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How to Choose Fabrics for a Perfect Patchwork Quilt!

by Tori McElwain for Quilting with Darla

Wondering the aisles of my local fabric shop, I spot a fabric that is perfect for a quilt for my mom for Mother's Day! But, I have no pattern in mind and no time! I know I could whip up a Patchwork quilt top in a few hours, so that solves one problem, but I need more than one fabric! Ugh! Where do I even start?
- Tori around 2017

Does the story above sound familiar? I struggled with picking fabrics for years! Before I was a Color Confidence for Quilter's certified instructor, I came up with a few formulas to help me choose my fabrics. Below, I lay out my favorite way to put together fabric for a fun, easy, and straightforward patchwork quilt using 10.5-inch squares!


Starting with a Theme in mind will help when choosing the next step - your large print! So, will this patchwork quilt be for a Holiday gift? A baby shower? Mother's Day? or maybe just because you saw trucks and they would be great for your grandson?
As you browse fabric keep this theme in mind and it will help keep your fabric choices feeling cohesive.

1-2 Large or Medium Prints:

Next, find a large or medium print that matches your theme and makes the gut feeling in your stomach (aka your inner artist) happy! This is usually that fun or beautiful fabric that already caught your eye!

A large print is relative. So for the sake of our post here, we will say large is anything about 2 inches or larger. Making a medium print about 1-2 inches. However, if a print is about 1.5 inches and it is the largest print in your fabric pull, that can be considered your "large." The important thing to keep in mind is that this print will be the focus of your patchwork - it is where your eyes will go the most when looking at the quilt.

Find at least one of these larger prints. For me, I like to have 1-2 larger prints, any more and the quilt gets a bit busy.

Take a close look at this larger print. Identify 3-4 colors. The next steps can be taken out of order. Sometimes I find it's easier to jump to solids than to add small prints.

2 Small Prints:

Small prints is where your theme can shine through! Polka dots are fun, snowflakes add to a winter or holiday theme, and crayons help add color/remind us of the school days for the teachers in our lives.

I love using print to add character! I usually choose 2, maybe 3. Lay these next to your large print and see how you like it. Is it too busy? Just right? Need a small print with less color? Trade a few in and out to find the right balance.

2 Solids/Textured Solids:

Solids and textured solids (textured like marbled colors, Moda's Grunge fabric, or a batik) add color and background. I like to think back to those 3-4 colors I identified in my large print and start with those.

Overall, you should end up with 5-7 fabrics. (fabric requirements are listed in the pattern below)
After choosing my fabric I cut everything into 10.5-inch squares.

Here’s a Winter example!

Here’s a “Cactus Boho” example!

The Layout:

I have 1 rule for the layout, no same fabric should be touching. This can get a bit tricky, especially with 5 fabrics. So I do allow the occasional diagonal to touch, but otherwise I do my best not to have the same fabric touching.

The first row has one of each fabric, then I go with my rule and just start laying the squares in rows fairly randomly. After the entire quilt is laid out (usually on the guest bed or the floor!) I trade a few squares around until I am happy with the overall look. Again, listen to your gut and trust that feeling of happiness. Sometimes, you may have to walk away and come back once or twice to see how you like it. It's the perfect time for a snack/water break!

Borders? Yes or No?

Borders are a great way to frame your quilt and make it larger! I have a Blog Post and video all about borders if you'd like to see more about how to pick and layout a border, click here! To answer yes or no, ask yourself if it needs a frame. Do I want it larger? If either of those answers is a yes, then add that border!


I love discussing how to choose quilting for a quilt top! You can see more in my Quilt Design Blog Posts, however, I have another rule for my Patchworks. I keep the quilting simple. I want my fabric to be the star of this show! My go-to for patchwork is either meander or an edge to edge themed quilting such as loops and snowflakes or leaves. Think back to the theme you started with, this can be a fun way to choose an overall quilting design!

Just like with the layout, I do have 1 exception: solids. If I choose to free-motion quilt my quilt top (versus using computerized quilting on a longarm), I add quilting to the solid fabrics to add a little fun and texture.

Check out the slide show below to see the fabric combinations and the completed tops:


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