Inspiration for the color palette of a new quilt project can come from a variety of sources. I recently gave color selection some thought after I heard a fellow quilter lament that she had a hard time selecting and coordinating fabrics for quilts and that she ended up just using a lot of bundles of coordinating fabric. And, you know what? There’s no shame in that game! But, I think one of the easiest, eye-pleasing sources of color inspiration is designed objects, like clothing, beauty products, and furniture—anything that has been thoughtfully designed. That is, a designer (or team of designers) have spent a lot of time thinking through and trying different colors for the object. These objects are anything and everything, like packaging, clothing, etc. They’re readily available—pretty much everything you purchase or use on a daily basis has been designed. The colors used for a quilt project don’t have to match the designed object exactly. The colors on the object are for inspiration, not for copying, so this isn’t a meticulous way to go about choosing colors. Once you start seeing the colors used on everyday objects, you’ll discover there are endless sources of eye-catching inspiration.
First, designed objects have been, well, designed. A lot of thought and study went behind choosing the best graphics, colors, and words for the item. A shampoo bottle, button-front shirt, cereal box and more have all been carefully designed. This includes the colors that were and were not included in the design. The designer spent countless hours finessing the colors before it ever got into your hands. Even if it is something as simple as a candy wrapper, the person who designed it knows their stuff. They’ve studied color before and every other facet of graphic design. I know becuase I have worked at a design agency and sat through many meetings where just the right color was selected. Trust me, they’ve put thought into every detail, especially the color. So, why not use an object that has been professionally designed as a source of color inspiration for your next quilt?
These objects are everywhere. If you’re a quilter, or a crafter/creator of any sort, you have a sense of style. Chances are, if you head to your closet, vanity, or even your pantry, you’ll find an item that you love simply for its design. I’ve bought boxes of tissues because I liked the pattern on the box! You don’t have to go to a specialty or high-end store to find things you love—head to the beauty aisle of your grocery store and you’re sure to find a tube of hand cream with colors that speak to your taste. But, be forewarned, just because someone spent time designing it, doesn’t mean it is “beautiful.” Sometimes designers take a specific approach not because it’s eye-pleasing, but because there’s already a brand of shampoo with a green bottle sold in stores. Or they have to put “VALUE PACK” in giant, bright red font smack dab in the middle. (I speak from past work experience here!) Choose your inspiration carefully.
Finally, the fabrics chosen for a quilt that are inspired by a designed object don’t have to match exactly. Inspiration is a starting point, not directions to be followed or the quilt will self-destruct. Plus, there’s no way to ever find the exact match of colors, even if you’re a fan of solids and love using those little bitty swatches to plan colors. But this is one of the joys of creating: the freedom to break the rules, follow your gut, and find joy in it all.
I recently made a set of four quilt blocks for my Dazzling Pineapple Patch Quilt using color inspiration from a designed object, specifically a nightshirt I recently purchased. I’m a function over form kind of gal when it comes to my nighttime attire. I found a Liz Claiborne night tee on clearance at JC Penny. I liked it first for the function: a loose, comfortable silhouette in a soft jersey knit. The pattern of the fabric was icing: a tropical print in navy blue and pink-salmon colors. I found this color combination to be surprising. I’ve never thought to pair navy blue and pink. But, a designer at Liz Claiborne thought to put them together! So, when I needed a second colorway for my pineapple quilt, I decided to use this nightshirt as inspiration and purchased fabric in similar colors. As you can see, the colors in my blocks don’t match the shirt exactly (I don’t think my iPhone capture the true colors of the shirt either). That’s okay. The quilt blocks have a similar eye-popping effect as the shirt.
Next time you’re stumped choosing colors for a quilt, use a designed object as inspiration. These objects are meticulously designed by a person who makes a living putting the principles of good design into practice. And, these objects are all around us! From home décor to the wrapper on a granola bar. Precision isn’t a requirement. Use the designed object as inspiration and feel the freedom of not having to use exact color matches. You just may find yourself using colors and combinations you’ve never thought to before!