Choosing colours for a scrappy quilt

Are you joining us for this ITH Mystery Quilt-Along?

Over 8 weeks in August and September we will be making A Starry Night in the Forest.

Find out more and join up here: Mystery QAL

Mystery colours

Picking fabrics for a quilt is the most fun! But can also be incredibly confusing. It’s easy to spend hours and hours putting fabrics together trying to get the perfect combination.

And for a mystery quilt, it’s even more tricky because you don’t know what the design will be. (Big hint from the name: there are stars and trees⭐️🌲🎄⭐️🌲🌲🌲⭐️🎄🎄⭐️🌲🎄✨🌟⭐️)

Scraps from the stash or pre-cut jelly rolls?

If you’re not totally confident with putting fabrics together, you can buy ready-made coordinated layer cakes and jelly rolls.  But if you have a big stash like I do, this quilt is a perfect way to use up scraps.

Now, this is a mystery quilt, so I’m not giving too much away just yet, but For this mystery quilt, I’m making two versions: one will be bright colours like pink, orange, turquoise, green on a solid background fabric, and the other will be traditional red and green holidays prints.

I’ll post my fabric choices in the Facebook group as we go along.

Tips for combining scrap fabrics

Scrappy quilts can be tricky but there are a few rules to make them work. I’m assuming you want to make a wow quilt where the design pops, not one that’s just a jumble of colours (although if that’s what floats your boat, go for it!).

A scrappy quilt still needs a cohesive plan. The easiest way to see how to make good fabric choices for a scrap quilt is to look at a few and analyse why they work.

I picked three at random from Pinterest (you can see them on the Pinterest board I made especially for the Mystery QAL here:

Scraps that pop

The first one I chose one has about 20 fabrics but they are all small prints or plains and stay in a limited palette of reds, blues and turquoise. Each block is different but the overall look is well balanced. Did you notice how the red and blue/teal alternate in a checkerboard arrangement?

Red and blue are classic partners, but adding the teal shades makes the quilt sing because we’re moving towards red’s opposite on the colour wheel, green.

Each block is only three fabrics: the centre square, the points and the background. The variety of fabrics is fun, but the overall effect is easy to read because of how the star points contrast with the background.

(This is a free pattern from CluckCluckSew)

Brights on white

This one shows the effect of using dark and light fabrics to make different areas of the design jump out at you.

All the blocks are the same design, but by swapping dark, bright and white placement in each block, they are transformed.

The quilt still uses a fairly limited palette with hot pinks and oranges combined with cool blues and greys. I love the clash of yellow, pink and orange.

The small dark sashing corner blocks and the pink piping unify the design, and the white sashing keeps the blocks from running into each other.

Like the first one, this quilt uses a mix of small prints and plains.

This is the Nova Star quilt by Then Came June

Nova Star quilt by Then Came June

A scrappy Christmas colourway

Finally. because our quilt has stars and trees, I picked a quilt with a more traditional Christmassy palette.

The red background unifies all the different sizes of stars and brings all the fabrics together. It also means the mix of large scale prints works alongside the plains and small scale prints.

Plus although this is the traditional red/green holiday palette, there are some pinks and aquas in there, but the solid background pulls them all together.

You can see that all the stars are the same eight-pointed shape. But if you look closely there’s a lot of variety in how they are made. Some have a centre square, some are elongated diamonds, and some are all one fabric.

(Quilt by Alex on Flickr. I don’t think there’s a pattern but if you find one, let me know!)

Christmas stars quilt

Ready to play around with colours?

Here’s a diagram of the block arrangement for A Starry Night in the Forest. Print it off and try a few different palettes.

A Starry Night in the Forest block layout diagram

Tips for planning a scrappy quilt:

  • Keep to a limited palette of two or three colours
  • Or use lots of colours and unify them with one choice of background fabric in a solid colour
  • Use large scale prints carefully, they will be lost on small applique pieces
  • Add some contrast, eg mix light/dark, or opposite colours like reds/greens, yellows/purples or blues/oranges
  • Brights mixed with neutrals add impact and look contemporary
  • Don’t be afraid to experiment, Blocks that don’t work for the mystery quilt can easily be used for other projects

Now share your fabric choices in the Facebook group!

10 thoughts on “Choosing colours for a scrappy quilt

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Carol, as long as you can do applique and embroidery on your machine, and sew a straight seam you will be fine. I’ll post lots of step-by-step instructions as we go.

    • Lisa says:

      You won’t believe how many times I have to redo some of my block joining to get them straight!

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Cathy, the designs are all free while the quilt-along is in progress, in other words up to the end of September. You’ll get all the files if different formats, plus instructions.
      You’ll need to provide stabiliser, batting, threads and fabrics (and I’ll be sending fabric requirements before we start)
      Once the quilt-along has finished, the complete pattern will be available for purchase.
      Don’t worry if you join partway through, you’ll still get all the block designs free.

  1. Margaret Hourigan says:

    I’ve not used my Embroidery machine much especially for quilting. I’m very keen to do so though. Will this be suitable for me too do? Thanks

    • Lisa says:

      Hi Margaret, yes absolutely! You’ll be very welcome. We have a few other beginners doing the Quilt-Along already.

  2. Janice Heska says:

    Hi Lisa,
    thank you, I’ve received Your newsletter with the designs and information for Block 1, which I’ve already downloaded so ready to start tomorrow.
    Looking forward to be part of this journey, now just to choose the fabrics. Decisions, decisions!!

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