Neu Fibers

Quilts and Fiber Art by Julie Brown Neu
Inspiration Quilts

Sources of Inspiration – Color

In this series on inspiration, I have written about how the designs of some of my quilts have arisen from a particular fabric or by thinking about the person for whom I am making the quilt and letting their personality be my guide. But color is also a great motivator for me when it comes to quilt design. I love rich, jewel-toned colors and I’ve never been afraid to use them. In my first house, I painted the kitchen a bright sapphire blue and the living and dining rooms a deep emerald green. I’ve had another dining room that was a deep, almost-midnight blue and the front door of my current house is an eggplant purple called “Grappa” (which I find interesting because the only grappa I’ve ever had was homemade and clear like moonshine). 

Life, I believe, is too short for beige and I love to use color as the starting point for quilts. One of my favorite ways to do this is by holding a “Crayon Challenge” with friends. I can’t take any credit for the idea behind this challenge, but it is one of my absolute favorites. I first encountered this challenge as a member of the Garden State Quilters Guild in New Jersey. The challenge coordinator for the year dumped an enormous box of crayons into a plastic tub and sent it around the room. Each quilter interested in participating was directed to take out a crayon to use as inspiration for a quilt.  I closed my eyes and pulled out a crayon and I almost put it back when I saw what it was – “Mango Tango.” I love color, but my preferences definitely run to the cool side of the color wheel so “Mango Tango” was a serious stretch for my design skills and my stash. The crayon name made me think of sun, hot climates, bold colors like orange and hot pink, and batik fabrics. I first went shopping for some batik fabrics in hot colors and then for a pattern that reminded me of the sun. I found a pattern by Karen K. Stone for the paper-pieced portions of the quilt which I made from hot colors and then pulled from my stash to add some complementary cool colors. Here’s the resulting “Mango Tango” quilt:

Mango Tango, 2007.

I loved this challenge so much that I suggested it years later to my bee group. We drew from a box of crayons and this time I drew . . . “Shocking Pink.”  Are you kidding me? If you asked me what my least favorite color is, I would say “pink” and this crayon was the color of a pink highlighter. That’s when I knew for sure that this challenge is somehow rigged by the Universe to send you the color that will be your greatest challenge.  You can read more about how I went from “Shocking Pink” to the quilt “Running with Scissors” in the blog post I wrote about it.

Running with Scissors, 24″ x 20″

I don’t just find inspiration in crazy crayon colors, however. Apparently, I am also inspired by the colors of the rainbow because, without setting out to do it, I managed to create a series of rainbow quilts. 

As you can see, color can be a great source of inspiration and if you feel the need to be inspired, why not challenge yourself with color? Pull a color from the crayon box or just skip that step and go right to the color that you like the LEAST since that’s probably what you’d pull from the box anyway. You don’t have to build an entire quilt around a color that you hate; you can try to incorporate a little bit of it somewhere else instead. If you have a quilt that you’re working on in the colors that you love, try adding just a smidgen of a complementary color (the color across the color wheel from the one you love, which is most likely one that’s not a favorite). A little bit of a complementary color can add a real zing to a quilt that will make all the difference in your design. Or, challenge yourself at the quilt shop to come home with a color you don’t already have in your stash. Pin it up on your design wall until you get inspired to use it. Look through a magazine for a spread that appeals to you and pull colors from it for a new quilt design. The opportunities for inspiration with color are endless!

2 Comment

  1. Love that idea! This past winter our guild challenge was based on colors we got by chance and you’re right – you always get your least favorite color. But it was a great exercise. Recently I came across a great color tool by Joen Wolfrom called (catchy!) “Ultimate 3 – in – 1 Color Tool”. If you’re not familiar with it you may want to check it out. By far the best I’ve seen. Great blog post – thanks!

    1. Thanks, Diane! And thank you too for the recommendation of Joen Wolfrom’s tool. I’ve heard a lot about it, but haven’t treated myself to one yet. I better put it on my wish list!

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