Thursday, December 21, 2023

Color Value Woes Part 1

A couple of months ago, I happily cut into fabrics for a new quilt.  I wanted to stretch a bit and use a background that wasn't very light or very dark.  I don't have a picture of the yardage, but there's the fabric all cut out.

I love the red, orange and yellow together, and that background is rich but not too dark or light.  Looks good so far.

Next there was sewing and trimming.  So much trimming.  I think the trimming monster looks pretty good in these colors. 

Trimming monster

 The units look pretty good too.

Once all those geese were sewn and trimmed, the pace increased and blocks came together quickly.

Things were looking good and I was excited to sew blocks into a quilt top.

This is where I started to worry.  Something is not quite right here, but I thought adding the sashing might pull it all together.

Nope.  The shapes in the yellow blocks seem to fade into the background.  This fascinates me, because the yellow seemed strong enough when looking at individual blocks.  Let's see that again:

That looks sharp enough, but put them beside the much stronger red and orange blocks, and they look weak and ineffective.

It all comes down to color value.  Color value refers to relative lightness or darkness.  If you look at fabrics through a red filter, or apply a black and white filter to an image, you'll see the color value rather than the color.  Here's the first photo in this blog post with a grayscale filter applied.

When viewed in black and white, there isn't much difference between the background and the yellow (top left square).

Here's the design wall in grayscale.  

You can make out the shapes of the yellow fabric, but they are much, much lighter than the red or orange, which makes them fade into the background by comparison.

In color, you can see the yellow, but because it isn't as strong as the red and orange the design looks unbalanced.

This was meant to be the pattern cover quilt, but I don't think it's going to help sell the design!  I'll need to pick out different fabrics for a cover quilt.  This one is headed to the UFO stack until I decide whether to finish it as is (it will still be cozy on the couch) or try to find an alternate fabric to substitute for the yellow.

Have you ever viewed your fabrics in grayscale before making your final selection?  I knew about this, but never bothered with it.  This project and Color Value Woes Part 2, which I'll share in another post, are encouraging me to add that little step to my fabric shopping.  Cell phone cameras make it easy now, so I won't be skipping this step again!

I'm off to sew now, using fabrics that do not blend into each other!

Happy quilting,


  1. Wow, I would not have expected the yellow and beige to be so closely matched.

    LOVE grayscale. Use it all the time on my camera/phone. I have even used it while shopping for specific colors to "fix" a quilt (I get weird looks). It's amazing how much the color value affects the quilt, even when using very different colors.

  2. I've learned the hard way to use grayscale. I do admit that I still blow it from time to time. I used to use red and green glasses but my cell camera is much better. Good luck with your quilt. ~Jeanne

  3. I've used grayscale photos to audition yarns for knitting but hadn't thought to also use it when picking fabrics for quilting....duh! Love that pattern!

  4. Hi Joanne, that is a really great lesson in colour value. It's happened to me a few times. In my art quilt, it's easy to just add a little something to make things pop, but in traditional quilts, not so much. Thanks for sharing. I hope that you have a great Christmas!

  5. I've been following along, but can't always comment. Interesting post & i'll try and keep some of that in mind when I struggle with colours. Seasons greetings, take care & hugs.

  6. This was an interesting read, Joanne. I haven't used a B &W filter before but I see now how very helpful it can be! Hope you've found some suitable fabric for the cover quilt. Season's Greetings!

  7. I often forget to view in grayscale. Good luck with figuring it out.

  8. I’ve done something similar. It’s annoying but can be rectified if you find the right fabric.


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