Tag: Fabric Value

Nature’s Color Wheel

Choosing colors for quilts doesn’t have to be difficult. While it might not be simple, using Nature’s Color Wheel can help!

Being a quilter who likes to have more than one quilt idea going at a time, I like to use nature to help guide my color choices for a quilt.

If you are in a time crunch or have run across a line of fabrics you adore, choosing fabric and colors for your next quilt can be a simple, quick process. I find that every now and then I need to grab a kit and make it up, quick as possible.

Most often, though, I like to have a longer process for choosing my quilt colors and fabrics. It’s a process. A dance, actually. You know, it involves colors, value, hue, and tints. But also, this requires a careful consideration of how each fabric interacts with one another, based on its placement. And sometimes the fabrics and the project need to…age.

If you like to have more than one quilting iron in the fire, like me, maybe you cherish this process, too!

When choosing my own fabrics for a quilt, there are two concepts I often rely on: color in nature and value.

First, let’s look at color. Nature just doesn’t get it wrong. Start observing natural settings, plants, animals, bugs, everything around you. Take pictures, or pin ideas to an idea boards. This might be in the form of photos in an album on your phone.

Nature's Color Wheel Christmas Cactus

There are many variations in the blooms above. These petals aren’t the truest red of the color wheel, but variations to the left and right. Shades of pinks and oranges grace these blooms. That’s why they look so beautiful with the very TRUE green!

Observe nature to choose colors and you can’t go wrong. I like to think of it as Nature’s Color Wheel.

Image of Nature's Color Wheel

The excitement in the photo above is partially from the vibrancy of the colors, but also the difference in value.

This beach sunset below may be dark, but even it has many colors in it, if you look carefully. Notice the purples, greens, pinks, coral, and blues? The values in this photo are more similar. Notice the calming effect?

Image of Beach and Sky
How many colors do you see here?

See more about value HERE.

Nature's Color Wheel
VariLovable Star Quilt Pattern

I challenge you to look around you today and collect some fabulous fabric ideas from the nature!

Most of all, enjoy your quilting journey.

One Easy Way to Conquer Color

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Image of Quick Trip Quilt
Tropical Trip by Karla Kiefner, Quick Trip Pattern by Eleanor Burns

Choosing color for quilts can be a daunting task.

Color for quilts is a common theme in the quilting book industry. Without a doubt, there are countless books on color theory.

Access to books on color for quilts isn’t my problem.

Unfortunately, wrapping my brain around the content in those books IS my problem! I wish I knew how many books there are which explain how to use color in making quilts. I also wish I knew how many times I looked at the color wheel. I know it, read about it, and studied it. However, going from page to fabric doesn’t seem to work for me!

Image of Fabric Stash

Color for quilts is in the details.

Many books about color go into great detail explaining the principles for mastering color for quilts. You can learn about:

  • hue
  • color
  • intensity
  • warm and cool
  • harmonies of triadic, analogous, split-complimentary, double-complimentary
  • complementary colors
  • and MORE!

Summarily, there are whole books of very small print, explaining everything you’d ever want to know about color for quilts!

Image of sunset for color for quilts

But they don’t work for me.

Likely, the reason is because I’d rather be making a quilt! But there is one thing I have learned about reading about choosing color for quilts: I have never been inspired by what I’ve read!

Look around you.

For me, I do better by “studying” nature. Sometimes its from a picture and sometimes it’s from real life. Either way, I find that nature, whether its a single flower, a landscape view, or a beach at sunset has perfect coloring. Furthermore, its inspirational!

Monochromatic by Nature

Read more about using nature as you color guide in Monochromatic by Nature.

Check your self with color charts and books.

Nevertheless, I am not recommending throwing color theory out the window. Instead, I prefer to use it to evaluate my choices AFTER I’ve been inspired with a color scheme. Color theory for quilts is obviously good and important information. I just want to learn about it while holding fabric!

SHOP more than 50 quilt patterns that use BOTH beautiful sides of fabric!

I will admit I am very much a color person. Color can evoke emotions in me that seem just a little over the top — I REALLY, REALLY love some and REALLY don’t care for others. Maybe you are like that, too? 

Mysterious Values

Estimated reading time: 5 minutes

Learn how to overcome the mysteries of value. It’s easy!

Value can be a head-scratcher. Learn the simple tip for how to conquer fabric value!

To begin, you need to come to terms with the fact that fabric values change, depending on what is next to them. Initially, I was resistant to this!

When separating your fabrics for a new quilt project, you might wonder how to know which fabrics go where!

Image of Fabric Stash How to determine fabric value
Darks, mediums, and lights.

Undoubtedly, it’s about more than piles of darks, mediums, and lights. The key is to learn how to measure their value.

I learned a valuable (wink) lesson when I stumbled upon the nuances of value when using both sides of fabric. See my design story HERE.

Up to this point, my method for separating values didn’t account for what those fabrics were next to. Consequently, two very cool Bonnie Hunter quilts I made (and still love) never displayed the secondary pattern her designs are known for. What did I do wrong?

Test your values.

How can a fabric value change, you ask? While the value of the fabric itself doesn’t physically change, how you see that value is affected by what is near it. Let me explain and then give you a simple way to test your values…

My Light looks too dark when I use that light of a Medium!

confused quilter

The three piles of fabrics shown above are my selection for the free River Heritage Mystery Quilt Pattern I am designing for my quilt guild. Darks, Mediums, Lights. This should be straight forward.

However, when you place, for example, a darker Light and a lighter Medium next to each other, they suddenly look similar in value. Color can make it difficult to determine value.

So how do you remove color from fabrics you are auditioning?

Take black and white photos. I learned this by testing values of both sides of fabric. Each pattern I design that uses both beautiful sides of fabric comes with a detailed guide for auditioning fabrics for that quilt project.

Also, read more here about The Tricky Traits of Value!

The best way I have found to truly see the value of a fabric is to take a black and white picture.

How to use black and white image
Check your values by taking a black and white picture.

If you are in one of my classes, you see that I don’t give any opinions about fabric options without seeing a black and white photo first. Even with years of experience looking at both sides of fabric, I can still be tricked by color! Quilters seem to have lots of fun with the process of auditioning and choosing fabrics. Oftentimes, they help each other and end up trading fabrics to get just the right mix for their project.

So grab your stash and your camera !

Now you know the how-to tip for determining value. Why not have fun practicing on a quilt made with BOTH beautiful sides of fabric!

How to use both sides of fabric in bouquet quilt.
Kate’s Bouquet is made with both beautiful sides of two fabrics. It’s all about value!
Image of Three Quilts
More than 45 patterns that use BOTH sides – SHOP HERE!
Image of Quilt with Bee.
Phoebee was designed using both sides of a focal fabric.

As you can see above, Phoebee’s focus fabric is strong enough to accommodate even medium background fabrics.

Have fun playing with value and enjoy your quilting journey!

Using a Design Wall as a Palette

When you pin fabrics to your design wall, you can step back, get perspective, see how a fabric reads at a distance, and most importantly observe the values.

Granted most quilters don’t audition fabrics for four quilts all at the same time, but in this case, having four new designs waiting to be created made me realize how much more I like auditioning fabric on the wall rather than on the table or floor.

Plus, it’s much easier to take that black and white picture for observing value when the fabrics are in front of you! See The Tricky Traits of Value.

This past week was the kickoff of classes for Colorful Wings (click here for patterns) and I can’t wait to see the eleven finished quilts. In the meantime, my next post will give you sneak peek on how completely unique each of these winged-girls (and boy – yes, we had one boy) are! Image of Classroom

A big thanks to all of the eleven students who took the challenge to #usebothsides!

Shout out to The Golden Needle for hosting Colorful Wings.

Shop for Phoebee, Belle, and Lily from the Colorful Wings pattern series and Rose from the Colorful Petals series at www.etsy.com/shop/CreativeBeeStudios.

How do you audition your fabrics? Do you use a design wall? Please comment below.

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The Tricky Traits of Value in Quilts

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes

Choosing fabrics for quilts isn’t hard, but it can be tricky.

Choosing fabrics for quilts involves auditioning the color, size of motif, and value of the fabrics. I have long thought I understood the value of fabric values. Value is what makes, say, a simple, two-color quilt have bold areas of light and dark. Value also makes those cool secondary patterns in your multi-color quilt design appear like magic.

Easy, right? I thought so. However, a few years ago (actually about 20 now), Blended Quilts became popular. I became mesmerized by blended quilts. I bought the books and studied them, reading about fabric choices and how to combine fabric values to work together, while not being too obvious. Turns out, I never did really “get” it. It was too hard for me to look past the floral motifs and colors. Thankfully, our guild had a program presenter who sold blended kits! Problem solved (for the moment).

Turns out, choosing fabrics for quilts based on value can be tricky!

For the record, I love all kinds of quilts.


My Grandma Emma Wichern’s lavender and white embroidered quilt is precious to me. Simple, clearly defined values. But I also love those wild “crazy-quilts” which practically shout in all dark values. Modern is fun, bright, and happy…or sometimes calming and simple. I have a passion to some degree for all types of quilts. But what really gets me excited about a quilt is when it is successfully splashed with all kinds of rich, colorful and different fabrics…and it works! Value is what makes the magic happen in those quilts.

To truly know the value of fabrics, you have to remove the color.

You can do this numerous ways, but the simplest trick for me is to take a picture of fabric choices or my blocks on my design wall with my phone and change the picture to black and white (mono or noir). Colors and motifs can fool you. For us quilters, fabrics aren’t just fabrics. They evoke emotion (usually happiness). I used to fall in love with a fabric, or line of fabrics, and be determined to use it because of my emotional connection. Consequently, I’ve made some quilts that turned out okay, but had the potential to be brilliant.

When choosing fabrics for quilts, remember that values change depending one their surroundings.

That’s the tricky part! A quilter once said, “My Light looks too dark when I use that light of Medium.” Okay, that was me who said that, but it’s true! And, it can be tricky.

Light. Medium. Dark.

The fact that my neat little piles of lights, mediums, and darks can change their values, depending on what is around, them was a “V8” moment for me!

Let’s look at this dragonfly quilt for an example.

Lilly’s background is made of scrappy, light neutrals with a couple of colorful accent strips. The background is light when compared to the dragonfly focus fabric. The flowers at the top of the quilt are made from the reverse side of focus fabric. The flowers “read” as a medium value. Clearly the dark value of the dragonfly is what you notice first. The flowers are secondary. The various background fabrics catch your eye last and allow your eyes to linger on them.

When you are just working on your background, those strips of color can look quite bold and may seem too dark to be part of the background. But when looking at those same fabrics in black/white WITH the focus fabric laying across them, they all fall into the light category and they work!

Image of dragonfly quilt in black and white.
Even the colorful accent strips disappear in this black and white photo.

Phoebee is made with both sides of one focus fabric on a scrappy background. Choosing fabrics for this quilt is how I first learned the nuances of value. Using both beautiful sides of fabric taught me that lesson.

Notice that the boldness of Phoebee’s focus fabric allowed for a variety of values in the eclectic background. Phoebee is clearly the “buzz” of this quilt!

Next, lets look at Belle, the butterfly quilt.

Again, the RIGHT side of the butterfly focus fabric has a dark enough value that it can “handle” a lot from any background fabrics, including the accent strips. However, the REVERSE of the flowers made from the same background fabric are medium to light in value. Some of those flowers might have been lost if the value of the background fabrics were too similar.

In conclusion, choosing fabrics for these quilts might be a little out-of-the-box for some quilters, because they call for mixing so many colors of background fabrics. But if you follow this guideline it’s easy: If the value is right and you like the fabric, use it. It’s freeing to combine lots of “styles” of fabrics, like miniature prints, batiks, grunge and more! I encourage you to combine a variety of fabrics in your quilts. Remember, it can be fun choosing fabrics for quilts, when you take the guess work out of it.

It’s the combination of background fabrics that make these quilts sing!

Karla, designer

Just take a picture.

Read more at Mysterious Values

See How To Use Both Sides for more example quilt photos!

SHOP more than forty-five designs, focus fabric kits and more HERE!

Colorful Wings – Three New Quilt Patterns

Introducing three quilt designs using BOTH sides of your focus fabric.

It all started with Phoebee (See Designing Quilts by Chance) and yardage of a Hoffmann Digital Spectrum print named Crystalia Rainbow.

Classes starting in September. Patterns available now.

After being inspired at quilt market (See Six Favorites from Quilt Market), I knew I wanted to mix lots of different fabric types to make a bee quilt. While I thought the shape of the bee would be “in the mix”, the background is actually where I used a variety of styles of fabrics:

chicken wire fabric from the 90’s, inherited from my mother-in-law, Pat, (love)

modern word fabric,


and pieces of selvage…

with a few accent strips of color.

Patterns available in my Etsy shop: https://www.etsy.com/shop/CreativeBeeStudios

My Crystalia fabric became my bee. Her flowers I made from the “wrong” (such a harsh word) side of the same fabric.

I guess you could call the flower technique a “modern broderie perse” (thank you, Kelly). They are made with simple, fusible applique and are cut without fussing about the edges – in fact, I encourage letting background show through as it ties the two sides of the fabric together in the quilt.

In my classes and in my patterns, I point out that all reverse sides of fabric are not alike — audition your front AND back sides with your background fabrics.

The best way for me to describe a good reverse side is to say that it should “sing” just as much as the front, just with lesser value.

Image of Bee Quilt


One thing I liked most about Phoebee was that she seemed to be getting her life and beauty from the flowers. Thanks to the hubby for her name–which in Greek actually is spelled with two “e’s” at the end and means “bright, pure”.

Image of Class FlyerNext came Belle. She’s a French butterfly. Belle means “beautiful” (I NEVER got that about Beauty and the Beast – blush).

I found Belle’s fabric, Estate Gardens by Andover at my local quilt shop, The Golden Needle. I used similar neutrals in her background, but stayed with different shades of gray (some reversed) for the accent strips. Her binding is made with the reverse side out.

Note: I like to mix all shades of neutrals – white whites, beiges, off-whites- and all types of fabrics like tiny prints with batiks and novelties.

Image of butterfly quilt

Last but not least, meet Lily.

Lily is a sweet dragonfly made from Tree of Life fabric by Chong A Hwang for Timeless Treasures, also found at my local quilt shop.  Her background accent strips are in aqua because a) that’s my favorite color and b) I wanted to connect her to the water locales dragonflies love.Image of dragonfly quilt

Visit my Etsy page or The Golden Needle for patterns. If you are interested in weekend or evening classes, let me know in the comments below.

Next up is a review of value, very helpful for auditioning fabrics for Colorful Wings quilts! Don’t miss a post – sign up below for email notification! Thanks so much for following.  Karla




Designing Quilts by Chance

In this quilt, I used the front AND reverse side of its focal fabric.

How do you design a quilt? Do you use graph paper and draw out the design with exact proportions? Do you use color pencils or do you label the drawn areas with the colors of fabric or values you’ll use? Do you use a quilt design software or a tablet quilt design app?

Yeah…not me.  A quilt often comes to life in my head… very vaguely, kind of like a mystery unfolding.  I ponder the idea until I start to pull fabrics from my stash and start cutting, drawing, and stitching. At least, that’s how Phoebee came to life.

Image of Quilt with Bee.

Phoebee was designed using both sides of a focal fabric.

Phoebee began with a vague idea to use pieced scraps from my stash for the background and use a bee as the main design. That’s about all I knew.  I thought I wanted to use multiple fabrics for the bee as well. I knew the shape I wanted to draw out for my bee, but I wanted to get my background set first for size.

I did use graph paper in my process, but it was after I stitched my pieces together and decided I liked the look. That’s when I wrote down the dimensions and drew the shapes out, labeling which fabrics I used. I used a pencil because my drawings and placement of fabric changed several times in the process.

Once I was happy with the background, I made all my notes and could hardly wait to grab fabrics to design the bee.

NOTE: I don’t clean up ANYthing while I’m in creating mode — I just let it flow and fabric is everywhere!

So here I was, sitting on my floor (because my design wall was {and still is, truth be told} full of a bed-size quilt in progress), trying out fabrics, figuring out how to combine them to make an interesting bee, when one fabric just kept jumping out at me. I finally gave in and decided to use it alone for my bee. That fabric looked really good against the pieced background.

But something was missing. I liked the bee. I liked the background. There needed to be another element – something of surprise or interest and something to “ground” the bee somehow. I moved the extra fabrics aside and accidentally turned the “bee (focal)  fabric” upside down — now THAT was interesting! To use the reverse side of the focal fabric for the flowers the bee was pollinating was exactly what this quilt needed to make sense, be unique, and complete the “story”.

Image of Full Quilt with Bee

Phoebee means bright, pure in Greek.

Phoebee means BRIGHT,  PURE in Greek and she is both! I happened to use a color-dense Hoffman Spectrum Digital floral print for the bee, the flowers and the binding, but any floral, big or small would work which makes this a great stash-busting quilt.

I like the idea that Phoebee is vibrant and the flowers are softer in value as the bee is getting its life from the flowers.

I’m excited to finish writing this pattern and I have hazy plans in my head brewing  of additional designs using pieced backgrounds and one floral focal fabric.

Image of Prairie Point Hanging Method

Prairie Point Quilt Hanging Method

Notice the Prairie Point Hanging Method (click here for details)

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For more information about free-hand stylized quilting, visit my The Quilting Bee page.

Discover How a Flange Can Enhance Your Quilt

Adding a flange to your quilt can add interest, color, and contrast.

A flange is a small strip of fabric, folded in half and attached by basting to the edge of a border, section, or even the final edge of a quilt.

While a flange doesn’t add to the size of your quilt, it can provide a pop of color or a “stopper” if needed. It can be helpful when planning the design of a quilt to add a flange if you don’t want to add a border or if you want to accent a section of the quilt.

It can also be useful to add a flange to an existing pattern. I did so here

Image of Quilt with Flange

This small flange helps the eye connect from the binding to the interior blocks of the quilt. Allietare pattern by Bonnie Hunter.

on my Allietare (pattern by Bonnie Hunter), because I thought it needed just a touch of the aqua between my inner and outer borders to “connect” the interior of the quilt with the binding (also in the aqua fabric). Because a flange doesn’t change the dimensions of the quilt at all, I didn’t need to worry about re-figuring pattern directions for borders.

Most flanges I’ve used were solid or read as solid fabrics, but as you can see, this one is a batik which adds interest as well as color.

Making a flange is super easy:

*Cut two strips of fabric slightly longer than the length of your quilt or area you want to emphasize and cut two strips slightly longer than the width of the working area. The width of your flange strips can be anywhere from 3/4 inch to 2 inches, depending on how much fabric you want showing.  (If you prefer to measure and cut the lengths precisely, you can. There is just no need to do so because the flange will not alter the size of your borders or blocks. Let’s assume the borders are already measured, pinned, and attached carefully to avoid wavy borders and excess fabric. See this post for more information of unruly borders.)

*Fold the strips lengthwise, wrong sides together and press.

*Align the edges of the flange with the edges of your quilt, border, or section. Pinning isn’t necessary, but may help keep the edges aligned. I usually just go unpinned for flange.

*Use a basting stitch and less than a 1/4 seam margin to attach the flange to the left and right sides. Trim excess from edges. In the same way, baste and trim the top and bottom flange onto your quilt.

*Continue with your quilt as you normally would. It’s that easy!

This quilt is an example of using a flange to “stop” the quilt prior to the binding. Without a flange, there wouldn’t be a defined edge. I didn’t want a completely dark binding to be in stark contrast  with the borders, so the flange was just the right amount of stopper needed.

Image of Quilt with Flange

This quilt has a dark flange between the outer border and the binding. Bella Piastrella by Karla Kiefner

When my friend Nancy and I design a quilt or church banner together we often consider the use of flanges – they’re just fun to do!

What technique  do you enjoy using in your quilts?

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Six Sweet Tips for Using Color in Landscape Quilts

These six tips for using color in landscape quilts makes choosing them a breeze!

The tips for using color, of course, depends on subject of your landscape. But there are some general tips that can help make that process fun.

Let’s start at the very beginning…a very FUN place to start.

Tips for Using Color Shown in Bella Vista quilt.
Bella Vista by Karla Kiefner

My favorite part of landscape quilts is when I’m first digging through my fabric stash, searching for any fabrics which might remotely play nicely in my quilt…folding them into shapes, layering them on top of each other…imagining.

  1. When choosing fabrics for a landscape quilt, choose a wide variety of dark, medium, and light fabrics, mostly cottons, but also other textures. (I have been known to cut up old clothing for the right fabric in a small space.) You can’t have too many!
  2. Throw in some “wild card” colors! Go ahead and grab fabrics you might not immediately think of for nature scenes, both by color and print. Add some purple, copper, gold, olive/brown, gray, and gray-blue or colors with those combinations in them.
  3. Use those “ugly” fabrics! Of course, you don’t want an entire quilt of your least favorite fabrics, but they do have an important role because they make your beautiful fabrics really pop.
  4. When auditioning your fabrics, remember that generally speaking, distant hillsides will be “cooler” and bluer than the close, “warmer” hillsides–a phenomenon called “aerial perspective”. In addition to color, use quilting to also give a more defined perspective, using larger quilting in the foreground and tighter, smaller designs in the distance.
  5. Use whatever materials you need to get the look you want. (Don’t be afraid to break the rules.) In Bella Vista, I used several layers of yellow tulle on the hillsides and sky to give them a muted look of warm sunshine to contrast the stone window and close sunflowers.
  6. When choosing your fabrics for a landscape quilt, think of your stash as a brand new box of crayons. Be playful and daring and PLAN to color outside the lines!
Bella Vista
Karla Kiefner

Enjoy your quilting journey!