Easy Tricks: Seeing Quilt Patterns in a New Light

Today I want to share an easy color trick with you. I think you’ll find it useful. I figured this out by accident along with some trial and error.

peckingordercolor Easy Tricks: Seeing Quilt Patterns in a New Light

It all started with this pattern.

It started with this pattern. I didn’t think I’d ever make a chicken quilt, but I loved the colors! The pinks and reds combined with blacks and grays and accented with a few yellowy neutrals was heavenly—so I plunked my money down without a second thought. I bought the pattern just to have a record of that color combination. (This was before the internet.)

With this purchase I realized that the design and the color recipe could be two separate things. Each one could be its own little world.

handout3 Easy Tricks: Seeing Quilt Patterns in a New Light

My handout of string piecing ideas in black and white—on accident.

About that same time, I was developing a class on string piecing. I accidentally printed some of my handouts in black-and-white instead of in color. They printed as shown above, but they were supposed to look like this:

handout2 Easy Tricks: Seeing Quilt Patterns in a New Light

This is the same image as the one above except that it’s in color. The quilts look different!

I was stunned at the difference. I realized that I liked most of the examples because of their colors, not their patterns.

handout4 Easy Tricks: Seeing Quilt Patterns in a New Light

Seeing these two tulip quilts in black and white was an eye-opener. I loved them in red, but when viewed in black and white, many more possibilities opened up to me.

I also had a light bulb moment: Looking at a quilt in black and white could help me visualize it in any colors I wanted! I was suddenly free from liking or disliking a design based on its colors. What a revelation!

handout5 Easy Tricks: Seeing Quilt Patterns in a New Light

When we see quilts in color, it’s natural not to imagine them in any other colors!

Years later, I frequently copy a quilt image in black and white just for this purpose: to free myself from the prejudice that certain colors impose, and to see if I like the piecing, design or pattern of it once it has no color. Let me give you a few more examples.

bluebaskets Easy Tricks: Seeing Quilt Patterns in a New Light

Blue Baskets by Alex Anderson for Quiltmaker’s March/April 2005 issue

Alex Anderson’s Blue Baskets appeared in QM’s March/April 2005 issue. It’s a beautiful quilt in blue and yellow and it was very popular. But what if you wanted the quilt in a different color?

bluebasketsbw Easy Tricks: Seeing Quilt Patterns in a New LightDo you see how much easier it is to imagine it in pink or green or aqua if it’s reduced to a black and white image? It’s like magic!

nightrecital Easy Tricks: Seeing Quilt Patterns in a New LightNight Recital is an older QM pattern from May/June 1997. Look at the difference in black and white below.

nightrecitalbw Easy Tricks: Seeing Quilt Patterns in a New Light

Night Recital takes on new possibilities when seen in black and white.

Imagine the quilt with a blue background, or even with something lighter such as yellow. Isn’t this fun?!

peckingorderbw1 Easy Tricks: Seeing Quilt Patterns in a New LightLet’s go back to Pecking Order. I’m pleasantly surprised at how much I love this even without its gorgeous pinks and reds. It’s just a great quilt design—and now I can imagine it in golds and greens, or blues and reds, or whatever.

Give it a try with some of your old quilt magazines, patterns or pictures. Take a photo of the quilt and then you can edit the photo to black and white right on your smartphone.

smartphones Easy Tricks: Seeing Quilt Patterns in a New LightPhoto editing apps work, too. It’s easy and fast—if you need to ask your kids or grandkids to help you, that’s fine!

You can also use a copy machine to make a black and white version. If you have Photoshop or PS Elements or other photo editing software, you can remove the color using those.

Let me know if you try this and what results you have. I can be reached using editor@quiltmaker.com.

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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: editor@quiltmaker.com.
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8 Responses to Easy Tricks: Seeing Quilt Patterns in a New Light

  1. Sherry Sansom says:

    As a child I had the same problem of looking a dress patterns. It took my mother many years to convince me to look at the pattern style and not at the color shown on the pattern front. This was many years before color TV even, so there were no ways to change things to black and white at the fabric store.

  2. Liz A. says:

    I used this trick last month when I pulled a whole pile of fabrics to start the long awaited Shakespeare in the Park quilt. I had lights and dark batiks in purples and aquas. I lined them all up and took a picture with my phone. Then I turned it to b&w and immediately saw a bunch of fabrics that didn’t work and pulled them out.

  3. Shelley says:

    I have had to use this method to show patterns to my granddaughter or her mom for years. If I show them a pattern in colors they will either love or hate it depending on the colors used in the color copy only. It was so hard to get them to substitute the colors I wanted to use compared to the ones they were seeing in real time I became frustrated; it was simply a losing battle. Did not take too much stress along this line to find an alternative method. Using black and white copies also helps me to choose which color hues or values to use in a pattern more quickly. Love all of your info and of course all the lovely patterns!

  4. Maria Nogueira says:

    Obrigada pela aula.

  5. Anne Wiens says:

    Shades of gray always works better for me, too….yet my students beg me to illustrate my patterns in color. I was finally convinced when I was explaining a pattern step to a student and realized that while I was pointing to the B&W illustration on the pattern laying on the table, she kept looking up at the sample blocks I had pinned to the wall. We talked about it over lunch, and the class consensus was it was easier for them to “translate” from my colors to theirs than from shades of gray to their colors.

  6. Nancy C says:

    Just this week I discovered this idea. Our group was getting ready to each make a baby quilt to give to charity. We had donated fabric and by looking at the pattern in black and white it was much easier to pair up the donated fabric with a quilt pattern.

  7. Donna says:

    This is a great idea. Thanks for posting it. Also, I love the Pecking Order quilt. It is going on my very long list of future quilts.

  8. Pamela North says:

    I have used this idea for many years in the same way for changing colours in knitting patterns. It makes it much easier to think in other colours.

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