Ask Jo: More on COLOR!

I’ve recently done a few blog entries on color.  I really don’t know how I ever got on this…I don’t feel like I know a lot about it.  I just do what I do and I like how it turns out.

I first did a entry on sorting scraps.  Find that HERE.
Then I did an entry on selecting strings for string quilts.  Find that entry HERE.

The main thing that I’ve been saying is that I like to sort my fabrics into two categories…Ones that work well with white backgrounds and ones that work well with cream backgrounds.  In the string entry I said that even in string quilts, I like to do this.  I gave an example with my Hunter’s Star quilt I’m working on.  In the comments a reader, Roxanne asked:
What about your the fabrics in the Pumpkin Patch quilt? We’re those all cream based? I ask because I gathered my orange scraps and they are definitely a mixture of white and cream base. It’s my first strip quilt!

I’m glad you asked.  This quilt is a good example….Here’s my version.

Here’s the pattern from the magazine.

It’s a Bonnie Hunter pattern and was published in Quiltmaker.  It was later added to her latest book String Frenzy.  You can see that Bonnie used grays as her backgrounds and I used whites.

This is such a perfect example of color selection.  For my quilt, I should pick cream based colors because of the brown background. if I were using grays, I would choose white based because gray looks better with white than cream.


Many people who talk about color call this “cool” and “warm”.  The white based colors and more “cool”.  The cream based colors are more “warm”.  I personally favor the warm or cream based colors when I’m making a quilt but often stray and make white based quilts too.

The best thing to note is that if making this quilt, there is not a “better” quilt.    There are only personal preferences.  I loved Bonnie’s quilt…but for me, I had VERY few grays at the time.  I knew I’d want white based fabrics to go with the gray and being the farm girl I am, I just liked pumpkins in what looked like brown dirt…thus the brown backgrounds and the cream based fabrics.

I dug my quilt out and started snapping some pictures.  Take a look at this picture….I had a bit of a problem…Notice the stems.  I started losing some of them in the dark brown backgrounds.

I broke my color theory …and dug to find some greens that were brighter and likely more “white based” like the stem below.  
I started to be a little more conscientious about the stems and picked backgrounds that would better suit the green color so they would stand out and not blend in too much against the brown background.
As for colors or the orange fabrics, I had VERY little orange strings.  I had to go into my fabric and cut strings from my fat quarters.  Still I didn’t have a lot. Also I could see with that dark brown background that I need a pop.  The dark oranges I had originally pulled for the quilt weren’t always standing out.  I started adding in some yellows.  

Some of these were colors that were “on the fence” and could go either way…”white” or “cream”.  I do think with a brown background the quilt looks best with those yellowish pops.

I took some close up pictures of the border.  It is cream based.  That green polka dot is an “on the fence” piece.  You can see it stands out a little.  
More border:  For Bonnie’s she used only greens in the border.  I used all fall colors instead.  That was dictated much by my stash.  I don’t have a lot of green scraps…notice the ratio of green to other colors is very low.

This was a great opportunity for me to use a lot of those colors that were “mediums”…not light…not dark yet still “cream” based.

One thing I do want to note is that I personally believe that this quilt needed a brown thread for the quilting.  It’s the obvious choice for me.  Other might have done orange…or a tan.  By selecting a brown that was “cream” based, it goes over and fabrics that are “on the fence” and tones them down a bit….”warming” them up.  It helps with the flow of the quilt.

That was true with this “on the fence” orange polka dot.  The “white” is that terrible color that’s not white-white but not cream either.  Those are sometimes “on the fence” fabrics.  I threw it in as polka dots are my favorite and I was very short of orange.  In retrospect, it didn’t hurt the quilt. If I did it again, I might leave it out….But one strip of fabric either way is not going to make or break a quilt.
But sometimes my love of polka dot trumps everything else.  That’s the most important thing….do what you love.  If what you love is throwing a happy polka dot in now and then even if it breaks the rules, DO IT!!  If not sorting your fabric this way is your method…do it.

If your stash is a “beginner stash”, do what your stash allows.  If you think this is all a bunch of horse hookey….that’s fine too.  Make your quilts how you want to make them.  The only important thing is that YOU love them.  I do all this tedious scrap sorting because that’s the way I make quilts I love.

I hope that gives you some close up pictures to look through and some words to contemplate as you make your quilt Roxanne…I love that you asked you this question.

Feel free to send more questions my way….

24 thoughts on “Ask Jo: More on COLOR!”

  1. Love your posts about color. Well, I love all your posts. Also decided to do the pumpkin quit with a brown background since I have few grays. This will be my 3rd quilt from String Frenzy.

  2. I’m glad that you mentioned ‘beginner’s stash’. Even thought I’ve been quilting a long time, I really don’t have a large variety of scraps. I guess I’ll continue with making quilts with what I have. I do enjoy your
    posts and learn a lot. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Oh my, Jo! You answered so many questions! LOVE all these close ups! Your further discussion here about white and cream is great, as is the part about “on the fence” fabric, doing what you love, and blending with choice of quilting thread. All this will be percolating as I do more orange (and brown) scrap sorting today. Thank you! Thank you!

  4. I love your color explanation! It’s a great way to pick colors for a quilt. I have a huge stash and I always say I’m all color all the time. I make cream-based quilts sometimes and white-based way more often, but it depends on what I’m making. Thanks for sharing your quilting vision — and your family and life! — with us. My day isn’t complete without a visit with you and Kelli!

  5. Thank you, Jo! I have been wanting to make this pumpkin quilt and have been trying to collect more browns and oranges first. Your color and string posts have helped so much and I love your color choices. Having the border as “fall” colors really adds to the quilt and thats what I want to do as well. You are very good at explaining :) Thank you !!!

  6. Your Pumpkin Patch Quilt is very calm to the eye. Great lesson in color theory. Besides your new love of batiks, we favor in color usage. I love the 1800’s fabrics as well as the warmer colors.

  7. Beautiful pumpkin quilt with a lot of areas of interest. Thank you for posting your color explanation…I learned so much. Will save the post for future reference. Have a great sunshiny day!

  8. Very nice analogy. Working on Good Fortune, I dont like my colorway so redoing half of the blocks. I dont usually have a problem but this one became one. I might have to dig out QM to find the pumpkin pattern.

  9. Nikki DeRamus Moshier

    I really enjoyed and learned a lot in this post. I am trying to balance my color choices. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Very good explaination. A couple years ago I assembled blocks quilt guild members made in a quilt-as-you-go method. Some of the blocks had the wrong background, meaning their background was white and not cream. I corrected the problem by dumping the blocks into black tea and changing the background from white to cream. Not sure if this would work for strings, but in some cases it might would.

  11. Jo I have been following your articles on scrape choices of colors. You have made a great discussion for us to follow and learn. I think at times we say does this go? Looking at your pumpkin colors they do look great all together. I just feel better knowing about” on the fence” saying. You have bought great thoughts and playing with fabric choices. I can see lights and tans at a different view. Thank you for sharing and pictures on today post. great information

  12. I LOVE the way you’ve explained your ‘process’! I’ve got well over 40 years of quilting experience, and I’ve never seen the thought process explained so well, and what’s even better I learned a little bit, too, which is terrific. Your colors are different, but the quilt turned out absolutely beautifully, and now I want to try your methods, as well — different can be wonderful, and its great to stretch our limits in other directions as quilters. Thank you!

  13. The examples you have shown have all been a single color. Do you do this with multi color scrappy piecing, such as your Pineapple Crazy blocks? Thanks for your blog, it is on my must read list daily.

  14. Well, Jo, this explains why I never liked the quilt I made with stripped diamonds alternating with gray diamonds. The creams and naturals do nothing for the grays and visa versa.

  15. I love your posts every day! And yes, I can see that the “on the fence” scraps definitely edge toward white! Thank you!

  16. Well, I went through my “orange” cream scraps and noticed that what I had pulled looked more like a butternut squash quilt–hmmm. I went back to my more white based “orange” scraps which were from mostly more modern fabrics, batiks, and shirt plaids. These were definitely more what I wanted. It was such a learning process and I kept looking back at your pumpkins throughout. A few might not make the final cut but for now I’m feeling much happier. Thanks again, Jo!

  17. Susan the Farm Quilter

    Well, now I know why my stash has very little orange, yellow or red in it, but blues, greens and purples abound! Not much cream, but bolts of gray and white. We curate our fabric collection with the colors we love and rarely include the colors we don’t. You and Bonnie love those warm colors and I love the cool!

  18. I love all your posts, but these where you explain your fabric choices have been wonderfully helpful and I’m learning so much. Thanks Jo!

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  21. So glad I discovered these posts! All are very helpful to me, this is the way I want to lean. Thank you for taking the time to write up your thought (& sorting) process.

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