Applying Colour Theory to Quilting: PART 1

One of the parts that beginner quilters find more difficult when they start their quilting journey is how to choose colours for a quilt.

When I started making quilts from other pattern designers as a hobby, I realised that I tended to go for the exact same colours they used for their samples as those, apart from the design, were the things that drew me in to buying the pattern in the first place.

Another reason for this was that I was feeling a bit lost regarding how to create a completely different version of that quilt using a whole bunch of new colours. After reading a few quilting books and watching many tutorials on YouTube, I realised that I needed to understand Colour Theory properly to then apply it to my quilts, both when designing a pattern and when making one from another designer.

What is Colour Theory


Colour Theory is related to how colours interact and relate with each other. The colours (also called 'Hues') that you pick for a quilt are a reflection of your personality and taste and that's what makes your quilt one of a kind and different to any other, even when you are using the same quilt design.

Colour defining terms

You will use many of these when choosing colours for a quilt so it is a good idea to understand them before doing anything else. Now, let's start with HUE, INTENSITY and VALUE.

  • HUE (or colour): it is usually the name of the most dominant colour
    • Primary Colours: all colours are derived from these three hues.
      • Red, Yellow and Blue.

Pic Monkey

    • Secondary Colours: these are formed by mixing primary colours.
      • Orange (red + yellow), Green (yellow + blue) and Purple (blue + red).

Pic Monkey

    • Tertiary Colours: these are formed by mixing primary and secondary colours
      • Red-Orange, Yellow-Orange, Yellow-Green, Blue-Green, Blue-Purple and Red-Purple.

Pic Monkey

  • INTENSITY or SATURATION: these terms refer to how bright the fabric is.
    • Low Saturation: dull, muted or faded colours.
    • High Saturation: bright, bold or vibrant colours.
    • VALUE: this refers to how light or dark a fabric is.
      • Shade: this is a colour that has had black added to it. It can make a colour look more dramatic.
      • Tone: this is a colour that has had grey added to it. It can make a palette look calmer.
      • Tint: when white is added to a hue. This can make a colour look paler or softer.


    Beach Painting

    • TEMPERATURE: colours can be hot or cold and the Colour Wheel divides these up with reds and oranges on one side of the wheel and blues and greens on the other.

    Pic Monkey

    • MONOCHROMATIC: this term refers to using tints and shades of the same colour for a harmonious look.


    • NEUTRALS: these are weak colours that allow others to move forward in the design. Neutrals can be white, black, grey, brown, navy or even a colourful hue in a dark shade, light tint or low saturation.

    Colour relationships and creating your own colour palette

    The Colour Wheel can be used to explore different colour combinations when selecting fabrics for a quilt. Keep these colour options at hand when designing a palette for your next project.

    • COMPLEMENTARY: this colour palette uses colours that are opposite to each other, creating a strong contrast (e.g. yellow and purple). 

    Pic Monkey

    Within this option, you can find:

      • SPLIT COMPLEMENTARY: combining one colour with the two that sit to either side of its complementary. It can be used to add small pops of a different colour.

    Pic Monkey

      • DOUBLE SPLIT COMPLEMENTARY: this colour palette can be created using two pairs of complementary colours that form an X on the colour wheel.
    • ANALOGOUS: this option uses three neighbouring colours in the colour wheel (e.g. red, orange, yellow). This colour palette creates a calm more coordinated quilt.

    Pic Monkey

    • TRIADIC: this combination uses three colours evenly spaced around the colour wheel.

    Pic Monkey


    As you can see there's a lot behind choosing colours for a quilt but! as soon as you learn the theory and practice, it will become second nature. And remember, that you can always go back to your Colour Wheel to check any colour combination :)

    I hope you found this post interesting. Thank you for reading and I will see you back here soon for part 2!

    Happy quilting,

    'Modern Quilt Bible' by Elizabeth Betts
    Just Get It Done Quilts YouTube channel and website
    Cottoneer Fabrics Colour Theory post


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