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Selecting a Fabric Color Palette

Triad Color WheelMiranda Bag

Here’s how I selected the color palette and fabrics for the Miranda bag. I find many quilters who are either intimidated by the color wheel or who understand the theory behind it but not how to apply it to their quilts. A real-life example should help.

I knew I wanted to use the yellow French provencal fabric, and I also knew I needed some contrast between the bag cover, bottom, and lining. But I didn’t want the contrast to be so overwhelming that it was the focus. The focus of the color scheme needed to be the French fabric, and I wanted nothing to detract from it.

So I chose yellow, blue, and red, a Triad color harmony which includes three colors evenly spaced around the color wheel. It’s a medium contrast palette, so I knew it would fit perfectly for Miranda.

While yellow, red, and blue are the hues, I needed to test fabrics for their values and intensities as well. The French fabric was a dull hue, so I wanted the other two fabrics to be dull as well so as not to overwhelm the cover.

Here are the candidates:

Fabric Palette #1

Red’s intensity is too bright. Blue’s value is right but the flowers are distracting.

Fabric Palette #2

Red’s value is good, but the intensity of an all red fabric may be too overwhelming. I need to try fabrics that have red in them but aren’t solid red. Blue fabric is perfect: value is medium, intensity is dull, and the style is in keeping with the provencal feel of the yellow fabric.

Fabric Palette #3

Same red fabric, but the blue fabric’s value is entirely too light. Next!

Fabric Palette #4
This is it! The red fabric is a print with the same style as the yellow and blue, the value is medium, and the intensity is dull. This is the final palette I chose and it turned out beautifully. I’m pleased with how the bag looks and how functional it is.

Remember this example next time you are ready to select a color palette for your next quilt.  I knew my focus (the cover fabric), selected my color harmony (triad) to fit the purpose, and they worked together to create a successful color scheme.


  1. Judy Booker says:

    Thank you for this article. I have always been interested in color as I like to paint. The colorwheel is exactly what should be used in chosing colors for projects. Although I never thought of putting one together in the way that you did.

    Keep up the good work….

  2. mariapeagler says:

    Thanks for visiting Judy and glad you found the article helpful. I always enjoy seeing how other people work, so I thought I’d offer my experience in how I coordinated the color palette.

  3. Hi Maria says:

    Thanks for the article. This is what I have been looking for Color Mastery and selecting a Fabric Color Palette.
    I’m new to quilting my problem is picking the correct colors, for my quilts.
    My question: Is is there a formula on how much of one color to use in a Quilt?

  4. mariapeagler says:

    Hi Anita –

    Great question! There is a guideline painters use when deciding how much of each color to use, and it’s called the Three Bears Rule of Color. Summarizing here, you use the largest amount of your main color (it’s Poppa Bear), and an increasingly smaller amount of each successive color (Mama Bear and Baby Bear). This is one of the six artist’s secrets I reveal in Color Mastery: secrets painters use but most quilters aren’t aware of. I use this rule often and it works great!

  5. [...] first chose  border fabric that she liked, then built a palette of fabric and colours [...]

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