The Value of Value

Quilters often use the print of a fabric to wonderful effect, giving dimension and interest to a pieced or appliquéd quilt through the use of a particular design. Another easy way to add interest is through the use of changes in value. By carefully selecting, or perhaps fussy cutting, your fabric, beautiful dimension can be effortlessly added to your work.

Perhaps the easiest way is to vary the background color of your design. For a pieced quilt, this can be as easy as selecting a range of fabrics of the same color with different values as shown below in my quilt Kaleiding Stars. Here the yellow/gold background areas vary from light in the center to increasingly darker towards the outside, adding movement and interest. Additionally, the star points and red triangles in the border are pieced with varying values to provide more dimension.

Kaleiding Stars ©Diane Rusin Doran

Let’s look at some simpler examples. In these three images the same flower is superimposed on different backgrounds. Note how the leftmost flower, a solid orchid color on solid blue, has a graphic, yet somewhat flat, appearance. In the next two examples the varying color of the background contrasts in different ways with the solid orchid of the flower, providing more interest and dimension to the image. No one way is the “right” way, it all depends on the look you prefer.

.orchid-flower-plain-blue-bkgrnd orchid-flower-bkgrnd-light-to-dark orchid-flower-bkgrnd-dark-to-light

In the following images the background is solid and the coloration of the flowers varies. Here we’ve got a graphic look along with dimensional looking flowers.

ombre-flower-plain-blue-bkgrnd light-to-dark-ombre-flower-plain-blue-bkgrnd

Now let’s combine two color combos into a nine patch layout. Look how dynamic the ombré flowers are on a solid background.


To be fair, all of these examples have contrasting colors that up their drama, but the same principles apply for gray scale designs. Just for fun, here’s a gray scale image derived from the nine patch above.


More dynamic than just two colors, right? Next time you’re making a quilt top, try playing around with ombré or striated fabrics, or varying the value of your background elements, and see if those small changes create a look that’s appealing to you.

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