Choosing colors for a quilt: 5 scrappy, happy ideas 💡

Scrappy half-square trianglesWhen it comes to choosing colors for a quilt—particularly a scrappy quilt—the task can feel a bit like flying by the seat of your patchwork pants! But believe it or not, choosing colors for a quilt that’s scrappy can be the best part of making one.

How does three-time Martingale author Kate Henderson choose her scrap-quilt colors? In her book Scrappy & Happy Quilts, she starts simple by using only two or three colors. Within those few colors, she goes wild with shades and prints. Why? Because fewer colors = less stress = more fun! And if you already sort your stash by color, making one of Kate’s pretty and pretty-quick quilts is easier than ever.

From Scrappy & Happy Quilts
Scrappy & Happy Quilts

Today we’re sharing an excerpt about color from Kate’s latest book—because you can never have enough color confidence! Do you use any of the color tricks Kate uses? Read on to find out.


Excerpted from Scrappy & Happy Quilts by Kate Henderson

One of the best parts of quiltmaking is choosing fabrics. I love to spend an hour or two playing around with fabric, making piles of different color and print combinations. I’m no expert on color, but I know what I like and I’m not afraid to experiment with different combinations. Below you’ll find some of my ways of choosing quilt fabrics, but ultimately it’s up to you. If you like the fabrics and colors you’ve chosen, then they’re perfect!

Background Fabrics

The background fabric you choose can dramatically change the look of your quilt. Solids, especially white or cream, are always a go-to option for me. I use a lot of bright colors, and a white background makes them pop. A really dark gray or navy can do the same thing.

If you want something a little different for your background, low-volume fabrics are a good option. Low-volume fabrics read as light fabrics but at the same time have a secondary pattern or design. A low-volume fabric could be white, cream, or pale gray.

Low-volume fabrics
From a distance, low-volume fabrics often read as solid, but up close they’re more interesting than a solid.

Mountain Hiking quilt
Mountain Hiking uses low-volume fabrics as a background—the quilt gets more and more interesting as you zoom in!

Solid fabricsSolid Fabrics

The majority of my stash is made up of prints, but my collection of solids is increasing. Most manufacturers have a range of solids that coordinate with their prints, and solids come in every color you could wish for. Solids mix perfectly with prints in a scrappy quilt, and they can also work as the main feature in a quilt.

Fields of Green quilt
Fields of Green relies on a variety of large-sized scraps in solid shades and prints.

Color wheelColor schemes

Color schemes are logical combinations of colors on a color wheel. A color wheel is a helpful tool for determining color combinations that will work well together. A basic color scheme uses two colors that look appealing when paired.

  • Monotone

For a monotone color scheme, choose one color you like and add different shades and tints of that color. Add solids and prints that are darker and lighter. Then add brighter and more muted fabrics. The prints can be composed of many colors; they just need to read as your chosen color from a distance.

Monotone fabrics
If choosing colors and playing with different combinations fills you with dread, start by focusing on a monotone color scheme.

  • Analogous

Analogous colors are next to each other on the color wheel. For an analogous color scheme, first select fabrics of a single color. Then add two more colors, the ones that—on the color wheel—lie on either side of the first.

Analogous fabrics
Because the colors blend together, quilts with analogous color schemes have a calming effect.

  • Complementary

Complementary colors are opposite each other on the color wheel—for example, red and green, purple and yellow, or blue and orange. They are happy and bright combinations that will cheer you up even in the depths of winter. I’m a big fan of lots of color, so I love these combinations. But if you find them a bit jarring, consider a pastel version, such as a pairing of pale pinks and greens. Or use one color as the main color and add small amounts of its complementary color, as I did in Between the Lines:

Between the Lines quilt
Between the Lines

The main color of the quilt is orange, and I included pops of blue to add interest.

Complementary fabrics
Choosing mint rather than a vibrant green calms down this complementary pairing.

The first half of Scrappy & Happy Quilts features quilts with just two colors, and the second half has quilts that are three colors. Of course you can choose your favorite color and get sewing, but don’t forget to experiment with colors you don’t normally use, and also combine the unexpected to make each quilt your own. Happy quilting!

Here’s Kate in action, talking through her approach to choosing colors for a quilt:

Reading this post in email? Click here to view the video online [link].

Sticking to just two or three colors for a scrap quilt is a surefire way to use up your scraps and create a beautiful scrappy quilt quickly. Take a look at a few of the fun quilts Kate’s designed for your scraps in Scrappy & Happy Quilts!

For collectors of every rosy shade of pink:

Pink Daisy quilt
Pink Daisy

Do yellow scraps shine in your stash?

Happy Stars quilt
Happy Stars

Or maybe it’s scrappy blue that inspires you:

Day at the Beach quilt
Day at the Beach

Scrappy & Happy QuiltsWhatever your signature color, Kate will lead you on your next scrappy journey with her super-fast, super-fun, super-scrappy quilts! See more from Scrappy & Happy Quilts here.

How do you typically go about choosing colors for a quilt that’s scrappy?

  • I stick to two- or three-color quilts, just like Kate.
  • I get an assist from the color wheel—it helps narrow down my choices.
  • I pick up a scrap, pick up another, sew them together, and I’m on my way!

Tell us your scrap-color tips in the comments!

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