How to choose quilt fabrics in five minutes (+ giveaway!)

Quilt designer Kathy Brown admits that choosing fabric for quilts has never been difficult for her. (Envious? I admit it. I am.) All she needs is one fabric—a focus fabric, a blender, or any special fabric that catches her eye—and she’s ready to mix and match until the perfect concoction emerges. What makes fabric selection so easy for Kathy? She heeds her own advice: Take 5.

Kathy’s Take 5 approach is simple: take five minutes, choose five fabrics, and in five hours you can make a quilt top. Over time, she’s stretched the clock for some designs, thrown in a neutral or two for others, and added a touch of appliqué here and there. But the five-fabric rule has stayed the same.

Kathy’s made it easy for the rest of us to Take 5 with 16 new patterns in her latest book, More Take 5 Quilts. If you’re new to quilting, her book is chock-full of patchwork designs for beginners. And if you’re a seasoned quilter who struggles with fabric selection, consider this a how-to-quilt-for-beginners book that will help you master the topic.

I asked Kathy if she had any additional tricks up her sleeve when it came to choosing fabrics to fit her Take 5 quilts. Below are the tips she shared with me.

My Quick Q&A with Kathy Brown

You have an inspiring attitude about choosing fabrics for quilts—that it really can be just as fun as the rest of the process. What tricks do you use when choosing fabrics for your quilts?

Kathy: The main thing I look for is a focus fabric. One you just can’t stop looking at—the one you fall in love with! Once you choose that fabric, everything else will fall into place. Select colors from within the focus fabric, finding other prints that match in color. But make it fun by choosing different textures and types of prints for those accompanying pieces. It’s a challenge for me to see if I can come up with four prints that aren’t only different in color, but also different in type and texture. For example, I might pull a blue stripe, a green check, a red dot, and a batik, but they all coordinate with the main print. I really like my quilts to be a feast for the eyes!

Your quilts are always simple to make, but they never look simplistic. With only five fabrics, how do you keep your quilts looking fresh and interesting?

Kathy: You would think that the five-fabric rule would limit these quilts but it truly doesn’t—as long as you follow a few Take 5 principles:

1. Never put two blocks that look exactly the same next to each other.

2. As you place blocks next to each other in rows, make sure you twist and turn the blocks so that different fabrics play next to each other. It will make your quilt more visually appealing and fun.

3. Never be afraid to use background fabrics to showcase your five original fabrics. You can totally change the look of a quilt by making one simple change in background fabrics. For example, can you imagine how “Connects the Dots” or “Loves Saltwater Taffy” would look if they had black backgrounds?

“Connects the Dots” and “Loves Saltwater Taffy.”

Your Take 5 approach has really taken you places—your own pattern line, your designer fabrics for Red Rooster, and now your quilt books (including the original Take 5). How did your ingenious idea begin in the first place?

Kathy: I started my pattern company, The Teacher’s Pet, in 1994. For 11 years I produced appliquéd and pieced quilt patterns. I was working in my local quilt shop right after Hurricane Katrina hit, helping quilters choose fabrics for quilts that were being made for the Katrina evacuees.

At that time, Yellow Brick Road and Turning Twenty patterns were very popular, and ladies were trying to pull fabrics to make those quilts. I helped quilter after quilter choose fabrics after they became frustrated with trying to “match” 20 fat quarters. It was quite a surprise to me that folks had trouble choosing colors, matching fabrics, and creating groupings, since all of that comes naturally to me. I guess I’d always figured that it was easy for everyone else too.

I thought there had to be a better way to take that stress off quilters. After all, quilting is supposed to be fun! One night, after a long afternoon of helping choose fat quarters, I woke up in the middle of the night with the Take 5 concept. Find your focus fabric; then choose four more fabrics to go with it; then make any quilt you want! That did it. The Take 5 technique was born!

Kathy, we’re so glad the Take 5 concept woke you up in the wee hours of the morning. Thanks for sharing your tips with us!

So, what’s your story when it comes to choosing fabrics—do you have a trick for choosing just-right combinations? Share your thoughts in the comments and you could win a copy of the More Take 5 Quilts eBook! We’ll choose a winner one week from today and let you know by email if you’ve won. (You can also purchase Kathy’s book here, and if you do, you can download the eBook for free right away.) Good luck!

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Thanks to all who entered the drawing to win the More Take 5 Quilts eBook. The randomly chosen winner is Carol, who said:

“I am just starting quilting so am picking patterns I like and trying to build a usable stash to go with each pattern.  Just looked at my tiny stash and discovered that I have groups of 4 up to 8 either in yards or fat quarters as I look for colors that coordinate. I have learned that I fall in love with patterns and color in fabric just as I have done for years with yarn.”

Carol, we’ll email you a special coupon code for your free eBook. Congratulations!


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