Color Tools for Quilters

The color bible for me is Joen Wolfrom’s Ultimate 3-in-1 Color Tool from C&T Publishing. I use it more than any other color gadget. This handy doodad has guided me through the color selection process many times.

color9 Color Tools for QuiltersI have an older version from 2003 (on the left above) but any version is useful. The newest version is on the right above. It’s fanned out below.

color10 Color Tools for Quilters

I used to glaze over when someone started talking about the color wheel and its tints, tones and shades. It seemed so complicated. Then I learned how to use the Color Tool. My quilts have never been the same.

The Color Tool contains one card for each of the 24 basic colors on the Ives color wheel. Each card shows not only the pure color, but its tints, tones and shades as well. Here’s a quick lesson on those:

• Tints result when white is added to the color.
• Tones result when gray is added to the color.
• Shades result when black is added to the color.

color11 Color Tools for Quilters

The tints, tones and shades of any color are not always what you’d expect them to be. When you use the Color Tool, this becomes clear. The card above shows the tints, tones and shades of Chartreuse. The tool has really helped me to understand the concept of tints, tones and shades.

color2 Color Tools for Quilters
In the spring of 2010 I was designing my block Paisley Punch for Quiltmaker’s 100 Blocks Volume 2. I’d fallen hard for a soft paisley print by Dena Designs for FreeSpirit, and decided to use it as the background. I began looking for fabrics from which to applique my paisley shapes.

color1 Color Tools for Quilters
I chose some pinks, purples and greens but nothing was working. Everything looked awful against this background. I hit dead end after dead end. (It was much worse than it looks in the photo.)

I remembered my Color Tool. I used it to analyze what colors were present in my background fabric. I was surprised to find they weren’t the colors I had thought. This happens sometimes: we see tints, tones and shades but our eyes aren’t yet trained enough to recognize the base colors that are being used.

color4 Color Tools for Quilters
A survey of everything from green to yellow revealed that the color in the fabric was chartreuse.

color5 Color Tools for Quilters
Another surprise: the orange in the fabric isn’t actually “orange” but closer to either orange-yellow or yellow-orange.

color6 Color Tools for Quilters
And the trickiest of all: the pinks and purples. I settled on fuchsia, purple and blue-violet, because all three were present.

color7 Color Tools for Quilters
Here’s my final palette of yellow-orange, fuchsia, purple, blue-violet and chartreuse. It wasn’t at all what I’d expected but I could see it was going to work.

color8 Color Tools for Quilters
From there I chose fabrics in a variety of tints, tones and shades from the cards. I could be pretty sure that if a color was on one of those five cards, it would work. Things started to blend and flow and work nicely together.

ultimate color tool Color Tools for Quilters

Ultimate 3-in-1 Color Tool by Joen Wolfrom for C&T Publishing

This is how it usually goes. I love the Color Tool and I would recommend you try it. For what you’ll learn and how much you’ll use it, just $18.95 makes it a steal. Widely available at quilt shops and fabric stores, or online at

About Diane Harris

I'm an editor for Quiltmaker magazine in Golden, Colorado, USA. For six years, I wrote pattern instructions, product reviews and how-to articles. Then I spent four years as QM's Interactive Editor, working to generate much of our online content. Now I'm back to patterns and how-tos, which is a great fit for me. I still love writing about quilt-related topics for Quilty Pleasures, and I always have my finger on the pulse of the quilting world. I teach a variety of quilt classes and give guild programs, too. Reach me by email:
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120 Responses to Color Tools for Quilters

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  4. Giney says:

    Using a color wheel is a fantastic idea. I’ll be ordering one soon!

  5. Cathy Koester says:

    I’ve struggled with color and just how to use color wheel. I think that color wheel would come in handy.

  6. Cheryl Dimiceli says:

    The ColorWheel Tool is my favorite. Certainly helps with your coordinating fabric choices. Nice!

  7. Maxine Reece says:

    I have one of Joan’s books on using colors in nature. I realy enjoyed reading it and think having the color guide would really help with matching fabrics

  8. Kate Maeda says:

    I was researching this color wheel because I’m considering taking an online course Joen Wolfrom teaches called Color Play for Quilters. I thought that it looked like fun but I wasn’t sure it would really benefit me. Seeing your real life demonstration of how to work with the color tool tells me that this is something I really want to learn. Thanks for such a clear example!

  9. Mary Cross says:

    I am a beginner quilter and have been considering purchasing a color wheel. I usually take a sample of the fabric I want to match to help choose the colors. I was not sure how helpful the color wheel would be until I read your article. Many thanks! I will be purchasing one today!

  10. Helen Bowes says:

    When I get a pattern I try to redirect the colors to suit my needs. I’ll begin the dreaded job of what color should be in the background. The bigger problem begins when I go to my stash to start the process of choosing the forground colors. Using my old versions painters strips and a twenty-some year old color wheel, I have found do not reflect the many available colors on the market and in my own collection of fabrics…..I see now that the Color Tool is a much better way of going about making my decisions. On the Color Tool are more selections than I’ll ever have to make in my lifetime! I certainly wouldn’t mind having one for myself….I believe the Color Tool is exactly what I need to start the process!

  11. FABULOUS post!!! bookmarking this one, it’s a wonderful insight to the dreaded color selection problem!!

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  13. Judy Jackson says:

    I am very new at quilting and actually need to take some classes. Any tips I can get and any tools that will make it easier to start is greatly appreciated. The color tool appears to be a tool for all beginners. Thanks

  14. I usually have pretty good luck with choosing my colors, but that doesn’t mean I can’t learn a new trick or two! Would love to win.

  15. 4dreamsr says:

    I have never used a color wheel, but from your blog, I can see why sometimes I have this same problem of colors not being what I’m thinking they are. This would be a great tool to have & learn to use. Here’s hoping I win & thanks for a chance.

  16. Mary Ferreter says:

    I use a simple color wheel that has two discs riveted together so you can rotate one against the other to try color combinations.

  17. Carol says:

    I like my piece of red plexiglass, which I use to determine value when I want a smooth gradation of color.

  18. Mary says:

    I don’t have a color tool and didn’t know it existed. But from the instructions above, this novice sure could use one.

  19. donna j says:

    I have a color wheel. The color tool looks fantastic! The detail and explanation you gave us was very helpful. If I don’t win one I will just have to buy one!!

    Thank you!

  20. Madeline says:

    I dont have a color tool, I just have bad eyes, so I take off my glasses and see if anything jumps out, or if it looks good.

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