I’m sure we’ve all seen more than a patchwork quilt or two that uses ombré or gradient fabric. I find myself completely captivated by these quilts, but have struggled to put my finger on what makes them so intriguing.
Ombré vs. Gradient
First things first, let’s pull the dictionary off the shelf to discuss the difference between gradient and ombré. We’ll start with ombré, not to be confused with the 17th century card game called ombre (sans accent). According to Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary, ombré (with the accent) is defined as, “having colors or tones that shade into each other—used especially of fabrics in which the color is graduated from light to dark.” We can think of ombré as starting with a pure color, maybe blue, that subtly becomes darker and darker until it turns into navy.
So where would we see examples of ombré in real life? The beauty industry has really locked onto the gentle shift in shade that ombré provides especially in hair color, eyeshadow application, and nail polish. If you’ve been to a wedding recently you may have noticed bridesmaid dresses that were different shades of the same color.
Gradient, on the other hand, is a little more difficult to define because there are so many uses of the word. If we dismiss the aspects of Merriam-Webster’s definition elements having to do with the slope of the ground and the vector sum of the partial derivatives (what does that even mean?), we can find the following definition, “change in the value of a quantity (such as temperature, pressure, or concentration) with change in a given variable and especially per unit distance in a specified direction.”
If your first reaction to that definition was, “what?” I was right there with you, but stick with me. Let’s break it down into more manageable pieces. Let’s think of the change of quality as the concentration of color across the width of a piece of fabric. The left-hand side of the fabric is a deep red, but as we move towards the right side (our specified direction) of the cloth each inch (our unit distance) the concentration of our color becomes lessened—our fabric changes from red to pink to white.
Sounds an awful lot like ombré, doesn’t it? Here is where the path diverges: a gradient isn’t limited to one color changing concentration. What if that piece of fabric didn’t change from red to white, but from red to blue? That would give us a piece of fabric that was red on the left, shades of purple in the center, and blue on the right side.
If you saw the sunrise this morning, or the sunset last night, you saw an example of color gradient. If you’ve been to a craft store and walked past the yarn display you’ve seen gradient in the form of variegated yarns. Speaking seasonally, now that it’s almost October, you’ve surely seen an example of gradient in the form of candy corns.
Ombré and Gradient Fabric in Quilts
So how do ombré and gradient apply to quilting? A couple different ways! You can use a range of fabrics and prints to create a gradient that shifts from one color to another across your patchwork quilt. Or you can integrate fabrics that feature an ombré or gradient pattern into your quilt design for a different look. I’ve chosen a few quilt patterns that illustrate the use of color changing fabrics in unique ways. As an extra bonus, these have each been curated into quilt kits so you can skip the fabric search.
Bright and vibrant quilts are some of my favorites, so naturally, I was drawn to this quilt designed by Viv Smith. This throw quilt is easy to create and will come together in about two weekends. The simple piecing of the pattern paired with the intensely color-saturated ombré prints from Maywood Studio’s Gelato line combine to create energy and movement within the confines of each quilt block. Although the quilt pattern would be well suited to a multitude of fabric choices, I’m particularly enamored with the way the bundle of the quilt kit allows the pattern to shine the spotlight on these ombré fabrics.
This quilt by Casey York seems as if it’s on the other end of the quilting spectrum. Instead of energy, to me, this appliqué quilt exudes a sense of peace and tranquility. Contrary to the block structure of the last quilt, the floral appliqué pieces are arranged and fused in place at your discretion. I love the way the white background allows us to see the color change in the ombré fabrics. While this pattern would be lovely with any type of fabric, I’m drawn in by the greens and pinks and am over the moon about being able to get them in the Hydrangea Quilt Kit so I don’t have to prowl around quilt shops looking for those shades.
Finally, this patchwork quilt designed by Jessica VanDenburgh is a mix of the first two styles. The block structure and neutral background showcase the batiks from Anthology Fabrics’ Salsa collection that shift from one color to another. The fabric choices are also somewhere in between the first two, not as vibrant as the brights of the Simply Striking Quilt or as soft as the shades of the Hydrangea Quilt. The quilt kit marries the pattern’s inspiration of Native American blankets with the dusty shades of the batik fabric.
I need to finish a couple of my works in progress so I can get on the gradiated train! Do you have any tips for working with ombré or gradiated fabric? Share them below! And if you have examples of quilts you’ve made featuring these fabrics, don’t forget to upload them to our Free Member Gallery.
P.S. Our friend Sara Gallegos has a wonderful episode of My First Quilt called “How to Use Gradated Fabrics” you may want to check out before you get started on your first, or next, project featuring fabric with color gradient.