Choosing a Neutral For Your Quilt: Part 1

One question I’ve heard from blog readers and other quilters over and over is, “How do you choose a neutral?” Since my quilts almost always have a neutral solid background, I’ve been meaning to write a blog post (or two) on this subject for ages, and I finally got my act together and did it. Here’s the thing though: I wish I could give you an easy answer to this question, but sadly, I can’t. It’s not an exact science, by any means. Color is subjective, it’s affected by other colors around it, and it’s always and forever a matter of personal opinion. : ) It’s not an “If X, then choose Y” situation, is what I’m saying.

Still, there are some questions you can ask yourself to help select a neutral for your next quilt. Read on!

1. Dark or light? I think the first thing to consider is whether you want a neutral that is dark, light, or somewhere in between. To determine this, ask yourself whether you want a high-contrast look, or something that blends a bit more? Do you want this quilt to be bold and graphic, with a “kapow” quality to it, or do you want it to have a softer, more subtle effect?

Once you’ve answered those questions, take a look at the other colors or prints you’re using in the quilt. If you’re using a lot of light, bright prints, and you’re going for a high-contrast look, maybe a dark gray will set off your prints most effectively. Conversely, if the other colors in your quilt are bold and higher-value, a white might be the way to go.

For example, take this Cartwheels quilt that I made last year:

You’ll notice that the prints I used have a fair amount of white in them. And while a few of the prints are on the darker side, overall they tend toward the lighter end of the spectrum. I usually love for my quilts to be high-contrast and very graphic, so I decided a darker neutral was the way to go, to really contrast with those lighter prints.

But what if I had gone with something lighter? Could that have been a good choice as well? Thanks to the magic of Photoshop, we can see what this quilt would have looked like with a lighter gray background:

Hmm. It doesn’t have the impact of the original, does it? It’s not horrible or anything—in fact, the softer look might be perfect for a baby quilt (and is very similar to the color scheme of my original Cartwheels quilt, which was, in fact, made for a baby). But there’s no denying that this doesn’t have the same punch as the original, and I do love me some punchy quilts. That punch comes from the contrast.

(By the way, if you’re having trouble seeing the value in fabric you’ve selected, try taking a picture and turning it grayscale to help make the values more apparent. I find the easiest and quickest way to take and view a grayscale photo is to use my phone and turn the photo black-and-white with Instagram’s Willow filter!)

2. Warm or cool? Now that you’ve narrowed down the light-or-dark question, the next factor to look at is whether you want a neutral that is warm or cool. Take a look at the rest of your color palette for the quilt: Is it primarily warm, primarily cool, or a relatively even mix of both? And do you want the neutral to counteract and balance out the warmth or coolness in your color palette, or should the neutral emphasize it and bring that aspect of the design out even further?

Let’s go back to that Cartwheels quilt from the first example:

I used primarily cool-colored prints in this quilt. Even the yellows are a bit on the cool side for yellow—they have a slight greenish cast. I wanted to emphasize that coolness with a cool neutral, so I chose Kona Graphite.

But let’s Photoshop it up again, this time with a warmer neutral (the color shown is probably in the vicinity of Kona Smoke):

Wow! The background color is not all that different, but the overall effect is startling, isn’t it? It’s amazing how a simple warm/cool shift can bring about such dramatic changes.

Again, there’s really no right or wrong answer here. It’s all just personal preference and what kind of look you’re going for. I happen to vastly prefer the original—the warmer neutral muddies the whole thing for me. But that might be exactly what you like about it, and that’s perfectly fine. And with some print/color combinations, balancing the coolness or the warmth might be just what the doctor ordered.

Regardless of your color preferences, it’s just good to make an informed decision, isn’t it? And that’s the goal of this post, to help you be more informed about your neutral selections. : )

So now that you have a framework for choosing a neutral, exactly which neutrals will fit the bill? Tomorrow I’ll be posting the second half of my Choosing a Neutral series, with my handy-dandy Kona Cotton Neutrals Cheat Sheet! The Cheat Sheet will help you identify which Kona solid neutrals are cooler, which are warmer, and which are more middle-of-the-road. See you then!


Bloom Bloom Pow Quilt-Along: Planning Your Design

Welcome to the first post of the Bloom Bloom Pow Quilt-Along! I’m so excited to get started! (More information about this quilt-along can be found in the Introductory post.)

One of my favorite things about quilt-alongs is not that you don’t just learn how to cut up your fabric and piece it back together again—you can also learn about design. And design, of course, really happens in the planning stages. So that’s what we’re going to discuss today—how to plan our your quilt and combine fabrics to make the most of this particular design. Really fun stuff for design nerds like me. : )

(I know many of you purchased a Bloom Bloom Pow fabric bundle, which means you have exactly the same fabric as me. If you’re planning to mimic my quilt and color placement, this design-planning post probably isn’t crucial for you. But if you want to make any changes to my design, such as the colors used, prints used, or color placement within the quilt, this post will give you a framework for doing just that!)

Probably the single most important element to think about in this quilt is value. (Just in case you don’t know, value refers to how light or dark a fabric is.) In this quilt, value makes the “flower petals” (the spoke-like things) pop out at the viewer, while the shaded background recedes and gives the flowers a bit of depth. So, regardless of whether you’re using Pearl Bracelets or any other line of fabric, it’s crucial that you get a handle on the value of the fabrics you’re using.

Let’s start by looking at this lovely photo of my Bloom Bloom Pow quilt bundle, available from Westwood Acres. (Photo courtesy of Amanda.)

I think it makes sense to group the fabric as follows: Dark, Medium, or Light. With the subtler print of the Pearl Bracelets line, I think it’s fairly clear which Pearl Bracelet colors fall into which value categories. But a trick I often use to make value easier to spot is to look at a black-and-white picture of fabric or a quilt layout. So here’s the same photo of the Bloom Bloom Pow bundle in black and white. The dark and light values are much more obvious now, aren’t they?

From there I separated the Pearl Bracelet prints into the following groups:

Dark colors
Cosmonaut, Grape Jelly, Persimmon, Watermelon, Swiss Chard, Meyer Lemon, Basil (7 prints).

Medium colors:

Verbena, Frosting, Juniper, Lilac, Pond (5 prints).
Light colors:
Citron, Glacier, Ice Skate, Peach, Cotton Candy (5 prints).
Obviously, value is all a matter of degree. I was on the fence about some of these—Meyer Lemon and Basil could easily have been in the “Medium” category, while Verbena and Frosting could possibly have been “Dark.” Just because I separated mine this way doesn’t mean you have to, so if you’re using Pearl Bracelets but would like to make some changes to your value stacks, I say go for it. : ) And you don’t need to have the same number of prints in each of your groups that I do (7/5/5), although I don’t recommend straying too far from that ratio.
Once you have your fabrics sorted by value, we’ll be using those groups to decide which colors go where in the quilt design. The “darks” will always be flower petals/spokes in the Bloom Bloom Pow design, and “lights” will always be the shaded background in the block. “Mediums” can be used in either spot. Some flower petals/spokes will be medium, and some shaded backgrounds will be medium, depending on what they are paired with.
So the next step is to think about fabric pairings. Each hexagon-shaped flower block is made up of six triangles. Each block has one color for the flower petals (Persimmon in the example above), one color for the shaded background (Peach in the example above), and white. The important thing here is that your flower petals are darker than the shaded background. So, dark flower petals can be combined with a medium or light shaded background, while medium flower petals can be combined only with a light shaded background.
My advice is to try out pairings from your selected fabrics/value groups and see what looks good together. Let’s take Watermelon, for example.
Watermelon looks great paired with Peach …
… or with Cotton Candy.
And as you can see, Cotton Candy looks great with a lot of things—Frosting, Lilac, and Watermelon.
But even when choosing from the correct value groupings, not all pairings may work. For example, Watermelon (dark) paired with Frosting (medium). It sounds yummy enough, but I didn’t think there was enough contrast in that pairing for it to work. (That’s probably because Frosting was one of those borderline colors that could have been either Dark or Medium.)
So that’s it for this week! Check out the fabric you’re planning to use for this quilt, separate it into value stacks, and decide which color pairings do and do not work. Once you do that you’ll be ready to cut your fabric next week! And don’t forget, bundles are still available from Westwood Acres if you want to quilt along with us—the Throw-Size bundle is here, and the Baby-Size bundle is here.

Quilt-Along Schedule

March 21Introduction and fabric requirements
March 28
Design strategy (we’ll just be talking about the big picture here, so you won’t need your fabric yet for this post)
April 4Cutting your fabric
April 11Strip-piecing instructions
April 18Cutting the triangles and deciding on a layout
April 25Piecing the triangles to complete the top
May 2 – Quilting and finishing


WIP Wednesday: Screen Time

Well, it’s been a good week and I’ve been mondo productive—except that it seems all my sewing-related progress has taken place behind a computer instead of at a sewing machine. I have been designing like a crazy woman, you guys. So much so that I’m wondering how I’m going to find time to actually sew all of these designs. Unfortunately that means there isn’t lot to show you today, but yes, I have been productive. And I’m hoping to stay on this roll right up until I leave for Quilt Market in a little over a week. Lots to finish up before I get to go play!


Cathedral Square quilt
Completed projects:
Cathedral Square quilt – I’ve basically been clubbing everybody over the head with this one, so you may have seen it already. : ) On the off-chance you missed it, deets are here.

New projects:

Summersville – On my sewing table right this minute: Summersville, Essex Linen, and Thangles. Oh yes, I am armed and dangerous! Not quite sure yet if it’ll be a pillow or a mini-quilt or what. Regardless, I think it’ll be yummy.

• Gen X Quilters’ Charmed Prints QA
• Halloween quilt
• Farmer’s Wife QA
• Figgy Pudding quilt

This week’s stats:
New projects – 1
Completed projects – 1

Currently in progress – 6You know the drill—link up any post from the past week featuring a Work In Progress (WIP). Link back here in your own post, and comment comment comment. Have a wonderful week!


Modern Mini Challenge Inspiration

Welcome to my stop on the Modern Mini Challenge blog hop, hosted by Jennifer of Ellison Lane Quilts. We’re here to inspire you and get you ready to make your own mini masterpiece for the Challenge!

My favorite mini that I’ve made? Definitely this little guy, which I made for Suz of Patchwork and Play as part of Doll Quilt Swap 10:

DQS10 quilt finished


Complexity. It’s one of my favorite things about mini quilts. You can do things in an 18″ square quilt that wouldn’t be possible at a larger scale. A full-size version of this quilt would be stunning, no doubt about it. But would I have the patience for 30 or more 9″-square paper-pieced New York Beauty blocks? Hardly. : )
DQS10 quilt finished


But in my opinion, what really makes this quilt special are the fussy-cut centers—the beautiful swirly circular motifs from Tula Pink’s Parisville collection. Without that fussy-cutting detail, this mini would be pretty standard. But those centers give it movement and drama. Which brings me to another thing I love about minis: A small detail like this might get lost in a larger quilt. But here, it’s the star of the show—as it should be! Fun, right? So many design possibilities in something so small.

Okay, so are you getting ready to make your own modern mini for the challenge? Don’t forget what’s up for grabs—gift certificates to the Fat Quarter Shop and bundles of Flea Market Fancy! Squeal!! You have until March 4 to sew your own mini to enter in the Challenge. Click here to learn more about the schedule, the requirements, and the prizes!

And don’t forget to keep following along with the blog hop. Happy sewing!

Feb. 6 – Stitchery Dickory Dock
Feb. 7 – Fairy Face Designs and Amy’s Creative Side
Feb. 8 – Lily’s Quilts
Feb. 9 – Patchwork Notes
Feb. 10 – Don’t Call Me Betsy and Flying Blind on a Rocket Cycle
Feb. 11 – Sukie, Don’t You Know Who I Am?
Feb. 12 – Freshly Pieced
Feb. 13 – From the Blue Chair and Poppy Makes
Feb. 14 – Needles, Pins, and Baking Tins
Feb. 15 – Mon Petit Lyons and Felicity Quilts
Feb. 16 – LR Stitched and Random Thoughts Do or Di
Feb. 17 – Life’s Rich Pattern and Twin Fibers
Feb. 18 – Cut to Pieces and Sew Sweetness
Feb. 19 – Swim, Bike, Quilt


WIP Wednesday #35

Hey! I did some stuff this week. : ) Okay, no finishes. But progress, nonetheless.

New project:

Don’t Call Me Betsy‘s Kaleidoscope Quilt-Along
I cut fabric for this one, slapped it up on my design wall, and … yellow light. Proceed with caution. It’s just so freaking yellow. I know, I know—what did I expect after cutting up a yard and a half of the yellow print? Excellent question. But either way, I don’t know how I feel about this. It’s not that I don’t like it … it’s just not what I envisioned. Nor does it go with any room in my house. Like, at all. But do those things really matter? Another excellent question. I’m going to keep pondering for another day or two. In the meantime, any and all design suggestions are welcome. (Click here for more info on Elizabeth’s quilt-along.)

Ongoing projects:
Warm/Cool Quilt – currently being quilted
Yeah! I’m quilting! That means a finish may be eminent! Try not to keel over from the shock of it!

Farmer’s Wife Quilt-Along – currently caught up
Click here for this week’s blocks.

Skill Builder Sampler Quilt-Along – currently caught up
No block this week—Leila gave us an optional design-your-own-block challenge, but I’m sitting it out.

Completed tops awaiting quilting:
Hope Valley (the original Supernova)

Completed quilts awaiting binding:
Modern Meadow – Ugh. Still.

No progress:
Secret project (on hold while I reconsider fabric selections)
Figgy Pudding quilt
Wonky Log Cabin

This week’s stats:
New projects – 1
Completed projects – 0
Currently in progress – 11

I think you all know the drill, but just in case: Link back here, and comment away. We’ve had two weeks in a row of 99 link-ups—come on, we just need one more to hit 100! Help us reach triple digits! Happy Wednesday, everyone.

P.S. Be sure to come back tomorrow, when it will be go time for my GO! Baby giveaway! : )



Urban Lattice Quilt Along

Why, oh why, am I joining another quilt-along right now? Well, Cara’s design is completely fabulous. There’s that. And it’s paper-pieced, which I’ve tried before (albeit very briefly) and just loved. So I guess I just couldn’t pass this one up.

Still, it took me forever (actually right up until about 2 minutes ago) to come up with a plan for this quilt. But one just dropped into my lap (almost literally):

Innocent Crush!

The funny thing is, I had settled on something completely different. I wasn’t loving it (which is always a recipe for disaster), but it was the best I could come up with. You see, I really want a nice cuddle-up-on-the-couch quilt for my family room. The problem is that my family room is decorated in golden browns, dark browns, and earthy greens, with a few rusty red accents here and there. I like my family room décor, but that color scheme does not a good modern quilt make. So I had a plan for a quilt that didn’t exactly match, but was at least neutral-ish. It was … okay, I guess.

But just as I was about to blog about my other plan, I saw the mail truck go by outside my house, so I decided to go get the mail first. And what did I find?

This tasty little fat quarter. It was part of my “fat quarter surprise” prize package from Stitched In Color’s giveaway with Sew Love Fabrics. And hey—it looks great in my family room! Check it out!

I got straight online and ordered a few more of the warmer prints from the line. Those will be the squares. The background pieces will be Kona Bone, and the narrow “lattice” pieces will be Moda Bella Solids Fig Tree Olive. I think I’m already in love with this quilt, based on this one little fat quarter! Can’t wait to get the rest of the fabric and get started!

Thank you so much to Stitched In Color and Sew Love. All of the fat quarters I got from Sew Love are fabulous—look, there’s some Weekends by Erin McMorris and Wonderland in there too! Woo hoo! And that envelope could not possibly have come at a better moment. : )

Oh, one more thing: Today AnneMarie at GenX Quilters is featuring my Advent Calendar tutorial! Be sure to check out GenX Quilters if you haven’t already—it’s a great gathering place for all us young(ish) quilters.

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Hope Valley Top Complete

I finished my Hope Valley quilt top last night! I’m very happy with it, although I can’t say I’m sorry to be done piecing it. : )

This one started out as a sketch. I didn’t have any particular fabric in mind at the time—I was just sketching. But I knew I wanted small-scale prints with very little white. Hope Valley jumped to mind immediately.

Next, I made a mock-up in Adobe Illustrator. I don’t do mock-ups for all my quilts, but I knew this design would take some hard-core planning in order to pull it off, so no flying by the seat of my pants on this one! I like to use Illustrator for my mock-ups because you can import scans of your fabric and save them as pattern swatches in the color palette. Then you can easily fill any shape with that pattern—it will automatically repeat the pattern to fill any shape/size. It makes mocking up with prints easy, quick, and accurate.

Even with the mock-up, I kept making adjustments to the design as I pieced it. Most notably, I dumped the yellow/green inner squares. And that was after I sewed all the HSTs! (But before I squared them up, at least. And I’m sure those HSTs will make an appearance in something else.) There are a few other smaller differences between the mock-up and the finished top. I also went back and forth about the borders and sashing before finally settling on what you see here.

And I am so happy with how all of those seams came together! Finally my seams are starting to match up! As I finished piecing this last night, I thought back to when I started quilting and would get so frustrated because things just wouldn’t line up. It’s so nice to realize that all my failed attempts and all my practice are finally paying off. There are certainly places where this top could have come together better, but it is head-and-shoulders above where I was last year at this time. Now I just need to work on that quilting!

So of course, I’m planning to quilt this one myself—probably diagonal lines through all those little squares. Hopefully I can get to that after Thanksgiving.

Oh, I’m also adding this to Quilt Story‘s Fabric Tuesday. And don’t forget WIP Wednesday tomorrow—please join us with your WIPs!

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So, who else out there has tried out Spoonflower? I’ve been dabbling in it for over a year now, and every time I get something printed with them, I love it a little more. The first time I heard about it, I got positively giddy: You mean you can get anything you want printed as a repeating pattern on fabric? With no yardage minimums? Anything? The possibilities seemed endless.

This is probably old news for some people, but if you’re not familiar with it, Spoonflower is a digital, on-demand fabric printing service. Basically, if you can design a repeating pattern, you can be a fabric designer. Right up my alley!

I made these tote bags as a class gift for my daughter’s preschool teachers last year. Another mom and I had each child draw themselves, and I scanned the drawings, assembled them into a repeating pattern, and had it printed on Spoonflower’s canvas-linen blend (which is nice and heavy and perfect for tote bags).

I also made throw pillows for the class volunteers and a rag quilt for my daughter using the print, as a memento of her first year in school. I had labels printed for each item, which made me think that this would be a great way to make all my quilt labels. And a print made up entirely of my daughter’s own artwork is definitely on my to-do list! See what I mean about possibilities?

More recently, my mom was lamenting the lack of cute tennis-themed fabric. She’s quite the bag-maker, and some of the ladies on her tennis team had requested tennis totes, but the few tennis-related prints she could find out there were tacky, tacky, tacky.

And so, my debut fabric line was born. : ) I finally got the printed samples a few days ago. I tried to make it recognizably tennis-themed without being too literal. (Okay, the double-racquet print is pretty literal, but other than that.) I even got a little crazy and put it in two color ways: Yellow and black, or the green and blue shown above. They should make some good totes for my mom’s “tennis ladies,” and anybody else out there who happens to want a tennis bag. I may tweak the blue a bit (it’s looking a little too royal for my taste), but otherwise it turned out just as I envisioned. Click here to see the full collection on Spoonflower’s website.

If you’ve made something cool from Spoonflower fabric, I’d love to hear about it! And if there’s any interest, I’d be happy to post some tips on designing for Spoonflower, based on lessons I’ve learned.

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A Brand New Plan

So I have completely scrapped my original plan for the Three Generations quilt.

I made some of the alternating blocks (as shown in my digital “sketch” in this post). Somehow those blocks were both too plain, and took away too much of the focus away from the vintage pinwheel blocks. I’m not sure how it was possible to do both at once, but leave it to me to come up with something that doesn’t work in any respect. : )

(In retrospect, I think my mistake was that I got lazy and only scanned in one of my grandma’s original blocks for my digital design plan. As a result, my “sketch” didn’t accurately reflect the colorfulness of the real quilt.)

This is a special project, so I want it to be right. And the star of the show has to be the curved pinwheel blocks, especially the original five that my grandma hand-pieced all those years ago. So once I decided to scrap my original plan, I spent a lot of time thinking about how to better showcase those blocks. I also did some looking around online, and eventually came across this quilt from Red Pepper Quilts:

Pinwheel Baby Quilt by Red Pepper Quilts

Now, those whirlygigs really pop. So, with this quilt as my inspiration, I decided to frame out all my pinwheels in the same blue retro print I bought for the back of this quilt, and then sash it all in some sort of neutral, probably beige. (I love the putty color used on the Red Pepper quilt, but my mom and grandma aren’t big fans of anything even close to gray.) Then I’m going to fill it out with a pieced border or two to make the whole thing queen-size, so that my grandma can use it on her bed if she wants.

Of course, the new design plan calls for more pinwheel blocks, so I spent my weekend making eight more colorful curved pinwheels. Now the big push is on to finish this top—I’ve set myself a deadline on this one, and I’m determined to meet it!


A Little Retro

I picked out these prints as supplemental fabric for the Three Generations quilt. I especially like the daisy print. One of my grandma’s vintage blocks includes black—a color I probably wouldn’t have chosen to put into this quilt if it had been up to me. But when I found this red, white, and black daisy print, I realized that the black was going to be a great addition.

I also wanted to find fabric that would feel at home both in a vintage quilt or in a more modern one. I think both of these prints really could go in either direction.

Can’t wait to get going on this quilt! Even though my actual design plan still isn’t quite firmed up.