Colour Schemes for Quilts and Textiles

To work well the colours chosen for a quilt need to harmonise with each other, but they also need to complement the room setting in which they will be used. A black and white quilt with a splash of bright colour would look good in a modern setting but would stand out like a sore thumb in a traditional room with a lot of softer/tertiary colours. Equally a quilt with soft pinks and blues with a lot of creams and beiges would be lost in a modern 'high-tech' setting.

Established colour schemes are:

  • A-chromatic:
  • Monochromatic:
  • Analagous:
  • Complementary:
  • Split complementary:
  • Triadic:
  • Tetradic:
  • Hexadic:

My personal preference for patchwork is to use a wide variety of fabrics to get the scrap quilt look, but the colours are chosen carefully. The quilts I like best are usually split complementary; ie a range of colours from about one third of the colour wheel together with a few from the opposite side.

To achieve a scrappy look you have to have lots of different fabrics to play with!

I buy mostly fat quarters of fabric, and because I like to cut small pieces I choose mainly small-medium prints. I look for fabrics which have only one main colour, or maybe two or three closely related (analagous) colours. I find it very difficult to work with fabrics that have lots of contrasting colours.

monochromatic fabrics

Black, white and neutral grey, may include white metal such as silver, chromium or stainless steel.

The example shows a group of achromatic fabrics. Made into a quilt they would probably look better if it included one bright (fully saturated) colour to add 'zing'



baby quilt

Tints, tones and shades of a single hue. This baby quilt is a variety of blues from cyan through to blue on the colour wheel is a variety of tints and shades together with white for contrast.



magenta, purple, blue

Tints, tones and shades of about three hues adjacent to each other on the colour wheel.

This example is magenta round to cyan on the colour wheel.



Tints, tones and shades of any two colours opposite each other on the colour wheel.

This example is green and pink (which is really only a tint of magenta).

split complementary

Split complementary:
Any colour plus the colours either side of its complementary.

The example above is orange with a variety of blue, purples and greens. The dark colours are offset with whites, creams and very pale blues and greens.


Three colours equally spaced from each other on the colour wheel.

Not a colour scheme I much, if I'm working from all around the colour wheel I prefer to use all the colours for a really scrappy look.

This label from the back of a quilt is cyan, magenta and yellow.




Four colours, forming a rectangle within the colour wheel, ie red, yellow, blue and cyan or yellow, green, blue and magenta, or four colours forming a square within the colour wheel, ie red, yellow-green, cyan and blue magenta.

The scrap quilt contains all colours but the painted Beetle cars on the wall are the classic tetradic colours, red, yellow, green and blue.


Six colours equally spaced around the colour wheel, ie red, yellow, green, cyan, blue and magenta, but in effect all colours together.

This example does not have any moderating neutrals so it is a very bright quilt.

CYM colour wheel

Colour Theory Basics§ Colour Schemes § Selecting colours § Brenda's quilts
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