Choosing a Neutral, Part 2: My Kona Cheat Sheet


Yesterday we talked about questions you can ask yourself in order to identify a great neutral for your next quilt. So now that you’ve narrowed down the options as far as value and warm/cool, how do you choose from the eleventy thousand solid shades now on the market?

It’s daunting, isn’t it? I love love love the variety of solids we have now—there are now probably twice as many choices now as when I started quilting seven years ago. But sometimes that dazzling variety can also get overwhelming. Grays are particularly challenging, since grays can have any color cast in the spectrum, and different grays don’t always go together. So let’s break it down, shall we?

My go-to solids brand is Kona Cotton by Robert Kaufman, and I know that’s what many of you go for as well. It also happens to be the line with the most colors by far—303 shades, as of a few months ago! So to make the selections a little easier for you, I’ve put together a Kona Cotton Neutrals Cheat Sheet. You can download a FREE PDF of the Cheat Sheet by clicking here. Print it out and keep it with your color card, or just open the PDF on your phone or your tablet while you’re shopping.
My Kona Neutrals Cheat Sheet does the legwork on Kona Neutrals for you. For each color category—Grays, Browns, and Whites—I’ve determined whether particular shades qualify as “Warmer” or “Cooler.” From there, I’ve also selected a few shades in each color group that I believe to be your “Most Neutral Choices.” While the “Most Neutral Choices” shades are also categorized as either warmer or cooler, these are the ones I think fall closest to the middle of that spectrum.

A few things to note: First, my Warmer and Cooler designations are all relative. For example, brown skews warm most of the time. So even the “cooler” browns on my Cheat Sheet are still a bit on the warm side—but relative to all the other browns on the Kona color card, these are the coolest.

Second: Remember how I said in the last post that color is subjective? That goes double for this post! : ) My warm and cool designations are just the opinions of little old me. I think I’ve got a pretty good eye for these things, but still, you should take my categorizing with a grain of salt. Lighting and other nearby colors can change how a particular shade looks. So please use my Cheat Sheet simply as a starting point—there’s no substitute for seeing and comparing the colors in person, if possible!

Finally, let’s talk briefly about the “Color Neutrals” category. Under this category, I’ve listed some of the Kona colors that I think work really well as neutrals, along with the general color family of each. This is by no means a complete list—it’s just some of my past and present favorites. There are so many others you could try. Really, any color that isn’t bright or saturated could work as a “color neutral”—explore the possibilities!

My favorite quilt in which I used a color neutral is this one, made from the Sherbet Pips line by Aneela Hoey:

The prints I used here are very heavy on the warm colors, all red and pink. So Kona Ice Frappe for the background was a great choice, because it cooled off the temperature of the quilt significantly.

In fact, here’s a handy tip for using color neutrals that comes straight from my experience with my Sherbet Pips quilt: If you’re using one fabric line (as I was in this quilt), consider pulling your background color straight from that line’s color palette. In this case, I simply left out all the Sherbet Pips prints in blue, then chose a soft blue background that matched the blue prints I didn’t use. No muss, no fuss!

I hope this “Choosing a Neutral” series has been helpful to you, and that the Kona Neutrals Cheat Sheet comes in handy as well! Now go find the perfect neutral for that gorgeous pile of fabric you pulled the other day. Happy sewing!

19 replies
  1. elizabethdee
    elizabethdee says:

    Thank you so much! I get nervous (silly, I know) about choosing colors and identifying cool and warm colors. By sharing your "eye," you have taught me a lot and have given my confidence a big boost.

  2. Claudia Wade
    Claudia Wade says:

    Thanks, Lee. Your thoughts on this topic are invaluable. I love your decision tree. You cracked me up when you said that there are maybe twice as many lovely solids now than when you began quilting 7 years ago. Ask me how many solids there were and other fabric trends have come and gone since I started quilting 39 years ago!! LOL! I love using solids in quilts now. I have sort of segued from batiks into solids these days. Love modern quilts!

  3. Katy Cameron
    Katy Cameron says:

    Loads of good thoughts here. I have to say I never spend much time looking at neutrals because I love the bright coloured things and they're usually an afterthought, but I know I really ought to

  4. FlourishingPalms
    FlourishingPalms says:

    This two-part post is very informative, Lee! Thank you! I've been making quilts for 30 years and never really gave this much thought. My formula has always been to begin with prints I like (never all from one collection), and then pick a contrasting background. I've never said it's a successful formula, though! I like how you've approached and dissected it. And that you created a print-out is more than generous! Thanks heaps!

  5. carolaj3
    carolaj3 says:

    I recently did an inventory of my solids – mostly Kona. I had a lot more neutrals than I expected, so I am going to be using this great tute to make my next quilt.

  6. Deborah Giles
    Deborah Giles says:

    Great discussion. I really appreciate the legwork you have done on these solids. I don't have local access to check these colours out in person so your cheat sheet is a HUGE help. Thank you!


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