Friday, January 2, 2015

Scrap Quilting ABC's: Color Placement--Part 1 of 3

I've been having a few thoughts about the basics of scrap quilting lately. I'm not talking about the scrap attack style of quilts made straight from the scrap bin, but those that include little pieces of lots and lots of different fabrics wherever they may originate from. Making a scrap quilt can be one of the easiest ways to make an interesting quilt. Because of the endless variation in fabric, it should almost instantly engage the eye and/or mind, right? Not so fast! It will only do so if it also has energy, friction, personality and perhaps a unique combination of fabrics. I believe there are some basics {or ABC's} that can help in accomplishing that specific goal.

Let's start with the basic formula of a successful scrap quilt. The first part of this series is all about Color Placement. In order for a scrap quilt to escape being completely chaotic, there needs to be some cohesiveness in the design elements. This is usually done through a formula of sorts. The easiest way to plan out a winning formula is to pick out a relatively simple pattern and then color placement is decided upon based on the components of that specific design. Judy Hooworth and Margaret Rolfe wrote a book years ago called 'Spectacular Scraps' that very clearly explains this idea as it pertains to scrap quilting. I encourage everyone who is the least bit hesitant to experiment with scrap quilting {and color} to explore this wonderful book.
From the Spectacular Scraps book
Simply put, in the book they say that scrap quilting opens the door very wide to expanding the range of hues, value and prints that can be used in a single quilt. Lots of fabrics used equals lots of opportunities for variation! They encourage quilters to experiment with this idea by using a basic 4-patch unit made up of half-square triangles. Each 4-patch is then applied a simple color placement 'formula' of perhaps blues and reds or other contrasting colors. Within those contrasting colors, you would use a large variety of hues, values and prints, thus establishing a color 'family'. Since the color placement always remains a firm constant throughout the 4-patch repeats in the quilt, there is a definite pattern formed regardless of variation in large or small prints, darks or lights used and on and on and on.
Showing simple ways to change the layout of
repeats of the same 4-patch unit
Playing with this theory years ago when I was starting to quilt, helped to clarify some absolutes about my own personal boundaries as it relates to color. And yes, how wide a range I could comfortably expand a color family has definitely changed throughout the years, no doubt about it. But it was the idea of delineating color placement in a quilt and then going crazy within those boundaries that ultimately gave me the confidence to expand my rather narrow view about which fabric belongs aside another in a quilt. Experimenting within the boundaries of a 'formula' allows us the freedom to be creative without as much risk of failure!

How wide a range can your particular personality handle before you decide enough is enough? I personally struggle with using very bright, clear colors, pale hues and large conversation prints, but I learned how to successfully incorporate at least a little bit of those into my color families, making for much more engaging quilts. If I would have stuck to the blendy, blendy fabrics and all the mellow colors I tend to gravitate towards, my quilts would never have grown beyond the flat and boring quilts I initially turned out.

Color is uniquely capable of holding its place in a formula, no matter the details.  Sometimes you can push the range of hues, value, prints in a color family to a point where there will be some fading in and out and some unexpected combinations. Push the boundaries as far as you dare. Then go farther just to see what happens! When the color placement theory breaks down for you personally, then you will have a line that is very clear in your mind and you'll be a lot more apt to trust your own instincts. Don't you rely on those very same instincts already? How about trying to fine tune them a bit?
A sample quilt from the book that I made a long time ago....
This theory easily transcends itself to other patterns and designs such as this basket quilt below. I once had someone ask me how I DECIDE where to mix the fabrics up in my quilts. It's called a controlled scrappy look and pre-determining the formula is key for all of us. You select the area in the quilt that needs to be scrappy and set your boundaries, whatever they may be. Then you play!

I selected a range of browns, greens, pinks and orangey pinks and assigned them a place in the formula--the baskets and the triangles inside. I didn't get too adventurous within the range of colors, but I did add a little more interest to the quilt just  by using more than a single piece of green, brown, pink, or orange-pink fabric per place; ie, block, in the formula. Then I pushed the boundaries a bit more within the background pieces--a place where I could more easily appreciate some obvious variation!
Seeing color hold it's place in the basket quilt
The repetition of putting the proper color (however you personally interpret that color) in a predetermined place in your quilt creates a pattern that the eye easily recognizes. Simply put, the color will hold its place because of the the consistency of the repeat. When the fabrics are varied in range, there becomes a sort of movement in the quilt as the eye will naturally follow the changes in value and hue etc. We've all heard that a 'one-glance' quilt is boring. The eye finds nothing of interest and has seen all it wants to in one glance. When the eye keeps moving around the quilt, that's a success! The eye is too fascinated with what it sees to stop looking!
The fabrics with a little more interest, but still holding their place...
How much variation we allow in the fabric details is ultimately up to us. Sometimes we want a border or section of our quilt to read calmer than the rest. This is easily managed by selecting colors and prints that read in a similar fashion such as small prints with small prints or tomato reds with tomatoes reds. This is where most people feel comfortable, not allowing the extremes in the range of hues, value and print. Newsflash! This can also read 'flat' or boring. I've done it myself. Still do sometimes when I'm being too cautious!
Using similar hues for the baskets....
If you increase the range in your entire color family, the eye doesn't hardly know when to stop looking. Take my Happy Flower quilt. The color placement for the flower blooms is a very simple formula: blue on the bottom, pink/reds in the middle and yellow on the top. By changing the value from flower to flower {within that specific color placement}, the quilt is not nearly as calm as say, the previous red basket border. Both are clearly 'scrappy', but one has more blatant interest. I'll talk more about value in Part 2 as it obviously has its place in our quilts too. Mostly I just wanted to point out that the color placement in Happy Flowers remains very constant!
Mixing things up, but every block with the exact same color placement....
So much fun! You, and you alone, get to decide how lively your quilt will be! By fine tuning your instincts {through practice, practice, practice}, you will slowly learn how to add depth and interest to all of your quilts--exactly when and where you decide to.
Changing up the color placement formula in the blocks....
The thing to remember about using a color placement type formula in your quilts is this: you're always in charge of the details. There are NO RULES! In the quilt above, I decided that every block background would be blue. The blue color family I established includes light blues, medium blues, dark blues, solid blues, plus small print blues and larger print blues. Also, note that there are blues that are more of a sky blue mixed with blues that are almost a green blue--that's a variation in hue. Don't be afraid to push those invisible boundaries in your mind!

Did you notice? In the quilt above and below, I also expanded a color family other than just within one color range such as the blue. In the quilt above, I determined that the block parts would have a color family made up of reds, pinks, greens and blacks. In the quilt below, the star tips are either green, brown or black. Who says a color family has to be made up of only one color? It's perfectly okay to make up your own.

By picking and choosing the areas you where you widen {or narrow} the range in color placement, you can make sure that specific areas read fairly uniformly or else have a bit more pizazz . If you could get a closer look at the quilt below, you would start noticing that the yellow backgrounds really are made up of different fabrics after all, even though they read very similar in this picture. This creates layers of interest in your quilt. Interest from far away and up close too. A good scrap quilt should always have layers of details to keep the mind fully engaged in exploring the differences.
Color placement for scraps can happen anywhere in a quilt, even a border.....
And another example below. I know this is a long post, but it's good to see color placement theory in action! All I did for this energetic quilt was this: Block backgrounds are only greys and blacks. The block parts; however, have an expanded family of pinks and purples with orange {making sure to use different hues}, an increased range in value throughout those parts, and also more play in the print size. The color placement remains constant throughout even though it's not immediately obvious at first glance.
Pushing the boundaries of the color family in the formula.....
This effect simply couldn't happen by only using a handful of fabrics or using the older, more traditional style of creating scrap quilts using the 'Lights' and 'Darks' method. Remember, there are always successes AND failures. If you start small and use simple patterns initially, confidence will quickly be gained just through action and experience. Play, explore and expand what you already know. And don't be afraid to push the limits within a color family. It really does work.

The next Scrap Quilting post will delve into the topic of value. I know, it's all relative.*wink


  1. I appreciate all of your examples, beautiful quilts! So many people are afraid of playing with color. To me that is the best part of quilting. The more choices, the better! Thank you!

  2. Thank you for this post! I look forward to the next 2!! I love scrappy quilts but I always feel intimidated by them......I guess I've never felt comfortable in picking out colors in a "controlled" color pallet much less than going scrappy!!

  3. Your post comes at the perfect time because I am ready to start a quilt for my husband. Since it is right after Christmas I need to use my scraps - no trips to the fabric store for a while! Very clearly written and lovely examples. Thank you and happy new year!

  4. Very interesting, I think I have that book and will go get it and re read it!

  5. great post on scrap quilting. It does take planning. Everyone is so surprised when I say that, but it so true. I love to study scrap quilts.
    Your examples are great -

  6. Great post! I find I prefer a more controlled scrap quilt, and your post helps me better define what gives a quilt the kind of movement and depth I want without it losing the order I also want.

  7. This may explain why I find myself saying "what was I thinking??" so often --but I find it so difficult to have cut into --say a fat quarter--for some parts and then say I don't like THAT and then realize that I don't have enough of the fabric itself (which I obviously liked to begin with) to do anything else with...woe is me...and I don't usually buy yds and yds of anything except maybe a few backings. Any suggestions?? hugs on a great post Julierose

  8. Thanks for a very informative post. I always have trouble keeping my scrappy quilts from looking like a big jumble of colors.

  9. A long post, but I read it all. Thanks for the info.

  10. Very interesting post Audrey, thank you!

  11. Thank you so much. I appreciate the explanation, I knew scrap quilts didn't just happen but didn't quite know how to make it happen!! Your post is brilliant!! xxxx

  12. So well done, I know you helped a lot of people with this. Plus we got to see a bunch of your quilts!

  13. Very interesting read today. You got me to thinking and wanting to play with fabric.

  14. I realized one day as I put a bouquet of flowers together from my garden, if it works for Mother Nature it should work for me. With scrap quilts more is definitely better

  15. Thanks for walking us through proper color placement and selection. I just finished a truly scrappy quilt top where I used up my 1 1/2" strips. Even with that said, I had to make sure I had blending colors and nothing that shouted "Look at me". Lots of good information - looking forward to parts 2 and 3.

  16. Thank you, Audrey. Once again you put in words what I am thinking and seing when I chose the fabric for a scrap quilt. Love seing your quilts again too.

  17. Great Post! I really hadn't considered defining elements of a scrap quilt. They don't seem so scary after all....... :)

  18. Terrific post, Audrey. Great information and examples. Thank you.

  19. This is a great series. Reading backwards :)

  20. Had clicked over to your blog and saw the last part of this series and had to read back to the first! I have always loved scrap quilts but didn't really know what made some really effective and some just "eh". I will now start looking at the ones I like a little differently applying the principles you have outlined. Looking forward to the next part of the series!

  21. merci pour ce post très instructif !


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