Sunday, February 11, 2018

How to Create Quilts with Drama

High Contrast Creates Drama

I have quilter friends who never want their quilts to be the center of attention. They carefully choose a few colors to blend well, and avoid large prints at all costs. Their quilts are calming, and quite beautiful. They look at some of my work, and all they can say is, "I would never do that." Folks, let's not tell them I have happily painted whole rooms both Tupelo green and bubble gum pink. I think you either love dramatic design or it scares the britches off you. 

Design elements can be manipulated to create a little or a lot of drama. The quilt above is maybe a little over-the-top even in my own opinion, and best viewed from afar, but I truly love it. It's a keeper. It was an experiment in using a stack of difficult to use fabrics I wanted out of my stash, and seeing if I could make them all work in one quilt. I would never say it's calming or soothing, but instead strong and graphic because of the contrast. 

So how do you create contrast?

Start to read with these two short posts below.

Now look closer...

...and closer yet. They're not hideous prints, but what I would term difficult to use with anything else. If you break down each block, and look at only the one pair of prints at a time, you'll see some element I considered. Often within the sets I used opposites on the color wheel. Orange with blue, pale pink with olive green, etc. Sometimes they complemented each other with a similar color.

Squint a bit at the above fabrics, and see what value differences there are. The blue within the blue and yellow block (above left) would be light in most other blocks, but here the yellow nearly glows. The pale blue is the darker of the two. The regular, elongated dot in the yellow also contrasts well with the loose, floral hydrangeas in the blue.

My favorite pair of fabrics is the large hunter green check with pink print. The check is very regular, and we are unable to see any repeat in the pink at all so it appears very random. 

The green and purple combo is beyond words, but they are both irregular medium sized graphics. And so on. Contrast can be hard to explain, but it adds a lot of interest, and visual staying power. You want to keep looking at it, but you may not know why. While something in the pairings can feel very opposite, you can usually find some similarity. 

If you are looking to add some zing or interest to your next project, consider intentional contrast. Think about opposites in the color wheel, size of print, shape, size, hue, value, and even spacing. You don't have to go overboard like I did here, but it was a fun quilt to make.

And if you are looking for a game to help you learn, try the free Daily SET Puzzle. It has a little learning curve, but is good to keep your brain warmed up. SET is also available in cards, and this family is highly competitive and loud when playing. 

You may want to take a few minutes to rest your eyes now, but I still love this quilt! Hope your day is the best!

Come on, Doxie girls.


  1. I love having good contrast and vivid colors in a quilt -just as in art work. I know that judges for both quilt shows and art shows look for value contrasts when awarding points. I don't enter shows, but what judges look for are things that make it visually appealing, so it is good to still know and use that information.

    I love this quilt-probably because of the strong graphic elements in it.

  2. I love the quilt....and I like your explanation of why it works. This post will inspire me in the future, thanks :)

  3. That's a whale of a quilt! (Couldn't resist that comment after seeing those tiny whales mixed in with all the other prints - fun, fun!) Very interesting to read about your process in selecting and placing the colors/prints.

  4. It's a very interesting post Julie. I love the quilt (at least from afar!) . but I wold never put so many crazy fabrics together ....but maybe smaller doses would suit me, maybe crazy combinations but not so many of them. Still it works so well in this keep doing it.

  5. I am amazed at the difference between close up and far away with this quilt (which I love by the way) yes, the fabrics are ugly by themselves and maybe even close up but together - oh my!

    Teamwork makes the Dreamwork and your fabric are a team!

  6. I really dig this one as a wall quilt. I love how it's a bit jarring up close, yet from a distance there's a grand plan that makes it all fit together. Isn't that like LIFE, really?

  7. An amazing quilt from afar, and the best part is these kind of fabrics are always available in the clearance section of my LQS or favorite online ordering sites!

  8. The layout really shines from a distance, with a fascinating look at the fabrics used when viewed up close - it's wonderful!

  9. This is such an intriguing quilt. Love the story behind it and how you deliberately chose to play with difficult fabrics. The colors and values hold the place and so the pattern falls into the background, albeit in a noisy, busy sort of way. I have been trying for years now to get out of my blendy, blendy rut and learn to take bigger, riskier chances with pattern. Have made a bit of progress that I'm quite proud of, but it probably isn't obvious to others. lol And yes, when I'm at a low ebb creatively, I fall into the default mode of blending. Kudos to you for making such a fascinating quilt!

  10. The organizational wonk in me, the wonk who loves to see chaos that's beautiful, just *must* ask: Did you purposely place the black and green block (right column, third one down) at a 90 degree angle to what we might expect? I'm wondering about your thought process. Love the quilt!

    1. And this is why a second set of eyes is better than just one! That can be fixed, and will. With all these wild fabrics, I missed it at the machine. Thank you, thank you, Wenda!

  11. Thanks for this post -- I have plans to make a quilt with all "Mod" fabrics and was wondering how to approach picking pairs of fabrics. I think your choice of block also helped the fabrics "work" together: it is a block design with a "busy energy" to it and that is heightened by the equally busy fabric combos. For me, that helps it read, "I meant to do that!" as opposed to "I just worked with what I had". Nothing wrong with a quilt that challenges us!

  12. Julie, I appreciate how you always help your readers really think!

  13. When I first read this title, I thought you were talking about my house. Me creating quilts in the midst of my household drama :P I am going to check out this SET puzzle/game, you have peaked my interest. I love this quilt! I love learning/reading about your design processes. You always make me stop and think in a good way. This one is very visually stimulating and when you started breaking down why you paired things together, I'm going yes yes yes!

  14. Strong and graphic....I love that description and your quilt! Yes! I would love to be strong and graphic! I use contrast with white/beige. This year I'm enjoying experimenting with value as I learn to make Tumbling Block Quilts. Thank you for sharing!

  15. Ummm, are you sure there aren't any hideous prints in there? LOL You are so right! Some of it is beyond words, There certainly is a lot of interest, AND zing! It works, though!

  16. I really loved the bold, graphic look of this quilt when I first glanced at the picture. As you broke down the different prints and colors, I was really in awe of how they work together. As always, I appreciate so much that you share the process with us. I learn so much from you, and I can't wait to try some prints together that don't really play well with others.

  17. Fascinating! Both your explanation, and looking at the pairings. It reminds me of a class I took many years ago: "No such thing as ugly fabric." I think we learned the principles you put forth, but I had forgotten them. What fun!


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