What’s Wrong With This Quilt!…why Contrast Matters 

Have you ever had a project get away from you? It can happen easily especially when you’re working with many prints or colors and trying to get a limited amount of certain colors to work together if you forget one very important rule…

– contrast makes a big difference, an important difference, in a good composition.

This applies to a traditional quilt, a modern quilt, an art quilt or ANY quilt! They all have one thing in common ~ COMPOSITION!

An art quilt I have been working on, on and off, for a year has this problem. So I am going to humble myself and show you my mess, where I think I went wrong, how, and why. And then I am going to attempt to FIX it! This may take a few posts and even then, I won’t know if it will work until a few posts from now. Sadly …I really did know better but I just wanted to jump right in without any planning and get my hands on that fabric and start cutting! And sewing and thread painting! I KNOW you know that feeling!

So let’s start with where I’m at right now and why it is the  way it is.



Today we are looking at Value Contrast. To start ask yourself a few questions:

  • What stands out first? Second?
  • What do you WANT TO STAND OUT first? Second?

So …if what you want to stand out as the focal points of interest DOES NOT stand out or stand out enough and what you DO NOT want to stand out DOES…there’s a contrast problem!…or two.

I’ll run down what I think ~

  • The Borders stand out first!
  • The HST’s stand out next and then the large pumpkin.
  • I wanted the small pumpkin and the large pumkin to stand out together with the gourd as a third component ~ that relationship is broken…lost…caput!

I don’t mind that the HST’s stand out (although if I do this again they will have a less strong contrast so they become more secondary) because they actually point you to the middle ~ I just would have preferred them to do that more subtly!

The main problem ~ and I think you see it by now ~ is that very busy mid-tone fall color paisley background fabric! I just HAD TO HAVE IT in there! As as matter of fact it is what got me started on this piece because it said “fall” to me AND I was in a stash busting mode. So…

MISTAKE #1 – Let your stash busting efforts determine the right fabric for your composition ….No! Don’t do it!…even if you love it to death, if it really doesn’t work.

That brings us to what you can do to plan fairly quickly and tell fairly quickly if a fabric selection will work or not. You really Really REALLY neeeeeeeeed to do this! I didn’t AND I knew better and look where it got me!

Planning Exercise Numero UNO!

Make a small contrast drawing/sketch. There’s a few ways to do this. If you draw easily, draw out your design thumbnail size (2″x4″) so it doesn’t take long. If you don’t draw and you are using a pattern with a master, scale down the master with a copier to a smaller size. And for both ways, make a few copies of this line drawing. Then color it! But only black, white and grays. Do this a few times and compare them until you have the right values for the design to pop.

Decide what you want to be the darkest fabric and color it black and what you want to come forward and leave that white…generally. Sometimes the darkest shape stands out more depending on what is near it.  Then fill in other parts with different values of gray. I did not do this for this piece so I can’t show it to you for this piece yet! BUT that will get done for my next post for you to see what I should have done.

This gives you the idea though. The shapes are a typical study in values one does in art school. In this case the triangle stands out because it is the darkest and your eye goes right to it.
9136521cf93572babe380ddaaac1704c         IMG_0622

The Pug is a digital version of this excercise if you are familiar with Photoshop and can desaturate a photo or a picture of the pattern you want to do. He has light, medium and dark values – so that art quilt worked very well because I planned it! You can see how that one was made in four parts starting here.

What I was able to do for us right now is desaturate the quilt as it is now and you can see a few things right away. The borders have the most contrast! The SUBJECTS fall mostly in the range of MIDDLE VALUE with a few darks that start to pop but not a whole lot or in any way that makes a great composition. So next time I will have a reworking of this as I should have done in the first place.

MISTAKE #2 – DON’T  do a value sketch of some kind before choosing fabrics.

BW Pumpkin

Meanwhile, please try this out on what ever you are working on and post it and ask questions if I wasn’t clear. Let’s help each other out!

Next time we will use these sketches to choose a new piece of fabric to replace the background and get into the effects of contrasting color!



About Sew Laura Artisan Quilts

Longarm Quilting Service, Digital Designs, Free Motion Quilting, Custom Quilting, Quilting Patterns
This entry was posted in Applique, Art Quilt, Designing, Ideas For Art Quilts, Quilted Wallhanging, Quilting, Raw Edge Applique, Thread Painting, Thread Sketching, Tutorials, Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to What’s Wrong With This Quilt!…why Contrast Matters 

  1. Pingback: Why Contrast in a Quilt Matters  | Painting With Thread

  2. Pingback:  Why Contrast Matters Part 2 …Can This Quilt be Fixed? | Painting With Thread

  3. Pingback: Why Contrast Matter Part 3 …the quilt is rescued from NO contrast! | Painting With Thread

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