Round Up: ‘Sleeper’ Colors & Combos

melissa • November 16, 2011 • 2 Comments

Sometimes you’re confronted with a color palette that is, well, a bit off. The ungraceful color combo might be in a new fabric line, or it might be on a project you’re starting. And you secretly think the project just might suck a little…until you see the finished project in all its glory. Wowza! The first thing you notice is how those unusual hues really harmonize, how they play much better together than you dreamed they could.

We call this a sleeper combo, and we’ve all had that moment of delight when we see disparate colors come together and really sing. (Like when you realize the barista really did hear you when you asked for a half caff/skinny caramel macchiato /rainbow sprinkles.) And of course that odd combo or awkward color becomes your new fave for nearly everything your needle touches for the next month.

We know we’re not the only ones who get a weird new color crush now and then, so we deputized GenQ Cabana Boy Scott Hansen (also of Blue Nickel Studios) to poll a few of our quilty/bloggy/artsy friends and find out what unusual color combinations or colors have blindsided them by being so wonderful in the finished product.

As you’d expect, the answers were all over the board. Everyone seemed to be surprised at different combos with grey, orange and peach as highlights. So we guess the real answer is….just go for it! Everything works eventually. (Or you could use Scott’s Blue Nickel mantra: “100 different colors and you’re good to go!!”)

Here’s what Scott’s poll turned up:

John Adams, Quilt Dad and a member of the Fat Quarterly staff.—“I recently pulled together an unusual bundle of fabrics that included shades of teal blue, a honey-ish yellow, green, grey and stone.  I was — and still am — surprised that they worked so well together, since it’s nothing I would have thought of without physically pulling the fabrics together.”





Pam Vieira-McGinnis,  Pam Kitty Morning
— People who know me know that I love bright cheerful colors. What’s cheerful to me? Yellow, red, blue, green, pink…well, you know, PamKittyMorning colors! There’s no ignoring gray anymore though, is there? I’ve never been a fan but lately it’s winning me
over.  I made a quilt for Lecien for Fall Market using Natalie Lymer’s new collection, Woodland, which features gray, gold, teal, red and green, and I was surprised that by the end, I really did like the gray.

“And look at Lori Holt’s new collection, Daisy Cottage from Riley Blake.
Pink with gold and gray? But look how wonderful it is! Contemporary colors and
traditional design!

“And lastly I had a chance to work with that little snippet of gray in the Bloggers Block of the Month that Jackie is doing.  The little gray bits are a nice place for the eye to rest in a sea of more vibrant colors.

“Will gray be a staple in the PKM color wheel? Who knows! But will I automatically turn away? No way!”


Cara Wilson, Cara Quilts–“This is a hard one for me to answer now. Had you asked me five or six years ago, I could have rattled off a few, but since becoming a total fabric addict I’ve stopped being surprised by the incredible talent of designers to make colours that in no way should look good together work fantastically.

“I think the use of value, hue and tone and the incredible advances in printing have led to such an unlimited variety of possibilities that designers have been able to tweak colours to work with each other, no matter the supposed rules around them.

“Having long-windedly said this is a hard one, the use of orange may be what surprises me the most. Orange has had a bad rap for so long as being garish or too bright but lately we’ve seen designers use it in a more muted, deeper or gentle application, allowing it to work well with lavenders, deep roses, dove greys, etc., as in Bari J’s Paris Apartment, or in blend in busier prints like Kaffe Fassett’s.

“Heather Ross has also used orange in a softer way to create some gorgeous combinations in Far Far Away III.

“Alice Kennedy gets it bright and happy–a more traditional use, I think—with orange
and pink in Orange Crush.

“Orange is a hard colour, so I guess I am still somewhat surprised when designers
pull it off without it falling into its traditional place as a novelty, autumn or vintage-themed fabric, but making it complement, enhance and stand on its own in so many ways. The advancement of batiks have also let orange play very nicely with non-traditional playmates of all hues, shades and tones beautifully and helped show off the immense versatility and the huge range of orange that occurs naturally in nature but not always in art.

“With any colour, the biggest thing to be aware of is tone and hue when trying to match it to another colour family. Between the two, any colours can look made for each other!”

Jana Nielson, Izzy & Ivy Designs–“This may not sound too unusual, but back in the day, when I was a florist, I remember that we would NEVER do a pink and orange arrangement. I was trained that pink and orange were bad together. The first tine I saw it in fabric, I think that now THAT combo is my favorite for quilts, clothing, flowers, food…I love it!”


Melody Miller–“So…color combinations.  I’m constantly surprised at how colors work together. I genuinely believe there are no bad colors; you just have to know what to do with them, and use them in the right proportions.

In recent trends, I love seeing neutrals paired with neon like these linens at Castle and Things. and this  sketchbook at Purl Bee.




“In my own experience recently designing a spring 2012 line for Kokka, I came up with this combination: 

“I like the pinks and reds against the neutral background, and the dark blue and purple for contrast.  The pale peach is the big surprise in that combo, like somebody turned a light on, and I love it there.”

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  • Megan • 10 years ago
    COMMENT #1

    As a quilter, I’m endlessly baffled and pleasantly surprised at color combinations. I think it’s awesome that over the past few years, the quilting industry’s become a bit more inter-disciplinary, with folks who didn’t start out working with textiles to start designing for textiles. It’s definitely made for some fresh color combos and fun prints! Love this post.

  • quiltzyx/sue • 10 years ago
    COMMENT #2

    I’m with Scott – I love to put lots of colors together. I think that’s one thing I’ve not been afraid of – color. The more, the merrier!

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