Design a monochrome colour scheme

Welcome to the first in a new series:

How to Design a Great Colour Scheme Without Colour Theory!

This short series will help you develop an intuitive approach to putting together a colour scheme for your quilting projects. We’ll start off with some simple ideas that will help build your colour confidence and then build on those over the coming weeks. Each week I’ll give a small challenge that I hope you’ll have fun trying out (no obligation of course) and sharing with everyone here. Let’s get to it and have some fun!

Graphic: How to design a great colour scheme without colour theory! Stephanie Boon 2015, www.DawnChorusStudio.com (original colour wheel graphic by Sakurambo via Wikimedia, altered by Stephanie Boon, 2015)

But What’s Wrong with Colour Theory?

Nothing! If you’re mixing paints it’s pretty essential, but as quilters we’re arranging coloured fabrics and (at the risk of being shot down) you don’t need to know colour theory to put together a great colour palette. If colour theory seems confusing, rest assured that it’s just one way to put together a  scheme, there are many others that seem to have got lost in the quilting world’s desire to be seen as ‘technically proficient’.  Think about Goethe’s ideas on colour perception, rather than Newton’s visual representation of a mathematical theory:

Colours affect moods and emotions and it’s that that we want to tap in to.

So let’s kick off with one of the simplest palettes there is: monochrome!

Mini quilt in a monochrome scheme, © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Why Monochrome?

Monochrome colour schemes are easy on the eye and can be very restful.  If you use big motifs you can make a big statement too. Often when we think of monochrome we think of the black, whites and greys associated with minimalism, which can give a crisp contemporary look to your quilts. But rest assured that if minimalism isn’t your thing you can design a very colourful monochrome palette to express yourself too.

What is Monochrome?

Most of us know that monochrome means a colour scheme made from just one colour: all blues, all reds or all oranges for example.  When you’re mixing paints you take a pure colour (ultramarine blue  or cobalt blue for example) and add either black to get darker colours called ‘shades’, white to get lighter colours called ‘tints’ or grey to get a range of colours called ‘tones’, which gives you a broad selection of monochrome colours.  Because you’re only adding black, white or grey to a single colour it follows that this range of colours will go really well together.

Selecting Fabrics for a Monochrome Colour Scheme

When you’re selecting fabrics for a monochrome colour scheme it can get a bit confusing. This is because although all the blues you pick out may indeed be blue they won’t all be from the same base colour blue.  You might have blues that look a bit greenish or purplish for example, and when you put them next to each other this is accentuated, throwing off what you thought was going to be an easy scheme to put together.  There’s a very simple way to overcome this: pick up a paint card.

Paint Cards

Dulux colour cards © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Dulux colour cards

Paint cards like the Dulux ones above are available for free from every diy store. Pick up a handful next time you’re passing. They can vary in the range of colours shown on the card, from 5 or 6 colours or more.


Pick up a paint card and try to match the colours as closely as you can with fabrics from your stash or your scrap bin.


Matching fabrics to commercial paint cards


The fabrics I’ve chosen in the image above are all from my limited red/pink scrap bin and I’ve matched them as closely as I can with what I have on hand.  It’s an approximation, but gives a pleasing result.  The biggest ‘flaw’ is probably the bottom fabric: it could do with being a touch lighter. Following this simple exercise gives me the option of making do with what I’ve got, or taking my paint card to the fabric store and looking for a closer match. I think I’ll make do.

Matching colours takes practice:

The more you practice the more intuitive your selection process will become!

Why not start with your favourite colour and ask yourself some questions about it: what is it you love about it? how does it make you feel? what do you associate it with? It probably comes as no surprise that my favourite colour is…orange. I love the intensity of it, it makes me feel joyous and I associate it with sunshine and the earth, warmth and exotic places. It really does lift my spirits. I know that if I want to make myself feel good I need to see some orange.

How to Put Together a Monochrome Colour Scheme in Your Favourite Colour

Using orange as an example let’s look at what we can do with it.  First of all try and put together a selection of fabric scraps that match your paint card as closely as possible (remember to keep practicing). In the example below I’ve used the same paint card to match three different ranges of fabrics.  Remember, you won’t achieve a perfect match: you’re looking for a good approximation, which will be more difficult if you use what you already have. You’ll find you’ll have to substitute prints and colours that are ‘good enough’.  It’s a great skill to cultivate. Give yourself plenty of time, you’ll probably be surprised at how long the exercise takes.

Matching scrap fabrics to Dulux colour cards for a monochrome scheme. © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Matching scrap fabrics to Dulux colour cards

Stitch your selections together to make strips. How do they look?  Hopefully pretty good and, as it’s your favourite colour, it should make you feel good too.

Fabric strips stitched together to make a monochrome scheme inspired by Dulux colour cards. © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawChorusStudio.com

18 fabrics matched to a monochrome paint card

Now, remember earlier on how I mentioned that a monochrome colour range is simply one colour mixed with black, white or grey to make a palette?  Well, let’s see what happens when we add some to your favourite colour. Cut some squares (I went for ‘wonky’) from the fabrics you matched to your colour card; enough to make 4 nine-patch blocks (20 squares if you follow the layout shown below).

Then cut some black and white squares which will work as a good foil for your favourite colours. Perhaps they’ll shine like jewels against the black or feel light and airy against the white. Either way, it will work well without too much stress.  Make a note of how this addition to your favourite colour makes you feel about it.

Working on a monochrome scheme with fabrics. © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Adding neutrals to the scheme: top – black and light grey; bottom – mid grey and white.

Now we come to the trickier part.  Have you ever found that it’s hard to find the right ‘neutral’ grey to act as a foil (like the one in the bottom left of the picture above)? That’s simply because most interesting or exciting greys aren’t just made with a mixture of black and white (colour is added), which is what we need for a monochrome scheme. There are many, many different greys and you don’t even need black or white to mix it.

To get a mid tone neutral grey (made with just black and white) which matches any monochrome scheme I recommend you match your grey fabric to ‘neutral grey’ on an artists’ colour card like this one from Windsor and Newton. (To get different tints and shades of neutral grey you simply add Jet Black or Permanent White.)  You can get an artists’ colour card from any art shop – just make sure it shows neutral grey.

Once you’ve matched a grey fabric (I chose a mid and a light neutral grey), cut a few squares to complete your nine patch blocks. You now have a range of colours in a monochrome scheme – go you!


Don’t waste your samples, put them to good use and make something with them.  If you’re new to quilting you could make the 9-patch blocks into mug rugs (instructions here). If you’re a seasoned stitcher though, why not use your samples to make a monochrome improv mini quilt like I did.

Design your layout:

Designing a modern improv block in a monochrome scheme. © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Designing a modern improv block layout with the samples.

Then use your neutrals to act as ‘fillers’ between your 9-patch blocks and your strip samples:

Mini quilt in a monochrome scheme, © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Ann and Kaja have started a new series on their respective blogs Ad Hoc Improv Quilters where you can get lots of suggestions for getting started with improv quilting.

Taking it further: Monochrome +1

If you’ve had fun with monochrome why not continue to experiment and take it one step further: try adding another colour to your scheme, just a little bit so that it sings out like a wren in the dawn chorus! Sit back, take a long look and ask yourself “how does it make me feel?”.

How to make a string block: blue string quilt 'August Rain', © Stephanie Boon, 2014 www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Scrappy String Quilt ‘August Rain’ in blues with an accent of red/orange. Stephanie Boon, 2014/2015.


Image via Fresh Lemon Quilts

Graphic quilt in greys with an accent of orange. Via Fresh Lemon Quilts (click the image for the original article and follow the links below for copyright details.

Fresh Lemons Quilts (Faith) / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0
The only way to perfect a new skill is to keep practicing, so keep at it and have fun.  Feel free to leave any questions about designing colour palettes in the comments below and be sure to share any links that showcase your own samples – we’d love to see how you get on.

I hope you’ll join me for the next article when we’ll build on this week’s colour-matching skills

Until then, here are a few links to keep you inspired.


Series Index

Links to all the weekly posts are listed on the Colour index page.

Check Out How Other Readers Got on with the Challenge!

Matching fabrics to a paint card. Image © Little by Little by Bossymama. www.DawnChorusStudio.com

Matched by Dina of Little By Little by Bossymama

Read Dina’s post What Colour Is It? on Little by Little by Bossymama.

Further Inspiration

If you’ve enjoyed this article please share it with your friends via the links below, thank you!

Linking up with My Quilt Infatuation for Needle and Thread Thursday.

Happy colour matching

Signature: Stephie © Stephanie Boon, 2015 www.DawnchorusStudio.com


18 replies
  1. Abigial @ cut&alter
    Abigial @ cut&alter says:

    Love this post. I really your tip about looking at the colour cards (which I have plenty of) and matching up fabrics to them (something I would NEVER have thought of!). I think you may see some of this on my blog in the future!!

  2. Kaja
    Kaja says:

    This is such a good idea, Stephie, and a great post to kick off the series. I love the idea of using paint cards (which I have always picked up compulsively) to play around with a monochrome palette. This approach would work really well for people just getting into improv too, as it could take the worry out of devising a palette to play with.

    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Taking out the worry is something I’m really keen on Kaja. I’ve met so many people over the years that are unnecessarily anxious about using colour, largely because they see it as either some sort of mysterious alchemy or technical/scientific problem they don’t understand. I hope I can help people discover simpler ways of approaching the subject to help build self confidence – and mostly have fun!

    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Thanks Teri! You’ve hit the nail on the head I think: it’s all about training the eye and then having the self confidence to go with your intuition. Hopefully it’s simple exercises like this one that will help train the eye 🙂 Thanks for coming and look forward to seeing you soon!

  3. Ann
    Ann says:

    Stephie, this is fabulous. What a great start to your series. I need to reread this several times… after getting some paint chip cards. Really fun to see your matchups from your scraps. Thanks!

  4. Joan
    Joan says:

    What a great idea! I lean toward using mostly medium tones in my fabrics and this would help me pull a range of values. Also, it will help with recognizing some of the more subtle differences in the fabric colors. Thanks for sharing your color posts!

    • Stephie
      Stephie says:

      Thanks so much Joan. I’m so glad you’ve found it helpful, and hopefully fun too 🙂 I hope you’ll come and join us regularly, I’m really pleased you came and said hello!


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  1. […] struggle to put colour schemes together. So, you can imagine how pleased I was when Stephie of Dawn Chorus Studio said that she was going to do a series on her blog entitled “How to Design a Great Colour […]

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