Are You Sure This Goes With That? Blending Colors and Prints

Kafchicken and fish tote bags 113fee Fassett said, “It is not knowing what will happen until we try a certain combination that makes the process so exciting when it works.” from Glorious Patchwork ©1997.

Pattern credit: Debora Konchinsky of Critter Pattern Works. Quilted by Pauline Hurley, 1992 in Northfield, Vermont

This was the first. The first quilt from my mother to my son, the first look at patterned and colored fabrics that wasn’t in a scrap quilt, the first desire to create something from fabric.

But instead of making this quilt, I quilted with fabric collections that often felt like work rather than fun.

This year, I made a decision. I’m only going to use fabrics I like and, unless I absolutely love someone else’s collection, I’m going to create my own. I realized I enjoy bright stripes, dots, squares, angles, and batiks, and I like combining them. I’ll make pillows and place mats, table runners and wall art.  They will all be made of happy fabrics from my stash and purchases from my local quilt shop.

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Find my pillows on Etsy

Years later, I made my own quilt from the circus pattern you see above. I used fabrics from my mother’s stash and I bought a few other fabrics to go with it.

Sadly, the longarm quilter ruined the quilt.  But I was lucky.  By carefully cutting the fabrics and picking out hundreds of threads, I salvaged the blocks and turned them into pillows.

On the right, is a group of 5 elephant pillows.  Some were salvaged from the ruined quilt and some were made later.  All of them blend together as a cohesive group.  There are big dots, little dots, squares that look like dots, diamonds that look like squares, and plaids with little rectangles. There are flannels, cottons, and batiks.

Why do all the pillows go together even though the fabric came from years of collecting with no design in mind? Here are a few reasons:

♦The theme is the same, circus elephants. Obvious, but was it the first thing you noticed?  I hadn’t looked at this picture for awhile. When the picture came up on my screen, I noticed the blankets before I noticed the elephants. My eyes moved from one blanket to the other, creating a flow around the group.

Theme is not enough to turn a variety of fabrics into a cohesive collection. Below are four horse pillows, all made from the same applique pattern.  All have dots and squares and circles. Every pillow has at least one color or print that matches something in another pillow. But they are not a collection to lay across the same bed or couch. The two main issues are the colors and and fabric pattern style. Three pillows have dots, but one doesn’t. Three pillows have solids, but one doesn’t. Three pillows read white, but one doesn’t.  Three pillows have blue, but one doesn’t.


The horse is the prominent part of the pillow, as it should be.  Each horse belongs to its background fabric and looks great as an individual pillow. Each pillow could contribute to the overall room design on its own, but the four pillows do not “speak” to each other. The only way you could put these pillows in the same room is if there were a design element that allows them to be viewed as single vignettes.

♦Back to the elephants.   Look at the colors.  Squint your eyes to blur the pattern and see only the colors – warm colors with lots of saturation and a few cooler accent colors with the same depth of saturation. The colors are repeated, which moves your eyes around the group. The elephant with the plaid blanket is actually the same print as the background fabric of the elephant with the orange blanket. I simply turned the fabric over to create a softer color.

♦Changing the scale of the print adds interest across the group. Every pillow has at least one fabric with dots in it, but in different sizes. The stars in the background of the plaid blanket pillow read as dots because of the size of the star in relation to its background.

♦You’ve heard the phrase, “The fabric reads white” or “The fabric reads cream”. Turn your fabric over and look at the threads the colors are printed on. (This does not work with high quality batiks.) The base threads are usually white or cream. The right and wrong side of the fabric collectively creates an overall hue. (This exercise also works when choosing a neutral thread color for your bobbin.)

♦Each pillow has a little accent color. It’s a yellow star or a yellow decorative stitch.  The accent is subtle,  but adds to the whole.

In the quilt below, the fabrics came from someone’s collection, but is an excellent example of mixing colors and prints. This quilt is a combination of charm squares and yardage. (I can’t find the name of the collection, please send me a reply if you know what it is.

The fabrics in this quilt make me feel happy when I look at it. It reads white (bright) pastels. It’s full of zig zags, big dots, little dots, angles, and colors. Each color in each print is represented somewhere in another print. (Love it too? Buy on Etsy)


Some elements in my quilt design help with the cohesiveness of the whole quilt.  1) The prairie points (the triangle thingys in the left picture) are only at the corners. They were added an accent that moves the purple border into the border with the big dots. 2) I used a multi-colored zig zag for the binding. This pulled all the colors in the center of the quilt over the borders to the quilt’s edge.  3) I used simple straight line quilting, but the crisscross stitch in the charm squares creates more angles, but does not compete with the fabric.

Now, go forth to your stash with your eyes and mind wide open. Start pulling your fabric’s zigs and zags, dots and squares, stripes and hash marks. Look at every bolt of fabric in the quilt shop. Be brave, be crazy.

To see products from happy mixed prints visit my shop on Etsy.

anne of Grammies Inspirations

All items in this blog post and on Etsy are copyrighted by me or another designer.















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