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Overcoming Color Paralysis

Overcoming Color Paralysis

By Janelle Cahoon, Quiltcentric

Shop owners see it – a shopper who steps through the door, shopping list in hand, ready to pick fabric for a new project, but who just can’t seem to choose.  They may freeze and be unable to pull even one bolt to start with, or they pull a dozen bolts and can’t decide among them.

There are just too many choices.  So they can’t make a choice at all.

Of course quilt shop employees help and guide these shoppers, and few of us are this severely afflicted with color paralysis, but a lot of us have some degree of anxiety in choosing fabrics for a new quilt.  We want everything to “go together,” to have a nice balance of coordination and contrast.  And then there’s the shop itself, which may have several thousand bolts . . . it can be intimidating.

But it doesn’t have to be.

The key is a little extra preparation before you go to the shop or start picking fabrics.  And these techniques work equally well if you’re “shopping” in your own fabric stash.

Get paint color cards

Most of the paint manufacturers produce sample cards that show 3 or 4 paints that are attractive together.

Stop by a couple of paint stores and find some that appeal to you, then use them as a guide when you go to the fabric shop.  They’ll help you choose whether that green fabric should be olive, emerald or forest.

Look for photos

Check the home and architecture magazines for photos of rooms with colors that appeal to you.  Or find posters or paintings.  Good garden close-ups are also great for this.

Look at the photo carefully and identify not just the colors but also their tone and intensity.  Besides the main colors there will be several interesting areas of contrast.  Bringing these into your quilt will make it more interesting too.

As an example, I looked at a photo of a branch of lilacs.  I saw at least 3 shades of green, 2 shades of lilac, a near-white and a tiny jolt of yellow.  I could choose one of the greens, a lilac, the near-white and the yellow. Or 2 greens, 2 lilacs and the near-white.  These would be lovely in a quilt.

Look for fabrics

Yes, it’s counter-intuitive to look for fabrics when it’s choosing fabrics for your project that’s the problem.

But that’s not exactly what I’m asking.

Just look around for print fabrics with colors you like.  Check your closet.  Check your husband’s closet. (Mens’ Hawaiian shirts have great color combinations!)  Check the Goodwill if you want to.  And, yes, if you must you can even go to the fabric store.

When you find a piece of fabric with colors that really speak to you, you can use that fabric as a guide to choosing your quilt colors.  You already know they work well together because you’re looking at the proof.

Then put the hubby’s shirt back in his closet and get started on your quilt!


Do you have a quilt-related tip or technique you’d like to share?  Just write it up and send it to me through the Contact link above!


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