How to find quilt values? Trust Ruby

Have you ever—quite by accident—made a “muddy” quilt? Ask most experienced quilters the question and you’ll likely find more than a few confessions. It’s typically the same story. I fell in love with the fabrics; I was crazy about the colors. But when it all came together, the result was…blah. It happens to all kinds of creatives: painters, photographers, and yes, quilters too. The problem? Typically, the muddies all point to a lack of variety when it comes to value.

One of the challenges of successfully using quilt values is to understand what the word value means. Indeed, many beginning quilters need a few tries before they truly “value” the concept of value! Although discerning value in color can sometimes be a struggle, the idea behind quilt values can easily be explained visually:

quilt values
Quilt values. Can you determine which are light, medium-light, medium, medium-dark, and dark?

Merriam-Webster defines value as “the relative lightness or darkness of a color.” For quilters, it’s the contrast in quilt value that’s key to creating a sharp, clear design—the opposite of muddy. And believe it or not, the best way to find contrast is to take the colors out of fabrics. Once the colors are gone, only fabric values remain.

There are all kinds of homegrown methods for temporarily “removing” colors from fabrics. Looking at quilts through doorway peepholes, peeking at blocks from the wrong end of binoculars, seeing values through a reflection in a window, dimming the lights, and good-old fashioned squinting are just a few ways in which quilters have gotten creative so they can see values. But two savvy quilters invented an even easier way to make the colors go away—the Ruby Beholder tool.

Ruby Beholder tool
The Ruby Beholder by Pat Magaret and Donna Slusser

Watercolor Quilts and Watercolor ImpressionsFunny story about the Ruby Beholder—it wasn’t meant to be a crossover tool. It was initially created as a handy, one-use tool to accompany two books, Watercolor Quilts and Watercolor Impressions (back in the early 1990s, these bestselling books were reprinted 25 times combined!). Authors Pat Magaret and Donna Slusser designed a simple, transparent rectangle in ruby red. Why red? Because when you look at fabrics through rose-colored glasses, as it were, you see only values—the fabric colors magically disappear.

Flash forward to the 2010s. Painters, photographers, and of course quilters swear by the Ruby Beholder to help them determine values. Recently, director of sales and marketing, Karen, and marketing graphic designer, Sarah, created a quick video demonstrating how the Ruby Beholder tool works. Take a look:

Watch the video “The Ruby Beholder Tool: Easily Find Value in Colors

See how you can easily sort fabrics for a project using the Ruby Beholder tool to get just the right contrast between fabrics before you sew? No more muddy quilts!

Ruby Beholder tool

The tool also doubles as a handy template. See the tool’s cut-out square above, on the left? The square helps you select and isolate special motifs or colors. You can use the cutout end to mark and cut squares for quilt designs that feature small novelty prints, fussy-cut motifs, and more.

Ruby Beholder tool

Bye-bye, muddies!

How do you determine values when you make your quilts—or are you just learning about the value of value? Tell us your story in the comments!

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