I do a lot of my fabric selection and shopping online, and that can present a challenge on occasion. Lately, I have been really drawn to creating quilts with subtle tonal differences like in my Triangle Transparency quilt. The key to getting a design like Triangle Transparency to pop is in the fabric selection, and I wanted to share some of my thoughts on evaluating fabric color value.
One of the best tips that I have been given when it comes to evaluating fabric color value is to look at fabrics side by side in a photograph and then to look at the same fabrics again when color is removed and the photograph is changed to a greyscale. For the purposes of this example, I am going to use some green batik fabric thumbnails that I found from Fabric.com. I like these images because they have a print size reference on the image (the ruler on the bottom of the image). First, I took my best stab at arranging the fabric swatches from lightest to darkest:
Then I took the image and converted it to greyscale. Several things immediately jump out to me when I change it to greyscale. In the fabric on the left (what I had sorted as the lightest value fabric), the print has an uneven mix of color value. There are areas within the same print that read as much lighter than other areas. The same thing is true for the print on the far right.
Evaluating the print on the right in closer detail, let’s take a look at the scale of the print. I am going to assume that the piecing I want to do with this print finishes out at 2-inches square. Using the ruler at the bottom of the image as a guide, I created 3 different 2-inch square boxes in different areas of the print.
Copying those squares out to be beside each other and then looking at the same squares in greyscale, you can see that there is a definite color value gradient within the print that would make this particular fabric a poor choice for color value consistency.
Going back to the original grouping of fabrics in greyscale, the middle print does not read as one color value, nor does the print to the right of the middle. If I am looking for a fabric that reads as a solid color, the best choice out of the five selected fabrics would be the fabric second from the left; the rest of them might not be well suited for a color value project.
It is sometimes easier to notice these subtle nuances when viewing fabrics together in person, but paying attention to print scale by looking for images of the fabric with yardage indication has been very helpful for me when shopping online. Also, just because I used batiks in this example does not mean that batiks are the only fabrics that have these characteristics! Finding prints that read as a uniform color and color value can be tricky, especially large scale print repeats when small piecing will be used from yardage. Using this technique has been really beneficial for me in my fabric selection process.
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