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Fabric 101, Part 2 - Beginner's Quilting Tutorial Series

Today for our Beginner's Quilting Series we are going to continue to talk about Fabric 101. How to choose and shop for your fabric. We will start with a bit more vocabulary.

Color Vocabulary

Color Wheel

A color circle, based on red, yellow and blue, is traditional in the field of art. The color wheel consists of the 12 colors of the rainbow set in a circular form so their relationships can be easily seen and understood.


The 12 basic colors in a color wheel are referred to as hues. Sometimes hue even refers to a collection of color such as "blue hues".


Describes the dark or lightness of a hue. If you look at paint swatches most often they contain the same hue in different values. When looking at a color wheel the lightest value of each hue is in the center and darkest on the outside.


Is the intensity of the hue. You could have two colors the same hue and value, but still very different because the amount of saturation and coloring pigment is different. The chart above shows to identical hues, but one with half the saturation.


Tints are commonly referred to as pastels.

Complementary Colors

Are two colors opposite of each other on the color wheel. These colors have the most contrast between hues.

Triadic Colors

Are three colors that are evenly spaced on the color wheel. These will have contrast, but because of their relationship on the color wheel, the colors will always be balanced.

Analogous Colors

Are the colors adjacent to each other on the color wheel. These colors have the least amount of contrast between hues.

Monochromatic Colors

Are colors in the same hue, but with different saturation and values.


Refers to warm and cool colors. Red, Orange, and Yellows are considered warm colors. Naturally warm colors appear more prominent when used with cool colors. Greens, Blues, and Violets are considered cool colors. Naturally cool colors appear less prominent when used with warm colors

Choosing Your Fabric

When choosing your fabric there are many factors to consider. Prints or Solids? Bold or subdued? Graphic, Edgy, Organic, Colorful, International, Quirky, Sophisticated, Vintage, Handmade, Multipurpose, and the list goes on! I am no expert at this by any means, and I am still learning the best method to choosing my fabrics. But, here is the approach I usually take when doing so.

Plan and Vision

Often times you will have found a fabric collection you absolutely love and will start there, but what about when you have a specific idea or theme in mind for your quilt and are not sure which fabric's will work best. I am going to use my recent quilt Puma Zig Zag as my example. The first question to ask yourself, is what you plan to use the quilt for? You may want to make a quilt that will match colors and styles in a specific room of your house, or even a quilt with a theme like retro, baby, ex. The Puma Zig Zag was a baby quilt for my sister's soon to be baby boy. I wanted the quilt to have a sporty, preppy feel. My sister likes the brand Puma, which just so happens to have a very sporty style. I started off by perusing Puma online for inspiration. I even went to my own closet for some Puma baby clothes my son has.

I took a photo of my Puma Inspiration and pulled colors from the photo. At this point I was just trying to choose my color hues, and didn't have any specific values, or saturation in mind.

Shopping for your fabric

From this point I started searching for my fabric. There is a myriad of fabric stores out there, so where do you go? There is only one suggestion I will make. When making a quilt most often you intend for it to be used, and washed often. So with that said, don't go cheap on your fabric! Now that doesn't mean you can't get a good deal, just try and purchase the best quality fabric your money can buy. When I first started I didn't want to bust out too much money in case I didn't like quilting and never finished the quilt. So I purchased inexpensive, poor quality fabric, I am lucky I continued sewing after the trouble I had from that fabric. It can cause a lot of lint build up and sewing machine issues! I don't have a lot of local quilt shops close by so I do most of my shopping online and there is definitely no lack of amazing online stores. You can see my sponsors page for a list of some wonderful shops.

Using Fabric Collections

When starting off I encourage you to take advantage of fabric collections. Fabric designer's will create fabric collections which help take the guess work out of color selection and whether or not two prints work together. Each fabric in the collection was designed to work in harmony with each other.

Creating your own Collections

New to my Pile O' Fabric!

Pulling fabrics for your own collection can be a bit challenging, but the best way to start is to pull one focus fabric and build the rest of your collection based on that fabric. Keep in mind your color theme, and the scale of the prints. I still use a lot of collections for my quilts and am new to choosing my own collection of fabrics.

For the Puma Quilt, I kept my original colors in mind, and went searching. I came across the Celebration Remix Fat Quarter Bundle by Ann Kelle for Robert Kaufman Fabrics and it definitely fit the bill! Before deciding on a collection ask yourself a few questions.
  • Do the colors fit with my theme and vision?
  • Do the scale of the prints work with the desired pattern quilt?
  • When the print is cut up for your pattern will it loose important detail?
  • Will I need to add to the collection?
Once I had the remix bundle in hand I pulled out my Kona Color Card and picked out some coordinating solids to use along with my prints.

Other Resources

Filed Guide to Fabric Design

    • A Field Guide to Fabric Design by Kimberly Knight - You may not be planning on designing your own fabric, but this book will teach you some very important things about fabric! It will teach you about scale, color, styles, and themes. You will learn what is involved in the process of making fabric which in turn can help you when choosing your fabrics for projects.

Quilts Made Modern

    • Quilts Made Modern - The subtitle of this book is Keys for Success with Color & Design, and it is wonderful! This book will give you an in depth education on color theory, fabric and designing.

Patterned Hues Design Seeds

  • Design Seeds- is an online color palette inspiration blog. The name could not be more befitting, these "Design Seeds" can be used to start the growth of a quilt design.
  • Color Scheme Designer - Is a free online color wheel App. I found this for designing websites, but it has come in handy when choosing fabric as well. First you choose a hue from the color wheel and then you can see different color collections based off that hue such as mono, complement, triad, tetrad, ex.
We could dive deeper into color theory, but I feel just having a basic knowledge of color and having wonderful tools to help you is a great start. Next week we will talk about choosing a design, using patterns and tutorials.
Alyssa Williams

Alyssa Williams

Creator of Pile O' Fabric

Alyssa Lichner is a graphic designer turned avid sewist. She writes modern quilting tutorials and shares techniques and inspiration on her blog, Pile O’ Fabric. Alyssa has a passion for exploring different techniques and applying them to modern designs. She is thankful to have the opportunity to share these techniques, through her tutorials, patterns, and classes with quilters around the world. She always encourages her readers and students to challenge themselves to try new things and to approach quilting with a fearless attitude.