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Computer as a Color Tool

Often we see a photograph, a flower, leaf or other image that has breathtaking colors. We may want to try to recreate those colors, but never seem to quite get it right. The two images shown here are of the American flag. The first image is the regular photograph. The second one has the individual colors in the photo selected.

We would say there are three colors in the flag — red, white and blue. Yet, when you see an American flag blowing in the wind, your eye perceives so many more than just three discrete colors.  The play of light and shadow and the transparency of the flag translates our glorious red, white and blue into dozens of shades and hues.

I often use my computer to find the colors in an image such as this and then work with those colors in a quilt project. This is how I do it using Adobe Photoshop. Other image editing software will work in a similar way.

  • First, if I’m not using a digital image, I scan the picture or object at a very low resolution (the dpi or pixel setting). When I want to see individual squares of colors, I set the dpi to a very low number.
  • If you already have an electronic image, open it in your photo editing software and set the resolution to a very low number such as 8 or 10 dpi.
  • Next, use the eye-dropper tool to select a color from one of the squares.
  • Then, make a selection box below the image and use the paint bucket tool to fill that selection with the color. I continue making boxes and filling them with the colors in the image.
  • Finally, I rearrange the boxes in a shaded order and I have a palette of colors to refer to when selecting fabrics for my project!

There are also some wonderful automatic “palette generator” tools on the web. They will pull colors from an image that you upload from your computer. Use an online search engine to find automatic color palette generator or try this one:

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Color’s Impact on Design (Stony Creek)

During a Jinny Beyer seminar session on color shading, participants created full-sized quilt mock-ups from strips of fabric pasted to paper foundations.

Each mock-up is a variation of a single, original Jinny Beyer quilt design called Stony Creek. Each mock-up uses the same fabrics and the same quilt design. However, the fabric placement varies in each version.

Jinny explored this color exercise, and how shading creates special effects, in the May/June 2010 issue of Fons & Porter’s Love of Quilting magazine.

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Choosing Quilt Colors with the Portable Palette

Jinny’s Portable Palette is an indispensable tool for choosing colors for your quilts.

It’s very similar to a painter’s fan deck of colors. The Palette includes a 1¾” x 7″ swatch of each of the 150 fabrics in Jinny’s Palette Collection. The fabrics shade beautifully from one color to the next, making it easy to find a range of colors that will work with your focus fabric, inspiration photo or color scheme.

Watch as Jinny shows you how to use the Portable Palette in variety of ways that are sure to help you choose the colors for your next quilt. And get more details on the Portable Palette below.
More on the Portable Palette


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Mirror-Image Patches & Border Print Diamonds

In many quilt blocks, cutting identical patches and then sewing them together creates beautiful effects. (This tip has more on that technique.)

Sometimes, however, you need to sew a patch to its mirror-image. Fortunately, that’s easy to do!

In the Queen’s Crown block, the illusion of a border print frame is achieved by putting one patch right beside another that is its exact mirror image. If two patches will meet, using one regular and one mirror-image patch will allow the design to seem to reflect naturally around the corner.

Mark the design motif on your template and use it to cut the number of regular patches you need.

Then, just flip the template over and use it to cut your mirror-image patches, lining up your design motif markings with the matching motifs on your fabric.

Although the two diamond patches seem very similar in the block, their differences are more apparent here when pulled out of position. (The red lines indicate the sides that adjoin each other in the block.)

Border Print Diamonds

You can create spectacular effects using this technique in diamond-shaped patches. To create a border print diamond, you need four triangles: two are the same and two are exact mirror images.

Here’s how you do it.

1. Divide the diamond in half lengthwise and crosswise. Make a template from one of the four resulting triangles. Add the seam allowance to the outside and an arrow to show the lengthwise grain of fabric.

After dividing the diamond, make a template from one of the sections.

2. Position the template onto the fabric and draw a design motif from the fabric onto the template. Cut two identical triangles. These are the regular triangles.

3. Now, flip the template over and align the markings on the template with the fabric grain and the matching design motif on the fabric. Cut two of these triangles. These are the mirror-image (or reversed) triangles.

You will have two sets of mirror-image triangles that form an intricate-looking diamond when sewn together.

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Making Other Shapes in Border Print Fabric & Paisleys

Other geometric shapes can be made with a border print fabric in the same way as a square. The secret is to divide the shape into identical triangles. Create a template for that triangle (be sure to add the seam allowance), then cut as many triangles as you need from identical portions of the border print.

For detailed information on using border prints in many ways, download Making Magic with Border Prints Booklet.

Another great reference is Tips on Fussy Cutting Patches — another free download!

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Magical Effects with Border Print Fabrics

Quilters have been fussy-cutting fabric since the very beginning, and border prints create unique effects when cut carefully to fit in a specific patch.It can be as simple as replacing a single patch in a block or subdividing a large shape and using an identical piece of border print in each of those new pieces.

Watch the video to see how much impact you get with this technique and to see Jinny demonstrate how to modify a block to get that border print special effect.

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Creating Curves with Border Print

My Windows quilt appears to have border print circles in several places.

The curves are actually an illusion: the four different circular bands in the quilt are made up of small wedges of fabric that have straight sides.  However, by dividing the bands into pieces, you can get the appearance of curves. the quilt center is shown here.

Jinny’s Windows quilt, made to honor the victims of the 9/11 attacks.

Let’s look at the center of the quilt first. The center block, Liberty’s Crown, appears to be a circle.  However, look at the line drawing: the very center “circle” is actually a polygon with 16 sides, and the circular “frame” around it is actually made from 16 wedges.

All the sides of the wedges are straight lines, but because the lines are quite short, when the wedges are sewn together, the section appears curved.

The frame around the center image appears circular but is actually made from 16 wedges.

There are four bands of “curved” border print fabric in the quilt.  The smallest band (the one around the center patch with Lady Liberty) is made from 16 wedges; the outermost band is made from 128 wedges!

This band in the quilt was divided into 32 sections. One quarter of the quilt center is shown here.

Here’s how you can convert a circular band to use this technique.

1. Divide the band into segments. For the example below, I’ve used just eight segments rather than the 32 in the quilt. (The larger the circumference of the band, the more segments you’ll need to maintain the illusion of curves.) Using a computer makes this super-easy, but you can also use a protractor to determine the position of the angled lines.

Divide the circle into equal sections.

2. Replace the curved lines between your angled lines with straight lines. (Remember that this will change the shape of the patches above and below the band, too.)

3. Trace over the wedge to get your finished patch size and add a ¼” seam allowance all around.

Make the template, adding the seam allowance to the outside.

This technique will work for any fabric, but because I wanted to use border print fabric, there were two more things I had to do.

First, I wanted the band to include a printed stripe around the inside and outside of the band because I like the way this frames an element in a quilt. So I needed to make sure that the band in my quilt was the same height as the border print I had selected.

After drawing the straight line between two angles on the inside circle of my band, I drew the second line the width of the border print (4 ½”) above the first. After adding the seam allowance around the edges, my template was the perfect size for cutting the border print.

The height of the wedge should match the width of the border print stripe plus seam allowances.

Secondly, for the design to flow smoothly around the band, I needed to cut identical fabric patches, all of which had the same mirror-image element  centered in the patch. (The blue line on the template indicates the mirror image.)

The template is used to cut identical wedges from the border print fabric.

Creating curves with border print fabric isn’t something you can accomplish “lickety-split”, but it also isn’t as hard as it might seem.  It just takes some time and patience.

For even more information, see my book, Quiltmaking by Hand,  pages 139-141 and 154-155.

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Creating Border Print Squares

Squares are the most common shape in patchwork blocks. If a block includes a large center square, consider replacing it with a border print square made from four identical triangles. Or, rather than alternating pieced blocks with plain ones, use border print squares for the alternate blocks for lots of impact with very little sewing!

Download Border Print Squares Made Easy for future reference.

Step 1

Determine the finished size of the square needed. Divide the square diagonally from corner to corner to create four triangles as in the diagram, right. Make a template from one of the triangles from see-through template material. Be sure to add a ¼-inch seam allowance around all sides of the piece. Draw a line down the middle of the template as shown, to use as a mirror line.

Make a template by tracing around one of the triangles, then drawing 1/4″ outside those lines.

Step 2

Using the mirror line as a guide, center the template on one of the motifs in the border print fabric, making sure that a line from the border print falls just inside the sewing line on the long side of the triangle template. (This ensures that you will have a nice line or frame around the outside of the finished square.) Mark some portion of the design directly onto the template to use as a guide for cutting the remaining pieces. Carefully draw around the template and cut the piece out.

If you want to see what the square will look like before actually cutting the pieces, position the template onto the fabric, then place two mirrors on the two short sides of the triangle so they meet at a right angle. Carefully remove the template to see what the finished square will look like.

Center the mirror line on the fabric motif and draw a portion of the fabric design onto the template.

Step 3

Cut three more triangles identical to the first, then sew them together to complete the square. Placing your triangle on different portions of the border print will produce different effects!

Four identical triangles sew together into a gorgeous border print square.

Simply changing the position of the template on the fabric creates a host of designs.

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Creating Perfectly Matched Designs

To create kaleidoscopic effects in patchwork blocks, each of the fabric patches must have identical designs.

However, even though you work really hard to cut the pieces exactly the same they do not always match. Because fabric can stretch during printing or cutting, even though the mirror line on the template runs exactly down the middle of the mirror line on the fabric, it is possible that the opposite sides of the patch will not have exactly the same motif as the left side. Sometimes it is off by as much as an eighth of an inch.

So how to get that perfect kaleidoscopic effect? Simple! When pinning the pieces for sewing, line up the design printed on the fabric, not the edges of the patches. If one of the pieces is off by an eighth of an inch, then the other side will be off by the same when you sew the other side. These off-set pieces will even each other out and the designs will line up perfectly.

As indicated by the arrows, the fabric design does not match exactly on both sides.

Although the seam allowances are uneven on each seam, they will even out over the whole unit.

By matching the design and not the fabric edges, you get a perfectly matched unit.