Choosing Fabric Colours | Four, Five & More Colours

We’ve now talked about choosing two colour and three colour fabric combinations in Choosing Fabric Colours | Two & Three Colours, and looked at the basics of colour theory and using a colour wheel in Choosing Fabric Colours | The Basics. Now let’s focus on choosing four colour, five colour and more fabric combinations.

As you start to increase the number of colours in your patchwork project, the opportunities really increase (warms, cools, lights, darks, print textures etc.) however this means the balancing act gets a bit tricker too. I love quilts with lots of colours but getting the right mix can be harder as there are more elements to consider…but I think it’s worth the challenge. Let’s take a closer look at using the colour wheel to select some different four and five+ colour fabric combinations.

Four Colours

In a patchwork project, using four colours gives you the opportunity to vary the colours across your design meaning the same block can be repeated with different colour combinations which can really change the look of a quilt top. We’re getting into some more complicated sounding terms but they are just fancy words and it’s all about getting a good balance around the colour wheel.

Let’s look at some examples of four-colour combinations…

Analogous (again!)
On the colour wheel, analogous colours appear next to each other. In this example I’m using blue-green, blue, blue-violet and violet.
Depending on which section on the colour wheel you choose your four colours you could end up with some very blended or very striking fabric combinations. By choosing the right shades and tints with each colour can help to blend from one colour to the next so the contrast isn’t too stark. However, if it is placed in a purposeful way a stark contrast can look really good…we’ll come back to this in the five+ colours section.

Double Complimentary
On the colour wheel, double complimentary colours are how they sound! Two sets of two colours that sit opposite each other. In this example I’m using violet, blue, yellow and orange. Violet & yellow are complimentary colours, and blue & orange are complimentary colours.
With this many colours a scrappy looking patchwork project starts to become possible, even if you are only using a few prints/solids within each colour.

Tetradic Square
On the colour wheel, tetrad square colours are similar to double complimentary. Two sets of two colours that sit opposite each other, but this time they are evenly spaced around the colour wheel. In this example I’m using blue, yellow-green, orange and red-violet. Blue & orange are complimentary colours, and yellow-green & red-violet are complimentary colours.
Personally I much prefer this combination to the double complimentary. That may be down to the specific fabrics I’ve chosen in each example or it’s just colours my brain fins more pleasing together; I think this shows how a lot of these decisions can be at least in part down to personal preferences and taste.

Five+ Colours

Five and six (or more!) colours gives a patchwork project a pretty broad selection of fabrics and that can be a lot to deal with, especially if you start adding variations of shades/tints and prints within these colours too. I don’t want to repeat myself too much as you could use a lot of the colour combinations we talked about in the four-colour section for five and more colours. Here are a few options you could look at:

  • Monochrome – use lots of different shades from the same colour
  • Complimentary colours – work with pairs of complimentary, you might need to experiment to little to get the balance right but this can give a lovely, colourful look
  • Adding neutrals – choose four stronger colours and add some neutrals to increase the variety
  • Rainbow – there are seven colours in the rainbow which is a really big range of colour but, of course, we know that a rainbow works; you can play about with the look that rainbow colour choices give you by using only pastel rainbow colours (the “tint” versions with white added into the original colours) for example
  • Analogous (again!) – just add in another colour or two from next to each other around the wheel. I did say in the four-colour section that I’d come back to how to place analogous colours in your patchwork design if you have one colour that feels like more of a stark contrast compared to the rest in your selection so check out some of my real-life quilt examples below.
This quilt use analogous colours (blue-green, blue, blue-violet, violet and red-violet) plus the white background and then orange. Although the orange has skipped a few colours away from the other colours, placing it in the centre of the quilt blocks takes it from a stark contrast to a pop of colour!

Check out parts one and two in this blog post series:
Choosing Fabric Colours | The Basics – the basics of colour theory and using a colour wheel
Choosing Fabric Colours | Two & Three Colours


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