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The Elements of Art (in Quilting!) Part II: Color

 This week's Element is a familiar one...Color!  But in our Color Theory series we talked abut the kinds of color, and color choice considerations, but it's more than that.  

Where you choose to place your colors can make a word of difference.  Sometimes, finding a 100% exact color match in a print you're working with is far easier said than done...especially if it's an unusual or older palette.  If you find a "close enough" match, sometimes placing it some distance away from the focus is all it takes to trick the eye into seeing a match overall (even if it's not perfect).

Color is also a good tool to accomplish some of the other elements and principles.  Want to move the eye around? Throw in some yellow.  Want to evoke feelings of calmness and tranquility?  Focus on cooler colors.  Do you want to draw attention to a certain feature?  Use a complementary color to make that feature pop.  

Here are some beautiful examples of using color with purpose:

What's your favorite way to use color?  Add your comment below!


Backing Day is Wednesday, June 30th!

Here's a reminder from your friendly neighborhood Cotton Patch that Backing Day is this Wednesday, June 30th! 

If you're new here and don't know what Backing Day is...

Bring in your finished quilt tops (100% complete, no more borders to add, done) on the last day of the month and receive 25% off your backing of choice, even Clearance!

The usual rules apply:

  • If the last day of the month falls on a Sunday when we're closed, then Backing Day is the day before (Saturday). 
  • Discount valid on single-fabric backings only.  Sorry, this is not valid on several cuts of different fabrics for a pieced backing.  
  • Sale prices not combinable with any other offer (this includes deals from Five Stars, redeeming points, and coupons)
  • Sale prices good in-store only on the sale day and limited to stock on-hand. 
We can't wait to see what you've created - see you on the 30th!


Quilt Backing Pro-Tips

Backing Day is two weeks away, so here's a great opportunity to go over some tips and tricks to getting the backing you need, whether it's Backing Day or not!

Calculating your Backing Needs
1. Measure

Your width is labeled as Y, your length as Z.  For the sake of example, let's say this quilt measures 55" x 70"

2. Add for the Quilter
If you are taking your quilt out to be quilted by a professional longarmer, you need to add extra all the way around so the quilt can attach to their machine - ask your quilter how much they prefer.  For the sake of example, let's say the quilter needs 4" all the way around.  Add 8" to the length and width - that makes the quilt in Step 1 now 63" x 78"

3. Do the Math
Do the math for both types of backing fabric - regular width and wide width. When you go shopping for your backing it'll help you estimate cost and guide your decision. 

For regular width (~44") fabric, determine if there's a side of the quilt that will fit into (1) width - if it does, great!  Hold on a sec and we'll get back to it.  

In our case, neither 63" nor 78" fit into 44".  So that means we have to piece the backing.  This gives us a double width of 88". Now, both 63" and 78" fit into 88"!  It's most cost effective to fit the larger side of the quilt into the double width if it will fit.  In our case, it does. 

 Now, we just need to know how much to get - to do this we divide the remaining length by 36" (one yard) and multiply it by 2 since we need the two widths.  So 63/36 = 1.75.  1.75 x 2 = 3.5 yards.  

If we choose to go with wide width, we need only 1.75 yards (enough for the width). How easy was that?

Choosing your Backing Fabric
Now that you have your backing requirements in your hot little hands, it's time to choose the fabric. Color choice and pattern choice are up to you - there's no Quilt Police, so pick what you like! But here are a couple considerations:  

Regular Width Backing

  • A wide variety of color and pattern to match your quilt
  • High quality pieces available
  • Regular price and Clearance priced options widely available 
  • Cost effective for full sized quilts and smaller - cheaper per yard than wide width


  • Unless your heart is set on a piece this is not cost effective for large quilts as you may need more than two selvedge to selvedge widths to account for even the shortest side
  • Can produce a lot of waste
  • If your quilt is large you will have a seam running down the back of your quilt
  • Piecing your backing can be an inconvenience or cumbersome for some people to manage for reasons of space or physical ability
  • If you choose a directional print, more yardage is required than usual depending on how you want the pattern to run

Wide Width Backing

  • Less yardage is required because of the larger selvedge to selvedge measurement
  • Most cost efficient option for large quilts
  • Blender style color schemes complement quilts nicely
  • No need to piece backing
  • Are not available everywhere
  • Limited range of colors
  • Lower quality greigh goods than regular width are used so they tend to be rougher
  • Notably more expensive than regular width
  • If used on a non-queen/king quilt, there is a very significant amount of waste
  • Seldom found on Clearance

You also may want a different fiber other than cotton, which is what I have been talking about. The math and measuring is all the same, but consider your function:

  • Summer quilts tend to do better with cotton backings
  • Winter quilts tend to be more suited towards flannel. 
  • Kids like soft things so flannel or minkee are great for those quilts, but maybe not so much for an heirloom quilt. 
  • Ask your quilter before using Minkee, because it stretches and sheds they may decline to quilt your quilt with that backing. 
  • If it needs to be durable and long lasting, first and second run fabrics like those found at Walmart and JoAnn's aren't your best bet.

Everyone has their own way of doing things, so you may find a figuring methodology that works for you better than this, but I hope that helped clear up some of the backing problems and make the math easier, for beginners and experienced quilters alike!

Don't forget to stop by and see us with your finished quilt tops on the last day of the month!  We love to see what you've created, and you get a little something off your backing. See you Wednesday!


The Elements of Art (in Quilting!) Part I: Space

So over the last several weeks, we've talked about the different basic aspects of Color Theory.  Hopefully you've found something helpful, but we're not done yet! 

Let's not forget, quilting is art.  And the Elements and Principles of Art apply to quilting just as with any other medium.  So buckle up, we're taking another journey into the Elements of Art! First up? Space!

Space is exactly what it sounds like - it is the area earmarked for a purpose. It includes foreground, middle ground and background of a composition.  

In quilting it is mainly observed as the areas in between the focus components of a pattern or in the pattern of the fabric. This is where your eye comes to rest from the other colors and patterns. Positive space constitutes the focus pieces, and negative spaces contain the "nothingness," the spaces aside from any focus component. It can be a powerful tool to play the other elements up or down as you need to.  

One of the styles were space is really used to effect is in modern quilting, especially in the more arty quilts.  Space can create secondary designs, allow the primary design to flow, show off a special print you couldn't bear to cut, or give you a place to really show off intricate quilting.  Quilts with lots of negative space tend to stay on the side of minimalism, and have a more calm, sterile look then something with less space.  Here are a few good examples:

Alternatively, sometimes space is severely restricted from a quilt to give a totally different look.  This is frequently seen in scrappy style quilts where the busy-ness and lack of negative space is what makes the quilt shine!  Quilts with less negative space tend to be on one side of the spectrum or the other - low volume and blendy, or dynamic and full of energy - regardless of the color palette.  Here's a couple good examples:

Which look do you prefer - more, or less space? Share in the comments below!


Happy Anniversary!

This weekend is the anniversary of this iteration of The Cotton Patch! 

The Cotton Patch has been around a long time - just about 20 years in all.  For those that don't know, The Cotton Patch was started by former owner Judith Locke, although I'm unsure what the year was!  I remember mom going there when I was in middle school, so maybe the late 90s?  I know someone can hop in the comments section and set me right!  But mom worked for Judith for a few years already, when in 2009 she asked mom to buy the store.  Mom thought she was joking, but...

-- 12 years later -- we are!  The last 12 years have gone by awesomely fast, it's like we blinked our eyes and the decade was gone!  We are so happy and grateful to have spent the last 12 years doing what we love and having the privilege to meet so many wonderful people along the way.  It has been Diane's dream come true to be a shop owner, and she revels in the fact she can be in the shop talking, laughing, and creating with so many fun, talented people.

First, we want to thank you - yes, YOU specifically.  If it weren't for you - everyone who comes in, shops online, reads our newsletters and blogs, stops by our show booths, and follows us on Facebook - we wouldn't be here now.  Thank you from the bottom of our hearts to everyone who has stuck with us through the years and become our friends and to everyone who is just visiting for the first time.  We are blessed to have you here and for the friendhsip and community you have given us.  

We also want to recognize the people who make the shop what it is at the counter and behind the scenes.  
  • Carol is such a talented quilter and appliquer. Her opinion is counted on a lot (when she says, "oh yuck"). She has saved our backside many times too!
  • Rosie keeps everything from our kits to block of the months and pre-cuts looking nice. She is so kind about it and says "That's ok I will help you Diane." We appreciate all she does for us and her laughter. She has a great sense of color too!
  • Donna keeps Diane on her toes and laughing too. She knows all too well that Diane's folding abilities leave something to be desired (we kid - kinda). She is in charge of taking the Linus Quilts to Portland. Her wit is something we all look forward to. She is a fantastic foundation piecer and teacher.
  • KJ does our sign language interpretation for block of the month. We are delighted to have her so we can be more inclusive to all our quilters. KJ also is growing so much as a quilter and it has been fun to see her develop and get her style.
  • Sharon has wonderful ideas and helps so much with making samples. Not only does she do that she has been at the counter helping customers. She is another extrememly talent seamstress.
  • Ardith retired earlier, but she and Diane had lots of fun working together and we've never known anyone that loves to sew like she does. She always has great ideas and creative ways.
  • Lily is our newest member of The Cotton Patch family. She works the counter and does samples. She is a lovely person and we've never seen anyone catch on so fast. It's awesome and we're happy she's here with us.

For those that don't know, we're a family-owned shop, so family keeps this barge afloat too.
  • Diane of course owns the shop and it's her vision that's made the shop what it is now. She is a lifelong sewist and draws on that experience to make the shop so well rounded. There wouldn't be a Cotton Patch without her!
  • Mychal is Diane's son who handles a lot of the instrumental behind the scenes things that keeps us moving like the store website, computer orders, and the banking. He also works at the counter too (and knows his stuff!)
  • John is Diane's "son-in-law" and when he is not working as a Park Ranger and fire fighter (the guy is going to have a busy summer), does our social media, videos and advertisments. He is really good and does such a professional job!
  • Lauren is Diane's daughter, and she does so much from samples, proofing my patterns, fabric ordering, working behind the counter, and curating the blog (she tries not to break the fourth wall but can't help it - hi!). She helps with the day to day decisions too.
  • Lee is Diane's husband of 35 years and knows my sewing madness. He has seen it since the beginning and I am so thankful that when I came home from work 13 years ago he said if you want to, go for it. He also helps in shop helping at counter or hanging quilts.

We are so excited for what the years to come bring - we're not slowing down any time soon.  And, if I were you, I'd keep an eye to the Facebook page and your Newsletter :-) 


Color Theory, the Series! Part VII: Making Color Work for You

Choosing color for your quilt doesn't have to be a scary or overwhelming experience.  Over the last six editions of this series you've learned the basics of Color Theory and have some good foundational tools in your "Color Choice Toolbelt." Thankfully, fabrics are pretty easy to audition and swap in and out as you want to!  

A good rule of thumb is to start with a focus fabric that will be prevalent in your quilt, from which you can choose accompanying colors. Sometimes it's obvious which colors you want to put with your piece...but sometimes? Not. So. Much. 

Look, I'm not the Queen of the World (yet...) so I can't tell you how to manage your quilt making process but I can offer some things to consider.  These are some broad brushstrokes, so keep in mind there are always going to be exceptions, but these are some good places to start:

  • What kind of fibers will you be working with - cotton, batiks, flannel, wool, silk, wovens, etc? This is important to consider since some fibers absorb dye differently. Batiks and cottons tend to be more saturated with dye, and so they run the gamut from pastel to bright to dark with ease. Flannels can be bright, but more often than not you'll find darker, more muted colors or very soft pastel colors. Wool comes in all colors, but darker and brighter colors are more prevalent. Wovens tend to be more neutral and tonal. 
  • What do you want to achieve with your quilt? That will help determine your color selection. If you are looking to make a comfort quilt, you might shy away from the brighter, more intense colors and opt for something softer and more soothing. If you are looking to do something more contemporary, you might look more into the brights and tonals. If reproduction is your thing, you might seek out more shades and tones. Pastels are more suited for shabby chic, spring and baby quilts, so you might consider pastels for something like that. 
  • THERE IS NO HARD AND FAST RULE AS TO WHAT IS THE "RIGHT" COLOR FOR THE JOB. I cannot emphasize that enough! I follow a lot of quilt groups online and there are a whole lot of opinions about what the right and wrong color and style choices are, so mine is just one more opinion in the sea of opinions...but there are no Quilt Police that will haul you away for doing a baby quilt in tonals, a reproduction in pastels or a traditional quilt in brights. Consider who you're making it for, and what they like and what purpose it will serve. Everyone has a different eye and likes different things so COLOR CHOICE IS SUBJECTIVE. Color Theory helps you get to the place you want to go with your color choices.  

As we talked about early in the series, colors evoke certain feelings and ideas. Google search "color meanings" and you'll find all kinds of things!

Note, we at The Cotton Patch are not psychologists...and not totally sure this is actual psychology.  But, you get the idea.  Colors evoke feelings and meaning universally (though the meanings may vary by time period and by get the point.)

Here's a high level breakdown of colors and the effects they achieve on their own. When you combine them in certain ways, they bounce off each other differently:
  • Red: An active color, red will pop out from darker, cooler colors. It has warm intensity.
  • Orange: Also an active color, it pops from darker, cooler colors as well. It is bright and gives quilts an energetic feel.  In its shades, rust lends a quilt a lot of warm richness. 
  • Yellow: An active and intense color that will pop against any other, even warm colors. It is warm, crisp, and vibrant. The eye cannot focus on yellow for very long, so placing pops of yellow in a quilt forces the eye to move around the piece. It also gives quilts a cheerful and sunny feel.
  • Green: This is generally a more passive color that retreats when placed with warmer colors, but if the hue/tint is bright enough, it can pop depending on what it is placed with. Green helps give quilts a fresh, clean, and calm ambiance.
  • Blue: Unless it is a very bright blue paired with other cool colors, blue is a passive color that retreats in the background. It will give your quilt a tranquil feel no matter the shade, and in the tonals it grounds the piece. Blue can be vibrant and energetic, but overall it is a calming influence.
  • Purple: As with green, the intensity and brightness of purple can change whether it pops or retreats. Generally though, it retreats and gives the quilt a fresh, feminine, or rich and regal feel. 
  • Neutrals: I'm going to go ahead an use this umbrella term for browns, grays, beiges, taupes, tans, creams and everything in between. Neutrals tend to recede because they are mostly paired with a more dominant color.  They give quilts a calm, earthy, simple beauty and a place for the eye to rest.
  • White: White quickly dominates a quilt, and can overpower the colors it's paired with. Colors appear less bright with white with them, but also appear fresher and clearer than with black, as seen below:
split-complementary scheme
  • Black: As seen above, black makes other colors, including white, pop. Because of its darkness, it dominates a quilt visually while still letting other fabrics be the stars.  Depending on what you choose to use as a background, the color you use on top of it may look different because of how the two colors play together based on where they are located on the color wheel. For example:
A few other Color Theory Pro Tips:
  • Color is important, but value is even moreso. You can have all of the range of color in the world but still have a flat quilt if it's all the same tint/tone/shade. Quilts need light, medium and dark fabrics to create depth. that doesn't mean every quilt needs black and white, but in whatever colors you choose, having both ends of the spectrum as well as the mid tone helps create richness, depth and that "Pop Factor" that quilters love.
  • Cooler, darker colors tend to recede when places with brighter, warmer colors. If you want a portion of your block to pop, consider using the brighter complement as the focus of that block.
  • Monochromatic (using the hue, tints, tones and shades of one color only) quilts are nothing to sneeze at. While only using one color, the value is what makes the quilt so visually impactful.
  • Proportion of color and value is what gives your quilt its life - The dominant color is both the color you use the most of, or what your eye is drawn to quickest. Your sub-dominant colors are the colors that take up less area than the dominant color, but play well with the dominant. The accent is the color that takes up the least space, but contrasts the most with the sub-dominant and dominant color(s). Dividing your color choices into those groups can help organize and guide the direction of your quilt. Without stating it outright, most quilt patterns do this for you on the required yardage page
  • Super stuck?  This Palette Picker is a great help to illustrate how your colors will interact if you're having a hard time visualizing. It's come in handy for me more than once!
Do you have some of your own helpful tricks and tips to making color work for you? Add them in the comments below!