Color Confidence for Quilters– Part 5: Triadic Color Palettes

Color Confidence for Quilters– Part 5: Triadic Color Palettes

As a quilt designer, this might be heresy to say, but I think fabric selection is even more important to the overall look of the quilt than the actual quilt pattern. And the most important element of fabric (even more important, I think, than the design) is color!

The color palette we choose for our quilts make a world of difference. Fabric selection, though, is an area with which a lot of quilters struggle. This usually stems from an uncertain understanding of color. This is why I decided to write this series, Color Confidence for Quilters-- there are some simple formulas and rules of thumb that can take you from uncertain to confident and bold! If you missed any of the previous posts, you can catch them using the below links.

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Color Confidence for Quilters:

Classic Color Palettes: Triadic

The past several weeks, we've been exploring different classic color palettes. These are some basic color formulas, and as a math nerd, myself, I love a simple formula. Today is the last of these that we'll look at in this series-- the triadic palette!

Tri- prefix meaning ‘three’.

triadic color palette uses 3 colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel.
Triadic Color Wheel via


Triadic color palettes create a really interesting and dynamic look-- it's a simple formula for a colorful palette. Below are some examples of triadic palettes that you can use for your next project! Color Confidence for Quilters: Triadic Color Palettes


Triadic palettes can be a little intimidating since you are working with more colors, but just like in the other classic palettes, once you understand how it works and think about a few tips, creating your own triadic palette will be much easier!

Tip: Play with Value

If you've been following along with this series, you'll notice this tip in every post! Varying the values (remember value means the darkness or lightness of a color) is a super simple way to make a palette more interesting. Look at all the sample palettes above-- notice that in each one, the first two squares are the same color, but one is light and one is dark, this adds interest and creates balance.

Tip: Play with Saturation

Playing with saturation is how the pros can place any colors together and make them look fabulous. Remember: saturation is the intensity of a color, or the brightness. For example, look at the blues below. They are the exact same hue, but the left one is brighter (or more saturated) and the right one is less bright (or less saturated).

Saturation example

Notice in the sample palettes above, I included fabrics with high and low saturation as well as some in the middle. Sometimes placing all highly saturated fabrics together looks a bit too intense, while using all low saturated fabrics my appear too dull. Try mixing and matching for a more balanced look.

Tip: Play with Quantity

This simply means use more or less of certain colors. So, if you love blue, for example, but want to include more colors, choose several blues and just a couple other colors to serve as "pops". You don't need to include an even number of fabrics from each color.

Scrappy Applique Quilts with Triadic Palettes You can find the above patterns here: Skyline Patterns (the one pictured is Milan), Around the World Quilt (pattern is in my book).


The Exercise: Pull a Triadic Color Palette 

Triadic Color Palette
This will be much easier if your fabric stash is organized by color (see the exercise, Organize your Stash). Using the fabrics in your stash, pull a few for a sample palette. You don’t have to actually use them for a project, this is just to help train your eye. Use your Color Wheel (or  download my Free Color Wheel here ) to help you distinguish a specific hue (sometimes light blue is hard to tell apart from light turquoise, for example). We are not worrying about perfection, just progress and play.
Use some of the tips from earlier in the lesson: play with value, saturation, and quantity.

The more you play with color palettes, use your color wheel, and think about/notice color, the stronger your color intuition will grow. Stay tuned as we continue to learn about how color works, especially as it related to quilting.

Now, I’d love to hear from you! Do you have trouble putting together a more colorful palette? Think this formula is one you might like to try? What area of color would you like to learn more about?

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Thank you for the great tutorial on color. I love the bright, cheery colors, but know it doesn’t always work together. This is a great series!


I received this July 12, 2017 blog today, Oct. 10. I clicked on your link to download your color wheel, but apparently it’s not working now. Can you help?


[…] Lesson 5: Triadic Color Palettes […]

Color Confidence for Quilters: What is Value? | Shannon Brinkley Studio

Hmm, greens and browns will go nicely with gold. It is hard to know if the sparkling fabric will look good without seeing it. If you want to email a photo of the fabric you are planning to use, I’d be happy to share my opinion! shannon(at)shannon-brinkley(dot)com. The project sounds so special — I’m sure your friend will treasure it!

Shannon Brinkley

I am in the process of making the scene of Lincoln Ne. for a dear friend and mentor who has lived in there for many years but is retiring to Boston next year. The Boston area is where her family and many of her children live. I want to use a gold sparkling fabric for the gold tower of the capital building but am not sure that will look very good. Should I just use a gold cotton instead? Will be using lots of greens and browns in the rest of the picture, to represent the agricultural areas of the state and her husband’s (now deceased) work for the University as a researcher in this area. Any suggestions?


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