Saturday, January 3, 2015

Scrap Quilting ABC's: Can't Ignore Value--Part 2 of 3

*Long post alert!! We often read about value when it comes to quilt-making. Value, value, value. That's because value changes are the underlying movement, energy and sparkle in a great quilt. Without it, scrap quilts can look incredibly boring, even if they involve 100 different fabrics. But what does the word 'value' really mean to us? The American Heritage dictionary has this to say: Value is the relative darkness or lightness of a color. And there we go, getting queasy about dealing with color again!

According to the people who make and sell fabric, quilters everywhere are overwhelming drawn to medium value fabrics first. Statistics agree, especially when the minutia of finished quilts are put into the equation. We LOVE our medium value fabrics!

Okay. So tell us what a medium value fabric actually is! Ah.., but that's subjective. Let's try a little exercise just to clarify what I mean. Pick out a printed fabric that has at least three different colors in it. This will be the focus fabric just to get you started! Next, choose {from your abundant stash} one fabric in each of the dominant colors present in that particular printed fabric. Don't spend a lot of time dithering over the details, just grab and go.

See what I've started with below? One blue, one green, one pink and one orange fabric on top of my focus fabric. Very pretty, but a maybe bit flat looking. A beginning quilter would probably be satisfied with these choices enough to get started with the quilt, but we know better don't we?
The first pick fabrics.
Let's assume that those first picks are all medium value fabrics. That's what the statistics say we all do instinctively! As for me and my choices, they are absolutely correct. If I can add any fabric that is lighter or any fabric that is darker {within those same color families}, then I did indeed start with a medium value fabric. It's really just that simple when it comes to defining the value of a color.

Okay. That's easy. What's next? The number one thing they don't tell us about in this theory, is that our medium value fabrics don't have to stay a medium value fabric in our quilts. Huh? Here's the thing. If the 'relative' darkness or 'relative' lightness of a color determines the value, then we absolutely have the ability to choose to make those first picks our light fabrics OR dark fabrics OR even have them remain the medium fabrics. WE DECIDE. Value definition is completely relative to what those fabrics are laying alongside! We don't need a fancy, schmancy color theory book to determine the value range within our own quilts!

So let's play some more and I'll show you exactly what I mean. Add at least two more fabrics to each of your initial colors, consciously going lighter than your first picks.
First fabric picks with 2 or more lighter fabrics added.
Okay, now we get adventurous! Add two more fabrics going even lighter than the previous two fabrics. Trust me, you can totally do this! Even if you have to use fabrics that are almost a white-blue or a white-pink etc., you can definitely go lighter! Every single color can go so very light that from a distance it will look practically white! Whether or not you already have those colors in your stash is another matter altogether. Are you struggling? Finding a hole in your stash? The first time I did this specific exercise, I was amazed at how lacking my stash was in the lighter ranges.

Now, look at the fabrics below with their added four or five fabrics. You have consciously made your initial fabric picks the DARK value fabrics in your quilt! Go forth and make, if this is what pleases your discerning eye. Otherwise, let's play some more, shall we?
First pick fabrics with light and even lighter fabrics added.
Going back to the very first color picks, add two more fabrics each in a darker color. And remember, value changes can be a subtle change or a big jump in range. Do what pleases you!
First fabric picks with light, lighter and dark fabrics added.
Now, let's see if we can push the limits even more! Try to add two more fabrics each in an even darker color. Do you have these colors in your stash or have you just found another hole? Most people will buy a few darker fabrics or a few lighter colors, but not the entire range. Would that be you? If it is, no worries, you just discovered more justification for buying new fabric!

Looking below at my blues, you can see that dark colors can get so dark as to be almost a black. Since this is possible for every color, I could actually expand on the {darker} value with my greens, pinks and oranges if I chose to. It's also important to note that if I took away all the lighter fabric additions, those first fabric picks would end up being my light value colors in the quilt!

See how easy this value thing is? Sometimes we want to play on one end of the color spectrum or the other, not necessarily the entire range. That's perfectly okay. Movement and energy are created by any value change. The specifics of that change are entirely up to you!
First fabrics with light, lighter, dark and darker fabrics added.
So now we see how adding light fabrics and dark fabrics alongside almost any fabric we own can generate a value change. That's important to recognize and cultivate {in scrap quilting especially} because of the infinite amounts of fabrics used. Very good things {movement, energy, areas of light and yes, spark!} unquestionably happen when value changes are fully explored in our quilts.

Adding a sparkle to our quilts is easy with value change too. It usually involves using a 'brighter' version of one of our lights, mediums or darks. This can be any color, but certain colors traditionally act better as a 'spark' than others. Saturated or intense shades of pink, yellow and red are wonderfully sparky colors, but don't discount using a bit of white or a very light hue of any color for that spark as well.

The mantra for any successful scrap quilt should be this: Lights, Brights, Mediums and Darks. Use some of each in every single quilt you make! And remember, using combinations of similar valued hues, whether they be light, mediums or darks, will result in a very comparable {read 'calm'} look.
Value changes in different areas of the quilt make it more lively.
Some examples of value change to look at: In the previous picture, there is a very evident value change in the middle of the quilt {three colors} and also the first basket border {one color}. This makes for a lively and engaging quilt. The outside border; however, reads calmer. That's because the fabrics have a similar value to each other even though they are busy fabrics. In this quilt, I would have to say that the red fabrics act as the somewhat obvious 'spark'.

In the quilt below, there is value change in both the blue and the cream fabrics. The very darkest blues and the whiter creams draw the eye directly in, making the two toned quilt a bit more interesting. This will probably be used as the foundation for some applique work, but who says backgrounds can't be interesting too?
Even a two-color quilt can have value changes.
In the quilt below, there is minor value change in both the greens and the coral-pinks used in the 9-patch blocks, making the eye follow the changes at the edges of the quilt.The use of a solid fabric in the background keeps that area calm and grounded. At the inner flying geese border, I used a lot of value change to create maximum movement and interest. As the geese border the center of the quilt, it helps draw the eye inward and then upward. Even if a quilt is made in colors we personally don't appreciate {my daughter says the goldy fabric I used is ugly}, a good value change is very difficult for our eye to ignore! The very light pink, almost white, flying geese act as a sparky part in the quilt.
This is a picture of a quilt folded so you can see both border edges!
Value change can be anywhere in a quilt.
The red/pink/gold quilt below is a made out of very simple blocks. For this quilt, it seemed better to have value changes happening throughout the quilt. This allowed for fabrics to shine in unexpected combinations and a bit of unpredictability to take place. The pinks naturally act as a lovely spark.
Dutch Comfort has a lot of motion because of value change...
Happy Flowers {below} has a lot of value changes in the blooms. By keeping the background of the blocks and the stems and leaves constant, the blooms get the maximum amount of interest. Using pinks, reds, very light colors and also saturated blues, there is a lot of spark going on in the quilt, probably why I call it a happy quilt!
Obvious value change in Happy Flowers!
Don't forget that there is opportunity for value change anywhere in a quilt. The setting triangles below have such an extreme change in value that they compete with the baskets for attention. This makes for an interesting fade-in and fade-out effect that keeps the eye roving around the quilt for far longer than if all the setting triangles were cut from the same fabric. This is a very fun technique to use with these more mellow colors. It can make blendy fabrics look much more interesting than they actually are!
An interesting effect caused by value change in the setting triangles.
In the quilt below, there are 1008 little squares. I cut each color and fabric based on an actual number percentage! Value changes are fascinating when they happen in unequal proportions instead of absolute repeats. As you can see, there are less red/pink squares represented than say, the blues and a only a few darker colors to contrast very nicely with the larger number of medium and lights. Even though the pattern is very simple, there is a lot of movement going on in this particular quilt because of value change! We should never make the mistake of thinking there should be equal numbers of anything in a scrap quilt. The eye and mind are much more likely to keep finding interest when things don't 'match' precisely instead of thinking 'how pretty' and moving on.
Unequal proportions of color and value often equal interest!
Finding the range of value that is more personal and YOU is just a matter of practice. Learning to recognize the weaknesses and holes in our stash {and making an effort to build up that stash} helps tremendously to eventually make those lively and engaging quilts we drool over. Remember the mantra of lights, brights, mediums and darks and your quilt-making will be stretched far beyond what you are currently accustomed to, I promise.

Part 3 will be about developing our style through the details. I sort of feel like I'm preaching to the choir so please bear with me if any of these Scrap Quilting posts are old hat to you! If you missed the first post, Scrap Quilting ABC's: Color Placement--Part 1 of 3 is here.


  1. What a lot of valuable information in this post :)

  2. So interesting! :) And lots of pretty quilt examples :)

  3. Very interesting and fun to read and learn.

  4. So true! I do not have enough lights and darks in my stash. Medium colors are just more fun to buy since they jump out. I'm starting to remedy the lights though. I am using low value prints as my backgrounds and it adds a lot of interest. And your posts are not too long:) They are informative! Louise in Sweden

  5. loved your article. I am all about the contrast in my quilts!

  6. p.s. your quilty examples are wonderful!!!

  7. More great information. The quilt pictures are wonderful. You need to write a book.

  8. Preaching to the choir!? Always good to hear again.

  9. Oh wow! Great information. Choosing color is the hardest part for me. I'm going to read lesson #1 now. Thanks!

  10. Preach away my friend! I love hearing someone else's thoughts on the subject! And I never tire of looking at your quilts!

  11. Really nice, well thought out post! Contrast works for me.. always!

  12. There is no choir here, this is all music to my eyes. Thank you again, I feel like I have been stumbling around. I know what I liked what I saw in other quilts but how to make it happen? Thank you again!

  13. This was very helpful for me, a novice at quilting.

  14. It's always good to read someone else's thoughts on color, hue and value. I learn something every time. It was interesting to read your thoughts on scrap quilt and organized scrap quilts. I usually like organization better. Also noticed I take the lazy way out and sort light vs dark only. Food for thought.

  15. These posts on scrap quilts are wonderful! I've only recently begun quilting (2 years or so), and have not taken classes, or read much. I do most of what I do because "it doesn't look right". Now reading your posts I'm starting to see that there's a formula behind the "it doesn't look right!" Thanks.

  16. I like how you added brights to the mantra.

  17. Thanks for an entertaining and informative post.

  18. Great post. I have a quilt top I made years ago that just "isn't right". I think this post was what I needed. The top doesn't have enough value variety. I'm not sure how I can make it right without unpicking the whole thing and starting over. There's got to be another way to add value and make it more valuable in my eyes.

  19. I like these posts Audrey. Learning new techniques and pushing ourselves keeps our quilts looking fresh! Thanks for taking the time to spread the quilting love.

  20. Well said. I need to go back and read part 1. Love seeing these quilts again!

  21. Great post!! I love reading your thoughts on value and color selections, and you illustrated what you were saying so well! Seeing is believing. And I love your quilty examples too. Very well-said and a "valuable" post!

  22. Wonderful post! This, I find, is the most difficult thing about creating a quilt and your really helps, especially with those pictures. Thank you!

  23. Thanks for your very informative post which is very timely for me as I am choosing fabrics for the Value Proposition quilt. I really appreciate the detailed information you put into your blog.

  24. Great post! It's really well thought out and I like how you illustrate your points. I''m off to re-evaluate my stash now :-)

  25. Thank you so much for these posts! I am learning so much!

  26. me gusta todo lo que nos cuentas!!!
    aprendo de tus escritos

  27. This is a wonderful post. I agree so much that the role of value is very much underestimated. The current fad for precuts doesn't help either, as there is no opportunity to learn or bring individuality to your quilts. I suppose some people are happier reproducing others' work exactly as they can be sure of a good result, but it's not for me!

  28. You have really covered it here! It is so true that we too often stick to the "middle of the road value-wise when the "spark" is at the ends of the value spectrum. Another thing you touched on is the placement of value. What makes that blue and tan tumbler quilt patch so effective is that the light values are primarily in the center of it and I agree that will then make it a great backdrop for some applique on top of it (backlighting a center design placed on it as it were).

    More, more, more!!!


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