Many years ago, Jinny Beyer suggested that quilters stop playing the match game, and instead pick colors that are a shade lighter or a shade darker than the one that exactly matches the theme fabric. She also trained her devotees to add a very dark, a very light, and a bright color to give the quilt more life and interest. She developed a color wheel of fabrics that RJR manufactured and was one of the first to promise quilters that we would have all of those colors all of the time, even though the prints might change. Her fabrics are tone-on-tone, which means they read as a single color. Many other manufacturers followed in her footsteps and now quilters have virtually all colors available all the time - most notable are KONA solids by Robert Kaufman. I keep a color card on the wall in my studio,which allows me to order any color I want on the internet, or to choose a color and get to the fabric store.
|Kona cotton color card
Color theory people train you to look at the color wheel and follow some design rules to get a pleasing combination. One of my favorite books is, "Color Play" by Joen Wolfrom . She has a second edition, which I don't yet have, but I'm sure that I would love to have it since I have used the first edition extensively to help pull a pile of fabrics for my quilts. My all time favorite combination is lime green and reddish purple. What a surprise, huh? Here is the color wheel I keep on my bulletin board. (Notice all the lime green doo-dads?)
Modern quilters expound a "go with your gut" approach, and encourage us to use all kinds of colors and materials, not just 100% cotton. But they generally stick with lots of white or gray with bright solid colors. Current popular fabrics are cotton, linen, silk, and shot cottons. In the Victorian days, silk and velvet were popular.
For my art quilts, I use the anything goes doctrine. I do pick a color theme that supports the overall feeling of the quilt. Then I like to pull fabrics of all types to be the base design. Adding unexpected materials like tulle, organza, recycled wool, and gobs of man-made and organic materials give my pieces my own personal spin. This list includes raw "wool" from llamas, goats, sheep, alpacas and bison. It also includes found feathers from birds and chickens, vintage trims, yarn, threads, and lichen. Piling this all of my table before I start really helps. Then I can cull as I go and see if there is anything else that I need. This is a picture of how I store my cotton fabrics by color, so that it's easy to pull fabrics.
Whatever type of quilter you are, I hope you can pick from some of the techniques I've learned over the years and give your pieces your own personal spin too!