the terminology, we can dive into using value, saturation and hue to your advantage in your next quilt.

Working with Value:
Value is an extremely important color principle that any quilter needs to understand in order to make a successful quilt. Contrast defines the quilt design and the primary way to create contrast is through value. Fabrics with the same value will blend together even if they have a different hue. If you find that your quilt design is muddled and lacking a clear focal point, it is because there is not enough contrast in value.

Value contrast is the quilt design. These four quilt examples can be made from the same size and quantity of half square triangles, but the value placement is changed to create totally different quilt designs.

Types of Value Contrast:
Usually it is important to have strong value contrast in a quilt design, but there are also beautiful quilts that use low contrast. Whether you are making a quilt with high or low contrast or anywhere in between, what matters is to have enough contrast for your design intentions with the composition.

High Contrast:
High contrast color combinations use drastic steps in value. The quilt design will be most clearly defined when using fabrics with a high degree of contrast. The highest level of contrast is achieved by placing black next to white.

Mid-range Contrast:
Most of the time quilters work with contrast somewhere in the middle range. This could be because the majority of commercially produced quilting-weight cotton fabrics are mid-range in value. Having a background (or creating negative space) that contrasts sufficiently with all the other colors in the piecing often a key element in the design of a successful quilt.

Low Contrast:
Low contrast is the pairing of colors with only subtle shifts in value. It can almost make the colors shimmer. Low volume quilts are a variation on this, focusing on fabrics that are pale neutrals with only small hints of other colors. Because the contrast level is low, auditioning fabrics is even more important.

Gradation is a subtle shift from one hue, saturation level, and/or value to another. Using gradated values gives a sense of depth and creates movement within a quilt. It will make for a smooth and flowing quilt design. It can cause parts of the quilt pop out as if it were three-dimensional. Gradation requires careful planning and just the right fabrics.

Effective Use of Gradation.

Tip: Audition fabrics that are a few steps darker or lighter than you think you might need; it just might make a good quilt into a great quilt by getting the composition to pop. This way, you can feel comfortable that you have had the right value levels from the start.

Changes in value are easy to see when the hue is removed. It seems that this quilt’s design reads well because there are many bold colors. The reality is that the design has clarity because the colors have value contrast. You can see the contrast in value more clearly in the black and white photo.
Quilt Credit: ¾ Log Cabin by Ara Jane Olufson.

Lucky Spool’s Essential Guide to Modern Quilt Making compiled by Susanne Woods (192 pages, $28.95, published in 2014 by Lucky Spool Media, LLC) has lots more information on color, plus many other great workshops.

Have fun playing with color in your next quilt!

We have a freebie for you from the book! Download the Color Play Coloring Sheet from Kari Vojtechovsky at Craft Happy, part of Lucky Spool’s Essential Guide to Modern Quilt Making.