Workshop: Christine Barnes

“Value Does All of the Work, and Color Gets All of the Credit”         


I am super excited to be teaching a workshop that focuses on value, the degree of lightness or darkness in color. Sound boring? No way! The ability to consciously manipulate value in your quilts can take them beyond predictable and raise the “wow quotient.” Here’s how:

Years ago I heard the adage that “value does all of the work, and color gets all of the credit.” It’s perhaps the biggest piece of color knowledge I can share with you. Value has two important functions in quilt design: 1) Contrasts in value create a sense of depth, or layering, and 2) Contrasts in value establish the design of a block or quilt. A dark star on a light background looks layered because dark values seem to come forward while light values seem to recede. You also see the design itself, the star, because the values are different.

As they say in the infomercials, “But wait, there’s more!” A whole lot more:

• Some of the most sophisticated quilts feature fabrics of the same value, but very different colors, to create new shapes within a quilt design. I’ll show you how.

• Closely related values can create the illusion of shimmer where two fabrics touch.

• Different prints can do much of the work for you, separating shapes that you don’t want to blend, even when the values are similar.

If you’ve taken my “Color Camp” or “Modern Color” workshops, you’ll find new designs and new approaches in this class. To learn the concepts, we’ll do four mock-blocks (quick cut-and-paste exercises) on Day 1, followed by a brief class critique of each exercise.

I listened to the reviews from last year, asking for more time to work on your project quilts, so I’ll be chatting with each of you in the afternoon of Day 1 about your ideas. For the next two days (and evenings, if you like), you’ll work on a quilt project based on one of my new patterns or a pattern you bring. I’ll show you the new quilt project options soon, for those of you returning from previous years. For those of you who are new, three of my most popular patterns are “Spumoni,” “Urban Ombrés,” and “Urban Sunsets.” You can see them in the Gallery of my website.

For those of you who have taken a color class from me, you’ve probably seen the next two samples. But they make the point so strongly that I think it’s worth showing them again. These two blocks are the same pattern. But don’t they look different? The first star looks flat because the diamonds are cut from the same fabric.plain-8-pt-star

The block below is the same pattern, but wow, what a difference! The black-and-white corner squares come forward, and the purple fabric gives the block dimension and inward motion. Value does the work, and color gets the credit!3-d-8-pt-star

OK, let’s get to the new stuff. These are a few of the exercises I’ve been playing with. We’ll start with the simple block known as “Boy’s Nonsense.” (Don’t you wonder where that name came from?) The stripe and the stylized floral separate from each other because the overall values are different. (It also helps that the stripe and print are very different patterns.)boys-nonsense-kaffe

When the values are similar, strong contrasts in pattern make the shapes separate. it’s a bit chaotic, but I think it also look like fun!boys-nonsense-flowers

Like the second star block above, this “Farmer’s Wife” block has a strong sense of depth, thanks to the black-and-white, highly patterned corner squares. (Strong patterns advance, just like dark values.) Slight differences in the value of the pink/red squares and the semi-solid pink triangles allow you to see the nine-patch unit. I’ll have some of the fabulous white-and-black wavy stripe fabric available to purchase in class. farmers-wife-blue

The block  below is known as “Gypsy Wife,” but I’ve decided to call my version “when Friendship Star and Monkey Wrench get together for a party.” What makes this block so much fun are the long, skinny triangles between the large triangles. Here, both value and pattern establish the block design. gypsy-wife

Perhaps you prefer less-intense, more organic colors? “Antique Modern Square” below is another oldie but goodie. Here the contrast in the values of the large medium-gray squares and the small dark squares suggests a layer of transparent color. The batiks are by Alison Glass, and the center print is by Anna Maria Horner. I want to make this into a quilt!

antique-modern-singleIf you are new to my workshops, you might also want to try the “Japanese X Plus” block. (For returning students, I’ll have a new exercise.) This version works because the narrow stripe in the “+” shape has lighter values that differentiate it from the “X” pieces and the outer squares. (The semi-solid fabrics are Grunges.)

japanese-x-plus-richI hope I’ve enticed you to consider joining my merry band of students (previous students refer to themselves as the “Barnestormers”) for an in-depth experience with value. It may “do all of the work,” but trust me, YOU will get much of the credit!

Remember my last post, about using Thangles triangle paper? Well, I’ve pieced the top with a cream-colored linen (to get the right color match) and a large-scale gray polka dot.. Scroll down and you’ll see the result. I know, the dots are a bit much, but I just had to do it! You know how that goes . . . . The photos are a bit blurry because my camera can’t seem to focus on the woven plaids.







Supply List

Sewing machine in good working order. Rotary ruler, cutter, and mat. If you have a 17-inch rotating rotary mat bring it—it will be very useful. Also bring one large glue stick or several standard ones (make sure they’re fresh) and a piece of flannel large enough to cover a 32- x 40-inch foam-core board.

  • First and foremost, take the time to gather and organize fabrics you love!
  • What size pieces should you bring? You need variety, but not necessarily large quantities. For the mock-blocks, chubby eighths are fine—but not 1/8 yard cuts, because some pieces in the exercises are larger than 4½ inches. Scraps at least 12 by 12 inches are also fine. For your quilt project, bring ¼ and ½ cuts, more if you want to add sashing. By late spring, I’ll have specific requirements for my quilt patterns.
  • Organize your fabrics by color. Try to bring a wide variety, from all around the color wheel, including light, medium, and dark values. Medium-value fabrics are common; light- and dark-value fabrics are much harder to find. However, avoid fabrics that are very light or very dark. They tend to read as white or black.
  • If you already have a color wheel, bring it. I provide a mini color wheel for each student. My larger and more detailed color wheels will also be available. (See my website,
  • In addition to the colors on the color wheel, you’ll want to bring a number of multicolor prints. Kaffe Fassett patterned fabrics are wonderful for this class.
  • Bring plaids, dots, and stripes—you get “extra credit” for using them, and they are magical.
  • Bring black-and-white prints, which are easy to find, and white-and-black prints that are mostly white, with widely spaced black motifs. With either, avoid busy prints—they don’t have the “punch” that more open patterns give. I’ll bring some B&W and W&B fabrics for you to work with in the exercises, but look for some on your own. If you love the modern look, make sure you bring white-and-black prints and other low-volume fabrics. Again, avoid busy or dense patterns.
  • Also consider gray and gray-and-white fabrics. They have a “calming influence” on color.
  • If you love solids, by all means bring them. There are so many wonderful choices, from Kaffe Fassett shot cottons to Peppered Cottons, Grunge Basics, and Kona solids. (I’ll have Gelato ombrés and Grunge Basics to buy in class; see my website Store.)
  • I provide the printed sheets for the mock-block exercises. I also provide a “fabric library,” arranged by color, for you to use if you get stuck.
  • When in doubt (and if you will be driving to the retreat), tuck in those “maybe” fabrics. When it comes to fabric, the more the merrier!
  • As time goes on, I’ll be sending students group emails with images of the kinds of fabrics that will work well in this class

For more of my work, check out and past articles on our blog (our posts are categorized by our names). Feel free to email me at if you have questions. I’d love to have you in my class!!!