Color Chat: Monochromatic Color 22

I spend a lot of time talking about multi-colored things, so I think it’s high time we chatted about monochromatic color schemes.


I feel like monochromatic color schemes get something of a bad rap. They’re often considered boring or uninteresting, but they really don’t have to be.


Pink Paper by Allison (allisonsews on flickr)

Monochromatic schemes are great for featuring a specific color. There’s no worry that another color will take the focus, since, well… there aren’t any. Β Additionally, because there is no color contrast, you can be sure that the overall look will have a strong sense of harmony. In the above quilt–Pink Paper by Allison (allisonsews on flickr)–the colors all work harmoniously, with the pink being a strong feature.

Monochromatic color schemes can also be great for bringing the focus onto the shapes created in the quilt. Because there’s less color contrast to draw our eye, the contrast between the positive and negative space will become more apparent. Christina @ A Few Scraps uses this to good effect, with the shapes seeming to emerge from the background in her quilt, Cascade.

So what exactly is a monochromatic color scheme? Monochromatic simply means one hue. Which sounds pretty boring on the surface, because who wants to limit themselves to just one color? However, if you remember my discussion on contrast, color is made up of three things: hue, saturation, and brightness.

As a reminder, I’ll go over them again quickly.


Hue refers to the color on the color spectrum. The rainbow contains all hues. Each slice on a color wheel represents a family of hues.


The hue is modified by saturation, or how strong the color is. A black and white photo has no saturation, while a rainbow is full saturation. At full brightness, a desaturated color will go towards white, at half brightness it will go towards grey.


Furthermore, the hue is also modified by brightness, or how dark the color is. The less brightness to the color, the closer it is to black.


Here are some examples to show how hue, saturation, and brightness work together to change the color. Aqua is a blue-green hue, with medium-high saturation, and high brightness. Charcoal grey is a red-orange hue with low saturation and low brightness. Navy is a blue-violet with medium saturation and low brightness, and cream is an orange with low saturation and high brightness.


DQS14 mini-quilt by Kristin @ And Chips

I bring this up because a monochromatic color scheme may have only one hue, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t play with the saturation and brightness to keep things dynamic and interesting. Kristin @ And Chips made this mini-quilt above, which by varying the saturation and brightness of aqua she was able to add a lot of visual interest while still limiting herself to a single hue.


When you modify saturation and brightness, you often end up naturally moving into some neutrals. For instance, taking this golden yellow and desaturating it, we go through creams on the way to white. While this is monochromatic, there is still a lot of variety and interest in this palette.


Similarly, this blue scheme plays with both saturation and brightness, which adds blue-greys and black for added variety and interest.

So how do you plan a monochromatic design? Like any other color scheme, there is a decision to be made about how much attention you want to give to the shapes in your quilt.


Red and White Herringbone by CB Handmade on flickr

If you want the shapes to be a strong element, you can create a very graphic look by using a single color and a neutral, like this quilt by Erica (CB Handmade on flickr). The greatest area of contrast is between the foreground and background, and therefore the shapes are what draw your attention. The more color variation you add, the more attention the color will have.


Project Modern Challenge 2 by Emily @ Emily Becker Bruzzini

If you want the color to be the main focus, add variety by playing with the saturation and brightness. Don’t be afraid of using light and dark values, as they will add a lot of visual interest to your quilt.Β Emily @ Emily Becker Bruzzini‘s quilt above does a great job of showing a lot of variety in her yellow tones and how much interest the light and dark tones add. She also uses no neutrals, so this quilt is entirely about the color yellow, with the shapes supporting that instead of being the focus themselves.


My mod pop quilt falls somewhere in between, with various shades of navy as the foreground, and various shades of grey for the background. There is still a graphic nature to the design because of the contrast between the navy and grey, but the variation within the colors brings some attention to the color as well.


  • A monochromatic color scheme uses one hue, but can vary the saturation and brightness.
  • Monochromatic color schemes are great for featuring a color, creating a graphic design, or for creating a strongly harmonizing design.
  • If you want the focus to be on the shapes in your quilt, use a single color and a neutral.
  • If you want the focus to be on the color of the quilt, add variety to your color by changing up saturation and brightness.


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22 thoughts on “Color Chat: Monochromatic Color

  • jodydeschenes

    thank you for commenting on what for me is a no brainer. color is just ONE facet of anything. if you think something is boring because it is only one or two colors, then you are missing the elements of shape, texture, pattern, light, etc. i mean one look at your mod pop quilt should teach anybody that monochromatic isn’t boring. the overall quilt pattern is awesome, the quilting itself is has great shape & texture, the zillions of fabrics have a zillion patterns in and of themselves (not to mention a zillion actual colors…ok, a hundred)…hey! your binding is a different color! (; i know i am sensitive about this because i do NOT like what so many people seem to love – bright colors and a bunch of them, always, on everything. i think it’s going to be funny when someday we can all date a quilt because the background was white or gray, and there were few analogous or monochromatic color schemes, because there was always at least one piece of RED thrown in there! i like colors that everyone calls “masculine” – i hate that – they are not any more ‘masculine’ than bright colors are ‘feminine’…or ‘childish’ for that matter. Monochromatic isn’t any more ‘boring’ than bright mixes of colors are ‘obnoxious’. it is all just different, and different people like different things. we forget to say “i like that” versus “that IS pretty”. now i’m going to go snuggle up to my Parson Gray. (: (: (: oh ya, and drink my coffee!!!!!! love ya’ll (: (: (:

    • anne Post author

      Jody, your comments always crack me up! I love bright colors, so I can’t really speak against those who tend to use them, but I will say that one of the things that makes art and design so enjoyable is just how individualized it is. I have trouble using monochromatic themes, even though I love them, because my default is low volume + rainbow. I’m constantly fighting against that, which of course means I’ve yet to finish a lv + rainbow quilt, but that’s a different story. πŸ˜‰
      I agree it’s going to be fascinating to see what trends change and what stays the same. That’s one reason I find the “what is modern quilting” debate a little disingenuous…we won’t really know until it’s over.
      As for colors being masculine, I recently got in trouble for saying my toy boat quilt would be great for a boy. It’s not that I don’t think a girl would like it, it’s just that few things in the quilting world are well-suited for typical guy tastes, so when something comes up, it’s like “OMG IT’S FOR GUYS.” I don’t think it’s meant to be exclusionary to women, it’s more just exciting that something is around that isn’t pink ponies and flowers. πŸ™‚ (Which some guys love, too!) So basically I think what I’m saying is language is hard. lol

    • anne Post author

      Thanks Vera! I am not normally drawn to yellow, but I apparently was in a yellow mood when I wrote this post! lol I love the yellow improv quilt by Emily. So gorgeous!

  • springleafstudios

    I always enjoy your color posts and this one is no different. Color is such a fun thing to play with in a quilt and yet something that people can struggle with. My art background gives me an inherent sense of color and yet I still sometimes struggle a bit with making final choices. One thing you didn’t mention is how much the pattern in the fabric can add to the texture and visual activity of the design. Your Mod Pop is a great example. It’s a wonderful monochromatic quilt but I wouldn’t find it nearly as interesting to view if it had been made in solids. The textures of all the prints bring the quilt to life and keep my eye moving all around the surface. Something that wouldn’t happen as much with a repetitive design in solids. BTW . . . I also really enjoyed your design post from last week.

  • Lorna McMahon

    I do remember learning about monochromatic colour schemes in public school and painting a horses head using blue. I really must have enjoyed that because it was a longgggg time ago and I can still remember it. Working with fabric is so much more fascinating a medium. Looking forward to applying your lesson for us into a quilt in the future! Thank you, Anne!

    • anne Post author

      Oh my gosh! I think I did the same exercise! Although we all got to pick our hue, but I remember how fun it was to paint the animal a completely wacky color. πŸ™‚ I love working with fabric as well, there’s something I really enjoy about having the color space limited by what’s available, which with most mediums doesn’t happen since you can generally mix colors.

    • anne Post author

      πŸ˜€ Thanks, m’dear! I always get a little nervous knowing that people with more art training than me are going to read these things. lol

    • anne Post author

      I have an entire post on neutrals planned, and I can’t wait to talk more about them! πŸ™‚ There’s a lot more to them than people give them credit for! πŸ™‚ They’re like the staff at a hotel, they keep everything working smoothly but are rarely seen.

    • anne Post author

      I almost featured your blue DWR but figured if I posted another photo of something you made, people would start getting our blogs confused. πŸ˜‰

  • Katy(LethargicLass)

    soooo… black and white are monochromatic? I ask because one of the *ahem* *cough* higher class of magazines *cough, sputter, gossip rag) always comments that so-and-so’s monochromatic look and it is always black and white… can they be the same hue?

    • anne Post author

      For some reason, my blog didn’t forward me your comment. Which is lame because you had a great question!

      Black and white are monochromatic, although honestly I think it’d technically be “achromatic.” Black, white and all the pure greys between them are completely desaturated colors, so they aren’t associated with a hue. (Hence achromatic – no color.) Sometimes we have warm and cool greys, but those are actually greys with color mixed in, so they aren’t completely desaturated.

      When a color is mixed with various amounts of white, you get tints. A color mixed with various amounts of black makes shades, and color mixed with different greys makes tones. A color plus all its tints, shades and tones can all be involved in a single monochromatic color scheme. πŸ™‚

      Does that make sense?

    • anne Post author

      I’m loving all your upbeat comments, thank you! πŸ˜€ It’s hard to know how useful this stuff will be to people, so comments like yours really make it worth it. Thank you again. πŸ˜€