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Color Chat: Monochromatic Color

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.

Cascade by Christina @ A Few Scraps

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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