Using Contrast to Add Depth to a Scrap Quilt

How to Add Depth to a Scrap Quilt Using Contrast     This month’s topic was going to be about color and contrast in scrap quilts, but yet again I underestimated the depth of the topic.  I made the quilt first, then started writing the article.  Once I got into the subject I realized that just writing about value and contrast would be more than enough for one essay.  Next month I will discuss color theory.

First let’s define a couple of terms. Value is how light or dark a fabric is.  This is not the same as the brightness of a fabric.  The value is how light the fabric is if you looked at it in black and white. This can sometimes be tricky for me. In the picture on the left below, I see the red as being brighter or the same brightness as the brown next to it.  As you can see in the next picture, the red (on the left) has a darker value than the brown (on the right). Light colors are considered high value, and darker fabrics are low value

value example from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"
Value Example. Red on the left and brown on the right.

Value example in black and white value example from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"
Value Example in Black and White. Red on the left and brown on the right.

Contrast is how much difference there is between the values.  If two fabrics have the same value, then there is no contrast, no matter how different the colors are.  The greatest contrast is between black and white fabric.

2 color quilt block from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast" 2 color block example from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast" 2 color block example 2 from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"

Most of the traditional 2 color blocks consist of a lighter color and a darker color, or a primary color paired with either white or black fabric.  Nearly all quilt patterns use value to create the design.  We don’t always think about this when creating a quilt.  But it is there.

low contrast log cabin from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"New York beauty block from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"applique example from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"

Multi-colored blocks also take advantage of contrast.  Even applique is generally sewn on either a very light or very dark neutral fabric.  That doesn’t mean that you have to have high contrast to have a beautiful quilt.  Low contrast quilts can be “calm” and very soothing.  The first block in the row above is from a baby quilt that I made for a friend.  Be aware though, low contrast is not the same as no contrast.

The sample below on the left has multiple colors but all of similar value.  On the right, 10 patches were changed.  5 were randomly replaced with light squares and 5 were replaced with dark squares.  There is nothing really wrong with the left-hand layout, but the right-hand image has more depth and visual interest.

value example 1 from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast" value example 2 from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"

I am not a doctor, but I have a hypothesis about why we find images with varied value (contrast) more interesting.  The backs of our eyes are filled with receptors called Rods and Cones.  The Rods are good in low light and see only in shades of gray.  The Cones are good in bright light and allow us to see color.  Even though we are predominantly using the Cones during the day, the Rods are still there and sending value signals to our brains.

Our brains have one more quirk which we can use to our advantage.  We are “pre-programmed” to look for patterns.  That is why we see a “man in the moon” or find faces in rock formations on Mars.  Because of this, we often find “organized” layouts more captivating than random ones.  The two images below are made with the same pieces of fabric.  The layout on the left is as random as I could make it (I put the squares in a box and shook it up and took them out one at a time without looking). It is fun and colorful, this is popular in “Postage Stamp Quilts”.  The design on the right takes advantage of the different values to create an entirely different image.  This technique is often used with floral fabrics in “Watercolor quilts”.

value example 3 from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"value example 4 from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"

I am not trying to say that one is right or wrong, or that one is better than the other.  It just depends on your own personal preferences.  Understanding these principles wmid value an white example from "Adding Depth to a Quilt Using Contrast"ill help you to create a quilt that achieves the exact effect you want.

In my quilt from the last article, all of the colored pieces were of medium light, medium, and medium dark value set against a white background.  This is what provided the contrast.  It is effectively a 2-color pattern.  The placement wasn’t truly random and I kept too many of any one color from sitting directly next to each other.  A completely random quilt (because of probability theory) will have some color and value groupings.  I am a little too OCD to allow for completely random placement.  I invariably end up moving one or two pieces and then I have to fight with myself to keep from moving all of them.

For this article, I wanted to use three different values of fabric.  I was considering variations of a “Triple Irish Chain” but didn’t like the large white space in between the chains.  I came across an interesting design in the book Miniatures in Minutes, by Terrie Sandelin.  Her version of this quilt is called Five Crosses.  Mine is obviously not a miniature quilt, I didn’t paper piece it, and I used a lot more than five fabrics.  Even though my quilt doesn’t look quite like the ones in the book, it shows that you can get ideas for quilts anywhere.  Don’t be limited to what the pattern says or what the artist did.  Expand and experiment, the changes you make to suit your style and tastes will make this your own work of art.

This quilt would look entirely different if I only used value to make the chain X with the dark fabrics and didn’t organize the colors.  I wanted to fade the colors from one shade into another as a way to create movement.  In order to give your eyes a place to rest,

How to Add Depth to a Scrap Quilt Using ContrastI made the “Five Crosses” into plus signs where the top, bottom, left and right squares are all the same fabric and the center is a similar color but darker value.  I made a few more of these plus signs and scattered them throughout the quilt.  See for example the orange plaid fabric in the upper right-hand corner and the blue wavy fabric in the bottom left of the quilt.  I wanted to use them to create a little fun/ small surprises for you to find when looking at the quilt. I sorted my scraps by value then picked out the colors I wanted from the piles.  Even though I had an Idea what I wanted, it took a while to get an arrangement I liked.  For more information about how I put the quilt together, go to my home page.

Next month, I will attack color theory for scrap quilts.  Wish me luck.

This month’s newsletter is about the ruler work and the free motion quilting I used on this project.  
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Here is the next article in the series, “Color Concepts for Scrap Quilts”

2 Replies to “Using Contrast to Add Depth to a Scrap Quilt”

  1. Hey very nice blog!! Man .. Beautiful .. Amazing .. I’ll bookmark your website and take the feeds alsoI am happy to find a lot of useful info here in the post, we need work out more techniques in this regard, thanks for sharing. . . . . . kefadfkddeggegec

    • Thanks so much. You should also sign up for my newsletter, I always include extra content for my readers. I am hoping to have my next post ready next week (“Color Concepts in Scrap Quilts”) and the newsletter will talk about “Painless Practice for Free Motion Quilting.”

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