Creating great quilts starts with understanding Color Value. This can be challenging for beginners, but it’s easier than you think. This tutorial teaches us to use simple tools like a cell phone to get color value correct on all of your future quilts. Soon, you will no longer be a beginner quilter.
Psst. Grab a beverage and take a break. This post is longer than most, but I think you will enjoy it 🙂
If you are around me much you may notice that I’ve been chattering on and on about quilting. Blame it on QuiltCon. When I took a class on finding Color Value in a Quilt with Cheryl Arkison I went from interested-in-the-subject to completely-obsessed-about-the-subject.
It’s like I have this modern-quilty-thing buzzing around in my head and the buzzing is so loud I can’t think of anything else. And, I have to work through it and explore the whole topic of modern quilts. And, I’m motivated because I have a ton (literally, I think it would actually weigh a ton) of fabric scraps that I want to turn into something. Like quilts ~ particularly, modern quilts.
The two things that have always stalled me with regards to quilting revolve around color.
First, when I walk into any quilting fabric store, I am completely overwhelmed by sensory overload. There are so many styles and colors that I don’t know where to start. I usually purchase a few fat quarters and leave. My creative juices have literally slammed shut. Talk about frustrating.
Secondly, I have no idea what is going to look good. I may have a quilt pattern in my hand that says, “Purchase so many yards of this, that, and the other thing.” But, I don’t know what those things are. So, quilting has remained a huge mystery to me.
And I know it all starts with understanding color and color value. Which is what I set out to learn at QuiltCon. And, I’m happy to say, that I feel like I can begin to move forward with making a few quilts.
And, that’s where I start today. I am going to share with you how this quilt came about.
When I signed up for Cheryl’s class we had a list of things to bring. For our fabric we were told to bring:
36 different 7’’x 7’’ squares
36-72 scrappy strips of fabric, minimum 7’’ and up to 13’’ long, 2-3’’ wide
The fabrics should be a blend of lights, mediums, and darks.
I used my Accuquilt* 8 x 8 cutting die and strip cutting die to make my squares (which were larger than everyone elses) and strips. (*affiliate)
Why did I choose these colors and where did I get my fabric. I went straight to my scrap bins. I chose these colors because there were enough large pieces to cut out the squares and enough long pieces to cut out the strips. No science, training, or talent went into these color choices. And that put me at a bit of a disadvantage because many of my colors were just too similar in value.
The first thing we did was separate our colors out by what we saw as lights, mediums, and darks. With my color palette, this was really difficult. These fabrics were not distinct, but I think that helped me train my brain around the whole issue.
After that, we started putting lights and darks together. You can see how this could be a problem. It is really hard to tell to tell what is actually light and what is actually dark. If I had used black, tan, and white it would’ve been much easier.
Looking at these two side-by-side examples below you can see what I’m talking about. In the sample on the left you see what would be a light/dark blend because so much of the light in the diamond circles stands out next to the overall darkness of the fabric next to it.
In the sample on the right you see the same diamond circle fabric paired with something of lighter value, creating a dark/light blend. This time the diamond circles become the dark value fabric and the striped fabric is the light value fabric.
I was really trying to work this out. Cheryl had us take photos with our cell phones and then convert the pictures to black and white. Guess what. You can instantly see the color value differences.
After doing the value tests we were told to pair our lights/darks, sew them together, and create half-square triangles. From there we began putting the HST’s (that’s half square triangles for you non-quilters out there) on the design wall and then moving them around to create our designs.
Notice Bestie’s sample to the left. See how her darks really stand out while mine are more subtle. If you step back you can really notice the darker stripe in my quilt. It’s not overpowering, but it’s there.
Now comes the putting it together part. Without the design wall I would’ve never remembered what went where. However, I was able to manage to get some of it done in class. Once I got home I continued working on the quilt. This is the design I went with. It is supposed to be a modified version of the traditional design Flying Geese. The ‘geese’ are on the right.
Instead, it looks more like a backward ‘check’ mark. You know, the kind that left-handed teachers would make with a red pen on your math papers. To really see it you need to step back from the screen.
You can see that my fabric color choices were not significantly light, medium, dark. However, there is enough difference to make them still work out to be that way.
I also found out that fat quarter bundles, charm packs, etc. tend to be mostly medium value fabrics. That’s something to think about when you’re trying to create a lot of contrast. No wonder I’ve struggled with this for so long.
So, now on to the quilting portion of my quilt. I made a few rookie mistakes.
Rookie Mistake #1 – I used a solid piece of fabric for my backing. Every little crooked line, every skipped stitch, every pucker shows.
Rookie Mistake #2 – I ended up quilting the whole thing (quite badly I might add) and then ripping out all of the stitches. My sewing machine was giving me grief on this (it is now in for repairs) and I had tons of skipped stitches ~ which helped with the ripping out of stitches.
Rookie Mistake #3 – I quilted along the design I had created, but a little too closely. This caused the quilt to be a little stiff. I was wanting to quilt the lighter value areas densely and the darker value areas with a light stippling. I thought this would make the darker areas stand out more. In the end I used my walking foot and quilted along the ‘backwards check mark’ hoping to make it stand out like a subtle version of Flying Geese.
Rookie Mistake #4 – My backing wasn’t quite as tightly pinned as it should’ve been and there are some messy spots. Because of Rookie Mistake #1, these mistakes are pretty noticeable. #usemorepins
Let’s be honest, here. Pin basting can be one of the biggest challenges to finishing a quilt. It usually requires a large area and the moving of furniture. Well, I know a better way and you’re going to love it. I’ve created a two-minute video that demonstrates a simplified way to baste your quilt.
All of these remedial mistakes aside, I really like my quilt. Once washed, most of the mistakes barely show (unless I’m wearing my glasses). And now for the best part. I spent zero dollars making this quilt (unless you count the cost of QuiltCon and the classes). I was determined to use fabrics from my stash. I had a piece of batting that fit perfectly, and I used a piece of muslin-ish Kona fabric that I had on hand for my backing (see Rookie Mistake #1).
Here’s the finished product in color and b & w. Do you notice the color value in the quilt? Can you see how understanding color value helped create the design (albeit, not a great design).
Throughout this process I have come to realize that:
#1 – I can easily become obsessed about something.
#2 – This obsession usually costs me money.
#3 – I can’t help myself.
Which now has me lurking down the path called…I’m thinking about buying another sewing machine.
After all of my quilting drama, on a whim I began researching new machines (it’s a sickness, I know) that might help me quilt better. A while back I remembered Kimberly at Fat Quarter Shop mentioning her Juki and how much she loved it for quilting. Hmm. What’s with this Juki machine?
I called my friend Caroline in Florida because she has been raving about her Juki TL2010Q*. She is fairly new to quilting and we have similar sewing styles. She only had good things to say about the machine. (*affiliate)
Then I started reading about others who were in love with this machine. I came across this video from Leah Day. In the video she explains exactly why she chose this machine for piecing and free motion quilting.
While not completely sold, I am willing to investigate further. When I get my Bernina 640 back from the shop, I am going to carefully consider the differences. The Juki seems like a great in-between solution for someone who
can’t afford doesn’t want a long arm quilting machine right now. The Juki retails for $900-$1,000 while sit-down long arm machines cost $5,000+. I will probably have to sell my Bernina 240 and my Bernina Stitch Regulator if I want to buy the Juki.
In the meantime, I’ve been practicing free motion quilting on the Bernina 240 using Crafty’s Class: Free Motion Quilting a Sampler*. It’s going pretty well, too. (*affiliate)
I’m starting to think that I could really master the art of color value and then begin tackling free motion quilting.