The Art of Choosing: Recognizing a Fabric's Overall Color

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Art of Choosing is a series discussing fabric, color, and the fabric selection process. The purpose of this series is to arm you with the tools and knowledge to build your own color schemes for your sewing and quilting projects. You'll dive deep into your stash, organize it, and hopefully look at your fabrics in a new way.

Recognizing a Fabric's Overall Color
Today we're going to discuss how to identify a fabric's overall color. This may seem somewhat straightforward, but it can be tricky. It will be really helpful later in the series when we discuss organizing a stash by color and creating color schemes. And don't forget, there is no right or wrong way of doing this. This is simply the way I do it!

I've broken this down into three different parts. First, I'm going to show you examples of different types of fabrics. Second, we'll dissect the color palette of a few fabrics, and finally you'll be challenged to identify overall color of a few difficult fabrics. For more information on the fabrics in each stack, simply click on the image.

Tone on Tone Fabrics

Tone-on-Tone Fabrics, originally uploaded by jenib320.
Tone-on-tone fabrics use different tones/shades of the same color to create a pattern. This makes it very easy to identify an overall color. These types of fabrics are great basics to start with when putting together a color scheme. They're often referred to as blenders, because they blend well with other types of fabric prints.

Color + White Fabrics

Color + White Fabrics, originally uploaded by jenib320.
These fabrics are generally made up of one single color in addition to white or cream. The white is used to create the pattern on the solid background. The color is more dominant than the white, making these relatively easy to identify. Another great place to start when organizing a palette, and also a type of blender.

Fabrics with Small Accents

Fabrics with Small Accents, originally uploaded by jenib320.
These fabrics have generally a strong background color with small accents of other colors. Again, at first glance it is easy to identify the colors of these fabrics. The accents are minimal enough that they don't take away from the overall color. When choosing fabrics for a project however, it is important to be mindful of these accents.

Fabrics with Large Accents

Fabrics with Large Accents, originally uploaded by jenib320.
Here is where things start to get tricky! These fabrics have large accents of other colors. They have strong background colors, which can sometimes be used to identify the overall color. However, in this case especially, the accents cannot be ignored when putting together your palette. While it is not necessary to have all accents represented in the palette, making sure that the colors work well with your palette will make it feel more cohesive. These are great fabrics to build a palette around. We'll discuss more about building schemes around a single fabric later on in the series.

Multicolored Fabrics

Multicolored Fabrics, originally uploaded by jenib320.
These fabrics are made up of many different colors and are therefore often difficult to identify. Think of these prints as being bossy. When building a palette they can't be ignored, they really jump out at you and can make or break your color scheme. Another great place to start when building a palette.

Analyzing Fabric Prints

Start with the Selvedge, originally uploaded by jenib320.
When analyzing a difficult (or any) fabric, often the first place I like to look is the selvedge. Those little colored dots can be helpful. While small, they do provide a look at the colors used in the fabric separately. It can also be helpful to tape up your fabric and look at it from a distance. Now let's dissect some fabric!

Flea Market Fancy by Denyse Schmidt

Flea Market Fancy, originally uploaded by jenib320.
This fabric is mainly made up of gold, pink, ivory, and brown. The two dominating colors, gold and pink, are represented equally in the pattern. This makes it a judgement call! I tend to stick this print in with my golds!

Midwest Modern II by Amy Butler

Midwest Modern II, originally uploaded by jenib320.
This fabric has a lot of different colors. It's made up of dark pink/red, two shades of pink, two shades of yellow, and turquoise. Because three of the six colors used are pinks, in addition to the background color being pink, I categorize this fabric as dark pink/red.

Good Folks by Anna Maria Horner

Good Folks, originally uploaded by jenib320.
I always struggle with this fabric! It's composed of brown and pink with small orange accents. I think that there is more pink than brown, but the brown stands out when this fabric is among other pink fabrics. Because of this, I generally consider this fabric brown.

Sugar Snap by Melissa Averinos

Sugar Snap, originally uploaded by jenib320.
This fabric is made up of ivory, two shades of pink, orange, and two shades of turquoise. the background color in this fabric helps first identify this fabric as ivory. However, the accents are bright and pretty dominating, which leads me to place this fabric in the multi-colored section of my stash.

Weekends by Erin Mcmorris

Weekends, originally uploaded by jenib320.
This fabric has tons of different colors. Two shades of pink, two shades of burnt orange, gray, ivory, green, and white. The dominating colors are pink and burnt orange, but there are so many different colors that I categorize this as multi-colored as well.

Challenge Fabrics

Challenge Fabrics, originally uploaded by jenib320.
Now it's your turn. If you'd like, give these four fabrics a try! Share your opinions in the comments. You can guess the color or type of fabric, or both.

The next post in this series is on Fabric Folding.


  1. This is great, jeni! Very cool. I think it's funny we would identify most things differently. Your system makes system is "squinting".
    In fact I probably would have placed ALL the fabrics you dissected in my "pink" section...haha! Ooops. :) Maybe the last two would go in the multi-color/hodgepodge section.

    As for the 'quiz':
    1. baby blues
    2. wouldn't buy
    3. baby blues
    4. wouldn't buy

    I'M TERRIBLE at this! :D

  2. #1 Multicolored large accent #2 yellow fabric and small accent-- even though you said the opposite:) #3 multicolored large accent #4 multicolored large accent

    Really happy that you did this post. I always have trouble with sorting fabric and trying to incorporate small accent fabric with large accent fabric on my quilt tops! Sometimes I even feel a little color blind:)

  3. 1.dominant colors: pink,blue and green
    2. dominant colors:yellow and purple
    3.dominant colors:blue and yellow
    4.dominant colors:lots of them lol
    I'm so happy you started this! this will be so helpful for me!
    Laura - Brasil

  4. Thanks so much, this is very helpful to me as I guess I'd never really thought of fabric in this way. :-)

  5. Those are hard. I think maybe I would put them all in multi-colored, although #2 maybe in purple.

  6. what a great idea to post about this topic! I know I'll find it very helpful :)

  7. this is so great Jeni!!!!

  8. Thanks for this Jeni; I've had a go and put up on my flickr

  9. This is fantastic! very helpful - can't wait to read more in this series

  10. I have been looking forward to this and found it helpful. Thanks for doing this series! I would say 1. is a multicolor. 2. I would call a purple. 3. i would put in with the yellows and 4. multicolor

  11. This help is what I need! I need to reorganize my fabric and I think being able to identify what "color" a fabric belongs in.. helps :-) Seems basic but obviously its not, haha

    Lets see, for the above 4 fabrics:
    1 - blues
    2 - yellow/gold
    3 - yellow
    4 - multi-color

    When do we get the answers? :-)
    Looking forward to next weeks post! I LOVE buying fabric but probably have a bit too much green and orange... no purple, red, black, or blue.

  12. thank you so much ! this is brilliant.

  13. This was such a fantastic exercise! Thanks so much for putting this series together...can't wait to read more!

  14. Thank you so much!
    Now I will be a little smarter choosing fabrics and colors. I love buying fabrics, i love sewing, i love colorful and bright fabric, but unfortunately I'm not found a place where they are sold in Latvia, so my only hope is foreign Internetshops!

    Looking forward to next weeks post!

  15. Thank you for the info sharing! I unfortunately must not be good at this because they all look like medium scale multi colored fabrics to me! They do all have blue backgrounds with yellow accents though.

    Thanks again!

  16. What a fun way to put your stash to use and help others. You are awesome!

  17. 1-Green; 2-Lavender; 3-Yellow/Gold; 4-Multi-colored.

    Very helpful series. Thanks.

  18. Those were very nice fabrics. Very colorful. And the prints were great. Love it! Designer fabric

  19. What an awesome post. My answer is they are all multi color designs. 1 would most likely go in my floral stack (yup! I have enough floral they have their own stack) 2 would go in my Yellow/gold stack, because the purple stands out it would be easy to find in the yellow stack if I were looking to pull purples. 3 may go in my orange or yellow stack, but would have to see it in person, maybe blue stack. 4 just needs to stay in a multi color stack...kind of like my floral stack.
    About 2 years ago I spent a good amount of money on redoing the closet in my sewing room. It is a small bedroom, so I didn't want to do something that I would have to undo to sell the house. I used the Rubbermaid closet kit "Homefree Series". With a few modifications it can be turned back into a clothes closet! There is almost enough to do the closet in my guest room too (as a clothes closet). I'll just need to buy a few brackets. The best part is I don't have to dig through boxes and bins. I open the closet and my fabrics are there to greet me, sorted by color and type. It's been such a time saver.

  20. 1. blue
    2. yellow
    3. yellow/blue
    4. multi-color

  21. Blue, purple, blue and multi. I like them all and would buy them.

  22. Fantastic post - thanks for re-linking this. I always have trouble identifying the prominent colour. For these I would go
    Multi colour

  23. Very interesting, and great lesson. I might stay away from bold prints. I love color values. And hope to try monochromatic...sometime soon. Bargello is fun with running colors working to other colors. I've worked with a group & it was so inspiring. 1. Baby blue & pale green 2. Purples yellow3. Gold and cream. 4. Brown, pink or blue

  24. 1. fabric with large accents.
    2. fabric with small accents.
    3. Multi-colored fabric.
    4. Multi-colored fabric.

    Would love to know if I nailed it. Thanks for the lesson.

  25. Love this, and the exercise is not easy

    1- small accents on blue
    2 - small accents purple
    3 - large accents on blue but it may go with yellow
    4 - large accents of brown or dark red

    thank you, plus I think there is no wrong choices concerning the multi-color fabrics once we choose inside the fabric palete. se ya

  26. As a new quilter, this is a great "tutorial"...thanks!

  27. I never realized how tough it can be to pick the overall color of fabric! You're right though: it's important to be able to mix and match patterns. When applied tastefully, it can really spice up a room. Solid colors are nice but having some patterns can really add personality. Thanks for breaking down the process step by step!

  28. No one has posted here in over a year but I thought I would write down what I thought anyway. :-)
    First of all, Jen, thank you for doing this explanation. I have realized, at least for me, the hardest part, or the part of sewing/quilting is to properly marry the right colors together. I am wondering how someone else starts a quilt? I pick an "inspiration" piece of fabric first. The "main" piece, not the fabric there will be the most of, just the fabric that I am building the entire quilt on. My question is this, is there any rule of thumb as far as how many different fabrics, in the same color category should I use? I typically like to do no more than 3. For example, I have #1, my "inspiration" piece, #2 I find 2 more pieces to go with the inspiration piece and #3 would be the solid color for the backing. Is that a good way to do it? I have been told by decorators that things should be done in odd numbers. If you are arranging a group of decorative boxes, you should have just one box, or 3 boxes or 5 and so on. Are there any loose rules in designing a quilt? Also, when I am trying to figure out what quilt I want to do, I look at quilts on line. I have found though that I tend to decide on the quilt (these are not necessarily quilt kits, just quilts with patterns) by the colors the person has used and NOT the pattern. This is not a good idea as I think I need to train myself NOT to look at the colors necessarily but look at only the pattern as the colors I can choose myself. But, it's difficult to try and only see the pattern. I tend to like more tone on tone quilts and I think many of the quilts I see that I think I don't care for, might actually be nice quilts if I did them in a color scheme I chose myself. Want to know if anyone has any thoughts on this? I am always trying to find different ways of doing things and especially learning about color groupings and what looks best. I believe it's the MOST important part. Any of the quilt designs could look better or worse depending on the colors.
    Thanks, sorry for the long message.

    1. Novice quilter here and I can relate to just about everything you wrote here, Cindy Sue!

  29. Super lesson! I have been trying to learn more about colour in the past few months and just stumbled upon this blog series. The timing is great! I love your approach.


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