Part 1: Choosing Fabrics and Colors: It’s as Easy as 1-2-3

Don’t you just love little surprises, especially when they tell you that someone special is thinking about you? Last spring, my talented friend Anita Grossman Solomon and I spent an afternoon visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium. We both especially enjoyed viewing the incredible seahorse exhibit. Tucked inside my Christmas card from Anita this year, I found this piece of fabric.

This fabric tucked inside my holiday card reminds me of a perfect day spent with my dear friend.

My first thought was “Ahh, what a sweet gesture and so very thoughtful. Just like Anita to do this for me.” Although I like the fabric, it is probably not one I would be immediately drawn to in the quilt shop. Perhaps, like many of you, I tend to work with the same style of fabric designs and colors. I have a comfort zone and personal color preferences. Although I like yellow golds, they would not be a starting point for me in building a color scheme. With this thought in mind, I have decided to challenge myself this year and use this fabric as my inspiration for designing a quilt. I hope you will follow along with me as I cover the steps in several upcoming posts.

I know from years of teaching beginners that combining prints and colors can be one of the most challenging tasks in the quiltmaking process. Some students just have a natural affinity for color, but most do not. It just takes practice and often a little help along the way. An in-depth study of color theory is one way to approach this, but most of us like to keep it simple and get on with the sewing!

We have mentioned the talented color expert, Joen Wolfrom in a previous post , but I want to bring her in again as she has created a helpful tool called the 3-in-1 Color Tool, Updated. The tool includes 24 color cards with numbered swatches, plus an instructional guide to make color planning easy. Joen promises “you can easily see which colors work best together in a very quick manner. It’s simple to do and it quickly clarifies the colors to use.” Doesn’t all this sound great?

This simple tool makes choosing fabrics and colors as easy as 1-2-3.

Follow along as I take you through the steps in developing a color scheme based on my inspiration fabric.

Step One: Place your fabric on the table and then find the card with the color that seems most suited to your fabric. It is really not about “matching” perfectly, but instead finding a color family that feels comfortable.

My fabric feels most comfortable with card #24 (Golden Yellow).

Step Two: Turn the card over to find clear color diagrams indicating the five major natural color schemes.

Five major natural color schemes are provided on the reverse side of each card.

Step Three: Select a color plan that most appeals to you. After looking through my options, I decided on the Triadic Color Scheme – I love working with fuchsia and aqua blue!

Step Four: With this scheme in mind, I looked at the color cards for both Aqua Blue (#8) and Fuchsia (#16) and found fabrics that I think work well with them. Here is what I have selected.

I find a fabric I like that works well with Card #8 (Aqua Blue).

This beautiful batik is comfortable with Card #16 (Fuchsia). The bonus is it also contains aqua blue and yellow gold.

So here is my starting point for building a color scheme. Please be sure to check back as I continue to add fabrics to make multiple blocks, show you how to preview secondary designs, and finally put them all together into a quilt top. It will be fun.

The starting point for my color scheme.

C & T Publishing has again generously offered a giveaway. If you are interested in following along and challenging yourself this year with a new color scheme or two, please leave a comment by end of day Saturday January 14th. The lucky winner of a 3-in-1 Color Tool will be announced in Christie’s post on January 17th.

Have a happy and colorful week everyone.

PS – Just checked in with Joen and learned that she has lots of information on her new blog, Playing with Color. Here is a listing of some of the specific tutorials you might be interested in:

To learn about painting the pure colors from yellow to turquoise blue/cyan, click here.

To learn about painting the pure colors from turquoise blue/cyan to magenta, click here.

To learn about painting the pure colors from yellow to magenta, click here. 

To learn about making your own color wheel after painting the color swatches, click here.

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93 Responses to Part 1: Choosing Fabrics and Colors: It’s as Easy as 1-2-3

  1. Pingback: I want to stay here… - Sherri Woodard Coffey

  2. Suze says:

    I just signed up for your Craftsy BOM for 2013. I started hopping down bunny trails until I arrived at this post. Determining colors is always an issue for me. So much so that usually I buy kits or go to the quilt shop and say “HELP!” That’s really a shame because I love fabric and I love color. I’m having to really cut back on my purchases. I am disabled and on Social Security disability. I just went through a divorce in December, so I’m really, really watching my budget. Luckily, I have lots of lots of quilt kits so I’m good to go there, just not many new purchases on the horizon. However, this definitely is going on my list of wishes. I do have a brother who asks for suggestions come holiday time. I need to stretch my horizon in this arena. Thank you very, very much for sharing. I’ve seen gals at a retreat with a color wheel and this seems more ‘user-friendly.”

  3. Pingback: Meet Christine Barnes . . . Give Color a Try and Enter the FREE Book Giveaway |

  4. Pingback: Sunny-Side Up—Vacation Therapy for a Color Addict |

  5. Lea A says:

    Looks like a “must have” tool. Thanks for the chance to win.

  6. Michelle says:

    I’m very late reading this post, my dear friend. I did read it though, and I just ordered the color wheel. I’m trying to expand my horizons! Color is a great place to start!

  7. Pingback: Choosing Fabrics and Colors: It’s as Easy as 1-2-3 (Part Two: Let the Hunt Begin) |

  8. Ellen says:

    I love color! The 3-in-1 would be fabulous in my art and sewing.

  9. Too late, but a wonderful thing you did with the color wheel. I’m following Joen Wolfrom quite a while, I love her colorstories. greetings from Liesbeth

  10. Debbi says:

    Great color scheme. Purple is my favorite color but would never think of putting gold/yellow with it. It looks great. Love to win the color wheel. Keep up the great work.

  11. Hannele says:

    I’d love to win the color tool!

  12. Debbie Gallett says:

    That color tool is on my wish list. Can’t wait to see how your quilt turns out.

  13. Laura Sorenson says:

    I am so happy to learn of this nifty color tool… also, to learn about Joen Wolfrom and her fantastic talent! I am, unfortunately, one of those people that was not blessed with an innate sense… finding just the right color combo has always been a challenge. I love what you have picked out so far Laura. I would have never thought to put the fabrics that you chose together but they work perfectly! Thank you and thanks to C & T Publishing for the opportunity to win the 3 in 1 Color Tool! I’m keeping my fingers crossed! =~D

  14. Gina Shevchenko says:

    Choosing colors is the most difficult part of the quilting process for me. Joan’s color wheelseemed overwhelming when I first saw it but know that it is explained it seem so simple to use and I see it will take the second guessing out of the planing stage.

  15. Nancy says:

    Definitely a must-have tool! Thanks for the chance to win one.

  16. Karen says:

    I saw that seahorse exhibit, too, and loved it. What an intriguing color tool. Can’t wait to see the end result. Cool blog!

  17. Carolyn says:

    Forgot to tick one of the boxes after I posted my comment duh!

  18. Carolyn says:

    This tool makes it look sssssseeeeeewwwwww easy – I wuld love to have this Pretty Please :0)

  19. Di Wilsey Geer says:

    I need the 3 in 1 Color Tool to expand my “eye” for fabric coordinating. This would be just the prescription I could use to better put pieces together.

  20. Linda says:

    I just discovered this blog recommended by Joen as a great way to see how the color tool works. Thank you for demonstrating it so clearly. I can’t wait to try it out as I am seriously color challenged.

  21. KarenB in OR says:

    Definitely the perfect tool for a color-challenged novice quilter like me! I look forward to experimenting and learning more. Thanks for the great giveaway.

  22. Kathy Boice says:

    I need all the help I can get with color choices! I look forward to the blog as well as the opportunity to win!!

  23. Laura Nownes says:

    Looks like another exciting day! I’m touched and inspired by all of your heartfelt comments. All of us here at SHWS appreciate all you bring to making this such a fun place to share creative ideas.

  24. Gail says:

    Finally, maybe I can learn how to choose colors and fabrics for my quilts to be beautiful and
    enjoyable to look at. This has always been my biggest challenge. I’m excited to follow your progress using the tool. I just found the blog and can’t read fast enough. Thanks to all of you for sharing.

  25. Annette says:

    What a great color tool!

  26. Pat Hersl says:

    Not having an artist’s eye or talent, color has always been a problem for me. This year, once again, I’ll work on getting better. Blending seems to help me. I plan on using Joen’s tool.

  27. This would be so useful – I tend to use the same ranges of colours all the time as I know what works and what I like. This tool would help me to be more adventurous.

  28. Julie says:

    This looks great, what a great idea. I am a new quilter and still like to choose fabrics all by the same person or collection. This would really help me break free of this way of selecting fabrics!. Thanks for the chance.

  29. Marta says:

    This would be a fantastic addition to my toolbox ;)

  30. Kathy Howard says:

    That color tool would sure save me time picking fabrics for projects and choosing colors for fabric designs at Spoonflower, too.

  31. Vicki Sprain says:

    Fun post to read! I would love to win one of these tools as picking the colors is the most challenging part of quilting for me!

  32. shalanda axle says:

    This would be a great addition to my crochet work. it would help me to pick out more fabulous colors to work with.

  33. JoAnn L says:

    I would love to have a tool like this!!!

  34. Jeannette in St. Louis says:

    I think I need one of these Color Tools! My gosh you made it look so simple to use. Thanks for the chance to win one!

  35. Linda Moran says:

    I SO need this! Color has been difficult for me….I need a tool like this to help me expand what I do. Thanks for the chance!

  36. Robbie says:

    Thanks for the post. I think this color tool would be a very helpful addition to by tool bag. Would love to win one.

  37. Sandy says:

    Love the color schemes on the back of each ‘blade’ – can never keep them straight in my mind. Believe this would be the biggest help to me when choosing colors, and I do need the help!

  38. ginger scott says:

    Thanks for the quick intro to the 3-in-1 color tool. I always liked shopping for paint via the paint chips! The five basic color schemes make the experience of choosing colors so inviting.

  39. Janet McNamara Houck says:

    Thanks for your post. It was so clear and concise. I would love to win one.

  40. Cornelia says:

    Thanks so much for explaining this great tool! If I don’t win it, I think I’ll have to break down and buy it. I’m also excited to hear that Joen has a blog. I’ll definitely be adding her to my reading list.

  41. BarbaraAnne says:

    Color blows me away! I am looking forward to following your blog and learning how to make color choices that work. Can’t wait to get my hands on this new tool!! Thank you Laura and Joen for simplifying my frustrations.

  42. Color blows me away!! I’m looking forward to following your blog and making color choices that work. Thank you Laura and Joen for simplifying my frustrations!! Can’t wait to get my hands on this new tool!!!

  43. Fran Solomon says:

    Laura, Color choices have always been a challenge for me. I love the idea of following your blog to learn more and the 3-in-1 Color Tool would be a great help. Thanks for all the great ideas you give us.

  44. Laura Nownes says:

    How excited I am this morning to read all of these wonderful comments. It is great to see so many familiar names and to welcome many of Joen’s friends. Thank you all for stopping in and taking time to add your thoughts. I look forward to taking this color journey with you and hope you will feel free to ask questions and keep us updated on your new projects. We love seeing and hearing about your work. My best to all of you-

  45. Rhonda Casey says:

    Wow! I have never seen this tool before. I’ve got the color wheel but was always confused on how to use it. This tool looks easy to use and would make choosing colors alot easier. Thanks for the information.

  46. Lydia says:

    This is a marvelous tool, and really easy to use. Thank you for the clear explanation on how to use it. Now, I have to get myself one.

  47. C.J. says:

    Thank you for the best explanation of using this tool that I have ever heard. I really appreciate your insight into the mystery and mastery of color.

  48. Amy says:

    I discovered your bog site by way of Joen Wolfrom. First, I watched The Quilt Show #103 about Joen and learned about the 3 in 1 tool. I went to her site and she was writing about how well your explanationwas for using the tool . I am looking forward to seeing how this works as I am one of those that has difficulty with putting colors together. I would really appreciate a tool like this.

  49. Must get one of those tools!!

  50. Debbie M says:

    Thanks for the great photo tutorial, Laura. I’ve been reading Joen’s blog for a while and have learned so much there. I’d love to own her color tool! Thanks for counting me in.

  51. I really liked this post about the 3 in 1 color tool! I’ve had probably one of the original ones (then read Joen’s blog post today and realized she has a new and improved one out) and was not using it to it’s full potential. After reading your blog post it made a lot of sense plus Joen’s blog post and will use it this weekend when quilting. I love blog posts about color because it doesn’t come naturally to me. What helps is having different tools, reading about color, and then studying it to help to put together a quilt and not fall into familiar color schemes. It also makes me look at nature differently and really see the colors and shades and how many there really are.

  52. Chuck says:

    Great pictures and explanation of how to use the color tool. I’ll give it try.

  53. Excellent explanation of how to use this tool. Makes me REALLY want one!

  54. Patty Hom says:

    Laura, what a great tool! I am definitely interested.–Patty H.

  55. Judy says:

    Great explanation, Laura. I have Joen’s 3-in-1 Color Tool and you have inspired me to use it to choose the fabrics to go with the challenge fabric from my guild…can hardly wait to see what colors go with the fabric!

  56. Audrey K. says:

    Thanks for the explanation on using the color tool. I have one, but never really understood how to use it. I love your choices!

  57. Christina says:

    What a great explanation. I want to play along!!!! I adore the simplicity and ease of use. Thank you for not just offering this giveaway but the learning opportunity as well.
    All the best,
    Christina in Cleveland

  58. SoPark says:

    This would be a wonderful help to me.

  59. jane says:

    I am a new quilter… the sewing part is easy, its the color and fabric that is difficult. thanks for a great post.

  60. Katy says:

    It’s always great to see the tools other people use to select color palettes. Even better is finding out that the great 3-in-1 can also be used to VALIDATE the choices already made! It’s like having a filter to evaluate yourchoices before you go a bit too crazy. :)

  61. Bev says:

    Thanks for the useful information. Would love to have the 3 – in – 1 color tool. Please add me to the drawing.

  62. Bev says:

    A great article – thanks for the info. would love to have the updated 3 in 1 color tool. Please add me to the drawing. Thanks

  63. Bev says:

    This was a great article – thanks – would love to have this updated color tool – so add me to the drawing and we’ll wish for the best.

  64. Sheri Buerke Ahner says:

    I have been quilting for many years and most recently a rug hooker this new tool is a new “Must Have”! Thanks for this opportunity, I would love and cherish this for many years!
    Sheri from St. Louis

  65. Ann Bacon says:

    I usually just throw colors together and hope for the best. This year I have set myself a challenge to learn which fabrics complement each other and try to understand why.

  66. Julia says:

    That 3-in1 Color tool and your explanation makes it all look & sound so easy and simple. I’d love to try it.

  67. Karen says:

    OMG! I have this tool and didn’t open it! Thanks for this posting. It was great! Now, I am going to get mine out and play!

  68. Hilda Koning-Bastiaan says:

    just got to this blog via Joen’s blog. Laura was my first quilt teacher. What a great tool to choose color the color tool is!

  69. Found your blog through Joen Wolfrom’s blog. Just signed up to get your newsletter. One of my challenges this year is to learn more about colour so this tool would help a lot! Thanks for the giveaway!

  70. Barb Dawson says:

    I NEED lots of help w/ color, and have a wish list that includes: “Take a class about color” I haven’t been able to take a class, yet, but this tool would be a big help! THANKS 4 a great opportunity to win this color wheel!

  71. Sarah E says:

    Learning more about color is my crafty resolution of the year! I’ve been reading Joen’s blog for a few months and she sent me here. Thanks for a clear lesson in how to use the tool!

  72. Joanna says:

    This looks like an excellent tool! I’d love to win it and will be following the blog notes as you select the rest of your fabrics.

    Thank you!


  73. Bonnie Barber says:

    I am very excited to follow this strand while you plan out your ‘gold seahorse’ blocks. An excellent idea and I will love watching this develop. Will also check out Joen’s blogs, to learn from another master of color.

  74. Pingback: JWD Publishing Blog » Joen Wolfrom’s Playing with Color: Laura Nownes Shows How to Use the Color Tool on “See How We Sew” Blog

  75. Terry says:

    What a great way to choose colors!! TFS

  76. Lisa Cristwell says:

    I’m color challenged as well and think this tool would definitely help me make better and bolder fabric choices when shopping!

  77. Peggy Mohar says:

    The hardest part for me is picking out the colors which work together.. The 3 in 1 color tool looks like it might be a great help! Now I’d like to see what you do with the fabrics! You are a great teacher & I love your blog!

  78. kathy says:

    love so many colors and picking them is my favorite thing to do. always interested in new ways to do a better job

  79. StephCat says:

    I also have to really force myself to try colors outside my comfort zone. I primarily knit, so with me, it’s trying new yarn colors; as I do more fair isle/stranded I’m pushing myself a bit more.

    I’m just starting to sew, so again, same thing re: colors! my default wardrobe colors are white, black, & jeans with occasional red or green.

  80. Sally Ickes says:

    Would like to learn everything I can about choosing a great color scheme.

  81. Sue says:

    Laura, I remember my first quilting class from you and getting a major assist when picking out my fabrics. I’ve never used the 3-in-1 Color Tool but think I better find one! There’s nothing more exciting than starting to build the fabrics for a new quilt. Another inspiring blog!

  82. Martha says:

    Thanks for the great pictures and explanation of how to use the color tool. This is the first time I’ve wanted one, thinking it was just another thing to keep track of. Now I can see how valuable the tool can be.

  83. Sandy says:

    I am a color challenged quilter. I stick with batiks for a lot of my sewing as I find it easier to blend batiks. The color tool looks to be very easy to follow and your explanation was great..

  84. Brenda Kroez says:

    I would love to learn more about colour and the best ways to use it! Thanks.

  85. Patty says:

    Picking fabric colors is my favorite part of quiltmaking, and I would love to add this tool to my studio!

  86. Sue Leenders says:

    Love reading, your blog. All 3 of you have such great posts. Would love to win the color tool

  87. Edie says:

    This is always so difficult, and the payoff of getting it right is huge. I would love to learn more about choosing colors!

  88. Juanita says:

    Boy, this is something I REALLY NEED. I am one of those people who gets lost and ends up making quilts that are either two colors or monochromatic. I would love this.

  89. Pat says:

    Would love to win this wonderful tool. Color selection is always a challenge to me. Thanks for the opportunity.

  90. Marcia says:

    I love your choices and look forward to following your progress! Love the color tool also!

  91. Jay says:

    I just ordered my color tool and can’t wait to use it for my next project…thanks, Laura!

  92. Laura, I love your color choices and what a great explanation of how to use Joen Wolfrom’s 3-in-1 Color Tool. I have one and to my deep embarrassment I had never turned it over to discover all those brilliant ways of using the colors! So thank you Laura and thank you Joen!

    Chris Porter

  93. Pat says:

    I am looking forward to following your blog and learning more about choosing colors.

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