Playing with Color: Transparency Tutorial



I received a few requests after my post about Evaluating Fabric Color Value to discuss color transparency. I am currently really loving playing with color transparency and have several more pattern ideas that I want to explore to follow up my Triangle Transparency pattern. Transparency quilts play with the subtleties of fabric values to create layered, transparent effects.

Color transparency relies on there being both a fabric color value difference and cohesive color transition. In addition to using black and white images to evaluate fabric color values (perfect for iPhone / Instagram users and quick filters when you are out fabric shopping), you can use red glasses, and natural light near dawn or dusk lends to good in person lighting. For more details on evaluating fabric color value, please refer to my tips on Evaluating Fabric Color Value.

To start the discussion about color transition, I am going to focus on what makes the fabrics that I selected for my green Triangle Transparency quilt so effective. Evaluating how cohesive the color transition is is a bit more subtle. I selected modern prints that read as solid colors for the green Triangle Transparency quilt, but the subtle patterns in the prints help pull the color transition along. For instance, when you look at the two lightest colors side by side,

you can see that the woodgrain pattern is actually a light ivory color. Similarly, when you look at the light green next to the medium green,

you notice that the background color for the hand drawn stripes is actually just a shade or two darker than the background color for the woodgrain print. What makes the color value more distinct between these two prints are the darker overlaid lines on the medium print. Evaluating how the medium green print next to the dark green print read,

again, you might notice that the background color of the medium green is nearly the same color as the lighter green in the darker wood grain pattern.

By carefully selecting fabrics that subtly blend into one another, the final overlapping color transparency is very effective.

Triangle Transparency
Triangle Transparency

After posting about evaluating color value, I was a bit concerned about seeming like I do not care for batik fabrics. I actually quite enjoy working with batiks; I find that they iron and sew beautifully. However, they can be tricky to utilize. I would like to throw out a different way of thinking about playing with color transparency… some batiks are beautiful blends of two distinct colors. The batik itself is the blender and common link between two different colors, and playing with that idea can make for a fun iteration and approach to color transparency:

Batik Blending Color Transparency
Batik Blending Color Transparency

Another way to select fabrics for color transparency is to use a color card. In particular, the Kona Color Card, with its large selection of colors, is a great place to pull inspiration. The colors are grouped together and working in the natural groupings, selecting light to dark shades might be simplified. Also note that once you have selected the color shades, you can then use them as “paint chips” to take with you and evaluate other print fabrics to see if they read close to the colors you have selected and know will work well together.

Robert Kaufman Kona Color Card
Robert Kaufman Kona Color Card

Finally, some fabric designers very carefully work with consistent color palettes. Pulling fabrics from the same designer (even potentially across fabric lines, depending on how the designer typically works) can be a great way to be confident the colors will seamlessly blend. Carolyn Friedlander immediately comes to my mind; below you can see the rich oranges from across several of her lines and how they blend together.

Triangle Transparency (Orange)
Triangle Transparency (Orange)

Linking up with Tips and Tutorials Tuesdays (button to the right).


  • I definitely feel better able to pull some fabrics together, thank you! And I have hopefully already said this when you first showed it to us, but it bears repeating, your triangle transparency pattern is brilliantly beautiful!

  • Thanks for sharing the idea for the batiks – I have a bunch that I collected when I first started quilting. I thought then I would never ever use another type of fabric. . . . HAHA I need to get back to them. They are beautiful and I do still love them, however they are feeling just a little neglected 😉

  • Thank you for this transparency tutorial! What great explanations and graphic examples! I love creating ( illusion) type quilts and can’t wait to put this information to use!

  • Thank you for this tutorial! I love working with colors, except I have to wait until I get to go out of town, rather state. As I am in far western NC. In order for me to be able to do this, I have to be somewhere , where they offer lots of good quilt quality fabrics, from many different designers. It does make it easier. Lovebthat green transparency quilt! Just so soothing

  • i’m giving up, and sending you a copy of my “order form” could you PLEASE pick 3 colors, and let me know which ones to use, if any of these at all, i have spent the past time since the faric requirements were published trying and trying to choose, eraseing and re choosing and this time i just can’t say yes to anything, or more to the point no to everything else. PLEASE…………………….

I really appreciate the time and thought you take to comment, and I look forward to conversing with you. :)