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Choosing Fabric for Scrappy Quilts

How to select fabric for a scrappy quilt

Hello Quilters!

Monday I was on the American Patchwork and Quilting Podcast hosted by Pat Sloan and she asked me about how I choose colors for scrappy quilts! We didn’t have a lot of time so I wanted to share some tips on my process here!

Before we get into color choices let’s get ORGANIZED!

  • Organize your stash! ~ How will you know what you have unless you organize your fabric? My stash is organized by color.  Believe it or not, I only have one shoe box size bin for each color (ok maybe two of a couple colors). I have one large tote of large pieces (yardage) for quilt backs or background fabric and one medium tote of low volume (white or very light color) fabric. When I need a color or am looking for a particular fabric, I know right where to go!
  • Make yourself a design board! ~ This doesn’t have to be fancy.  I have two. One large one on the wall that typically has a couple projects on it. I also have a small poster size board that I pull out when I need a little extra room, or I’m going to a getaway and want one that’s easy to transport.  Each are made of insulation or foam board that’s just wrapped with cotton batting and then taped to the back.  They allow me to step back and look at my work from a distance. This is important; and when you have one, you won’t know what you did without it!

Lets get to it!

FIND A STARTING POINT –  Ask yourself some questions… What is my Quilt about? What is the mood? Who is it for? Is there a color scheme I want to mimic? As a quilter I tend to make quilts for people ~ Maybe it’s a baby gift (soft palate of pinks? blues?) Maybe it’s a Christmas quilt (red? green?) Or I might want to match a room and something in the decor is going to dictate my color scheme… these are all things that I like to think about when I start a quilt, and they give me a starting point or a theme.

Since we are talking about scrappy quilts I automatically think about shopping in my stash first to see what I have! Once I have a starting point (theme), I think about what I’m looking for in my stash:

The Maine Idea ~ find a VARIETY of pattern, color and value. 

Within this variety I’d ultimately like these six elements:
  1. Large Print
  2. Medium Print
  3. Small Print
  4. Geometric – Checks/Stripes/Plaid/Linear Element
  5. Dots & Spots
  6. Organic or Floral

My STARTING POINT is going to be a Happy (Scrap) Quilt! I want something that Makes me Happy – and I want lots of Variety!

Sometimes when choosing fabric, we go for lovely bundle ~ already pre-selected for us! This is wonderful, BUT when you are selecting your bundle keep The Main Idea in mind! Let’s look at some bundles I found in my own stash and I’ll show you what I mean!

First up is this gorgeous bundle!

Sleeping Porch fabric by heather ross

Oh, isn’t this just dreamy! (Sleeping Porch by Heather Ross) Let’s open it up and see what’s really in here…

Sleeping porch fabric by heather ross

Looking at the photo above, I’ve organized it by value and I can already see VARIETY in Color (YES!) Print (YES!) and Value (YES! we will talk more about value in a minute) What about my six elements?

  1. Large Print? YES!
  2. Small Print YES!
  3. Medium Print YES!
  4. Geometric? NOPE
  5. Dot/Spot? YES (the top floral print acts as a spot)
  6. Floral? YES, YES AND YES!

This bundle is a great option for a scrappy quilt!

Now let’s look at this jelly roll ~ Equally gorgeous… Purples, Blues, Greens, Orange and Red. Lot’s of color!Woolies FlannelNow I’m going to open it up and take a closer look…

Woolies FlannelIs there VARIETY in Value? (Nope!) Color? (YES!) Print (Nope! not enough variety for my scrappy quilt)

What about my six elements?

  1. Small? YES!
  2. Medium? YES!
  3. Large? NO!
  4. Geometric? YES YES!
  5. Spots? YES!
  6. Organic Floral? NO!


This bundle is gorgeous but there is not enough Variety (especially in value) for my scrappy quilt and I want some organic and floral fabric mixed in.  There are too many no’s on my list so this is not going to work for my scrappy quilt!

Let’s compare the two side by side…

How to select fabric for a scrappy quiltLook what happens when we take the color out and look ONLY AT VALUE.

How to select fabric for a scrappy quiltOh Dear! That’s not good! You can see from this photo that there is no variety in value in my jelly roll and you can also see the obvious variety in value that we have in the bundle on the left – I want this variety for movement in my scrappy quilt! I still love the bundle on the left but it’s just not for this project so it goes back in the bin!

OK Now, Let’s say I don’t have a gorgeous bundle to play with! I’m going to choose one favorite fabric from the bundle (purple with butterflies) that makes me HAPPY (starting point) and then I’m going to go shop in my stash… I start pulling out more (and more!) purples that coordinate…

How to select fabric for a scrappy quilt

Notice that while I’m having fun pulling out purples that are checking off my 6 elements, I am also paying attention to value!

Now I’m going to look for a couple more colors, I’m pulling out orange and green pops of color from my starting point fabric.

How to select fabric for a scrappy quilt

I am really LOVING THIS! So much interest! Plus, purple and orange are one of my favorite color combinations, I can’t get enough! I could continue with this adding more pink and creams etc but you can see where I’m going with this.

Ok, so lets see what this all looks like with the original bundle…

How to select fabric for a scrappy quilt

I think this would be perfect for a Happy Scrap Quilt! Which is exactly where I wanted to go with my starting point!

Let’s look at some quilts I finished recently and see how I did… This quilt has lots of Variety in color, pattern and enough variety in value to make it interesting and not monotone. Notice the Large prints are really LARGE and the small prints are not so small compared to my example above… but it’s all relative! And I see spots and geometric designs and even some organic print.

Next is a quilt I made with a partial bundle I had left over in my stash. This quilt has a soft look to it. Lot’s of pink, a real girly quilt.

There is a variety in color and print, but not value. This is fine, as long as this is the look you are after (refer to your starting point).Star Struck Quilt ~ Piece and Quilt with Precuts Blog Tour

But it did became a little problematic when I was laying out my quilt – I took this next photo using my phone camera to help me disperse the hot pink and dark gray fabrics as evenly as I could. They were the only two fabrics left in the bundle that were of a different value. How to select fabric for a scrappy quilt

Just to take it a step further I looked at a couple chapters from my Dear Daughter Quilt… I think I did pretty good! I see lots of Variety!

dear daughter quilt a long

dear daughter quilt pattern chapter 10It can be a little more challenging in sampler quilts when you don’t have the overall balance of a repeating block to make your quilt consistent. Sometimes all you need to do is swap out one color and it’s just what you’re looking for.

When you look at blocks from my Scrap Happy Sampler, you will notice color plays an important role.  With a consistent white background and lots of color, my job is to balance the color over the quilt top.Scrap Happy Sampler Quilt Pattern

scrap happy bom sampler quilt

You can see some consistent value in the blocks,  which works. The white is my light which means more medium to darker value fabrics show up best.
I sure hope you found some of these tips helpful! Thanks for hanging in for this LONG POST!

log cabin block of the month quilt

7 thoughts on “Choosing Fabric for Scrappy Quilts”

  1. i wish you could come visit and organize my “stash”. I can see a re-organization happening in my sewing room. thanks for the information. It might be time to make another Scrap Happy quilt. That was the quilt that made me fall in love with your designs. Thank you so much for sharing with us.

  2. Carolyn Phillips Finlayson

    This is a wonderful article. I love color and this gives me a lot to think about when choosing fabrics.

  3. I enjoyed listening to your Podcast and I’m glad to see the follow up tutorial! I always love your bright projects – your stash is amazing!

  4. Thank you so much for patiently explaining some of my most difficult problems with fabric. I love brights and I love scrappy; however, afraid of scrappy!

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