Modern Quilting BlogColorandquilts

Color is a universal form of communication and expression. Using nature as inspiration, human beings have millions of options in which to create a color scheme. Being that quilting was used in clothing in some areas, specifically colder regions, available colors were possibly used to display, tribal, familial, or personal connections.

Using color in your quilt design contributes to its depth and mood. Color theory for quilters supports and inspires the creation of a myriad of artistic possibilities. It creates contrast, giving your project movement, definition, and clarity. To build a case for quilts and color, we’ll begin with a little history. Then we’ll add in some color theory facts and its relationship with art.

A Brief History of Color and Quilts

Quilting has its origins in clothing. Over time as color became more common in clothing, it also expanded to the quilt. When color first started to emerge into society it was mostly observed among the affluent. The process of creating colored fabrics contributed to its scarcity and expense. That being said, quilts during this time that displayed color were owned primarily by the wealthy and were highly prized. Most of these early colored quilts were whole-cloth quilts with hand-sewn color appliques. 

When color became more accessible to the general population, we see an expansion of color usage in quilting that opened up a treasure chest of new patterns and color schemes.

Fast forward to the American Bicentennial and the quilt revival of the 1970s. In this era, we see the art of quilting emerge and color theory is the palette for these extraordinary works of art. From this point onward, the craft of quilting would evolve into an artform that surpasses anyone’s wildest imagination.

Some Brief Facts About Color

Once color began to shape the designs of quilts, the science of color or color theory and the use of the Chromatic Circle, were staples of basic quilt building techniques.

So, here’s what we know. Color has been proven to affect human emotion and behavior. It is an innate part of the human experience. It is also a vital indicator within the natural world. These are all facts that are universally acknowledged. Although research is lacking in this subject, it is a fact that color does impact people in diverse ways and is subjective to the personal and cultural specifics of the individual.

When your eyes scan your environment, certain colors stand out immediately. They hold your attention and often create a mood that may invoke an emotion. Other colors help to define the shades they surround. Combining this with emotional or cultural factors, it is easy to see how the use of color greatly affects the appeal of a well-designed quilt. Marketing professionals use color schemes prominently and effectively in their designs to influence their market. It’s justifiable that color theory for quilters would be just as effective.

Chromatic Circle

The Chromatic Circle is a wheel containing primary colors, secondary colors, and tertiary colors. The primary colors are red, yellow, and blue. Secondary colors are the colors that result when the primary colors are combined. For example, combining yellow and blue to make green. The other combinations will result in purple and orange. Tertiary colors are the colors you get from mixing the primary colors with the secondary colors. An example of a tertiary color would be blue-green or red-orange.

All of the colors on the circle are arranged to allow you to create harmonious color schemes. For instance, if you split the circle in half, one side has cool colors and the other has warm colors. Complementary colors are opposite one another. Analogous colors are next to each other on the wheel. Triadic colors can be easily found by drawing a triangle and noting the color at each point of intersection of the triangle. They’re spaced out in groups of three.

So, Why Use Color on Your Quilt?

As previously mentioned, over time quilting became an endeavor of artistic expression. As the movement to revive the craft emerged, quilters were able to incorporate color with amazing results. One reason color is important in quilting is that it expands the possibilities of what is possible. I have seen quilts that were as brilliant as a master painting. Through the use of color, fabrics were pieced together in such a way that it became a portrait.

Another reason that color is important is the story. Many quilts are telling a story. The use of color is one of the key factors that make these stories come alive. Color helps the observer discern the emotion and intensity of the quilt’s story. Color is an excellent medium for communication without words.

When a quilt pattern is designed and shared, color is how each can become a unique variation of the original. The visual change that results in a modification of just one color can be striking. Color variations can portray movement, like what you’ll observe in this quilt. Color gives definition and defines the structure in quilts. For instance, there are remarkable pieces that give the illusion of multiple dimensions. This is all done using color. Quilters who have invested time and effort into learning color theories and how to apply it to their projects have repeatedly broken the molds of what is possible.

However, the most compelling reason for color in quilting would be love and comfort. There’s no doubt most of you quilt for the love of it. The whole process of creating the pattern of your quilt involves defining its character. Utilizing color is a major tool in accomplishing this. Not to mention the excursion to the fabric store is so much fun. We also know that color is an important influencer of our emotions and behavior. It seems to me, that color is part of the experience of quilting as well as the final result. So, why not? Grab a pattern or design your own quilt, choose your color scheme, and immerse yourself in the experience of quilting.


Brick, C. Joan (2019, October 29). Quilting. Encyclopedia Britannica.

Color Psychology: Does It Affect How You Feel?