Picking Quilt Colors: Inspired by Nature

April 2, 2019

Use color combinations that naturally complement each other – they’re everywhere!

Choosing colors and fabrics for your quilt projects doesn’t always have to be a chore. Sometimes, the right combinations are already created for you, if you know where to look (and remember to take a photograph).

We’re excited to introduce you to Lara Whiting, who will be contributing quilting content to our make something blog on a monthly basis, from April 2019 – March 2020. Lara is going to be teaching you how to make 9 different quilting blocks, which you can use in any combination to make a 9-block quilt. This post kicks off her sampler series, and will teach you how to choose colors for your quilt from nature’s palette. 

Conventional color palette selection involves referencing the color wheel chart. First, find complimentary colors (which are found directly opposite each other on the color wheel), and make different combinations until you’re satisfied. Next, compare the color combinations you’ve come up with – this can seem like an overwhelming and endless task!

If this process isn’t your cup of tea, here’s a more relatable option. Step outside into nature and take pictures! The world around us offers a variety of color combinations that co-exist naturally. Pausing a moment to observe them just might reveal the palette you’ve been looking for.

Looking at this photo from a sunny summer garden, the color palette would contain a couple shades of green, include a strong yellow/gold presence, and have pops of orange.

Fortunately, digital technology makes the process of identifying a color palette super easy. There are many apps available to do the job for you. Two apps that are easy to use are Drop and Palette Republic. Simply grab a photo from your phone, put it in the app, and let the wizards behind the screen work their magic. What you’ll get is a unique color palette derived from your photo. Certain apps even allow you to choose which colors make the cut.

Palette #1: Sunset (happens every day, right?!)

The way the sky transitions from light to dark at sunset, across warm and cool color families – there are so many options to work with. When I look at these, I like to rearrange the order of the colors. I want to see contrast between light and dark, warm and cool. Contrast ensures that you’ll be able to appreciate all the hard work that goes into quilt making (cutting up fabric and stitching it back together again).

If you can manage to pull yourself away from making palettes on your phone, head to your fabric stash and start pulling possibilities to match your pictures! I like to imagine the fabrics are my paints, and the quilt pattern is my blank canvas.

Here’s my first crack at fabrics to represent the colors of a Carolina sunset. I see lots of potential mixing the shades of blue and sunny golds.

How about what it looks like cut up, mixed around, and stitched back together again into a quilt block? Almost there…

Carolina sunset, in quilt block form. The gold glows against a dark blue background. That is the contrast of my dreams. The blue batiks on the outside are different, but not so different that they look out of place.

Palette #2: Monarch caterpillar on a milkweed plant

After scrolling through photos of cheerful flowers on warm summer days, I came up with a few other palette options, like this monarch caterpillar resting on milkweed plant. It feels tropical and calming to me all at the same time – so many different shades of green in those leaves.

Here is the second color palette translated in quilting fabric. Keeping one fabric consistent on the outside (dark green) makes the overall experience appear calmer, and allows the aqua to pop. It’s one less thing for the eyes to focus on and figure out.

Palette #3 – Monarch butterfly

Same critter, different palette? What are the odds that this is the same caterpillar from palette two, just in butterfly form now? I think that a couple different sky blues would make a great background for a summery quilt. Lush greens and vibrant magenta would really pop on that blue.

Here is the translation of the third palette. Flowers in full bloom against a crisp blue sky. This palette differs from palette two, in that I varied the shades of green on the outside. You can see how the plum batik fabric doesn’t show up against the dark green as much as it does next to the light green. The border is slightly less delineated this way.

However, with that kind of variety I could create an interesting sub-pattern when the block is repeated and set next to each other. Choices!

Taking note of the natural world has always been, and will continue to be, my favorite way to find inspiration for my quilts. This is particularly evident if you were to take a glance at the camera roll on my phone. So. Many. Pictures!

Once I grasped the idea of using the natural world for color inspiration, it seemed that I wanted to photograph everything. No two days are the same, and that creates a plethora of color palette options. I love seeing how the colors of the flora and fauna before me eventually become different fabric combinations. The monarch butterfly landing on a summer flower bloom, or a winter day casting long moody shadows, now immortalized in quilt form.

One of these palettes will be the color inspiration for the nine-month sampler quilt-along that I’m hosting here. Do you have a favorite?

I’ve sketched up some different block designs that incorporate a variety of techniques with room for you to personalize them. Come back next month to see patterns and get creative with me!

– Lara

Lara Whiting is a passionate quilter whose designs are inspired by a fusion of influences that include traditional quilting, architecture and the natural world.  When she’s not quilting, you can find her training for half marathons, tending her garden or hanging out with her rescue dogs. She lives in upstate South Carolina.


You Might Also Like...