The Importance of Swatching - Melanie Testa

SAQA Seminar (Article)

In the pages of Playful Fabric Printing, Carol Soderlund and I provide the recipes for a 28 color triangle of custom Procion MX dye colors in four gradations. This equals 112 colors in all. In addition, we unpack how to print both loose and repeated designs, using easily accessible craft making supplies, including carving rubber, fun foam, stencils and Thermofax screens. Playful Fabric Printing is a complete printing methodology that will help you print fabrics for use in quilts, wall art and clothing.

Gather your Colors

Gathering a successful color palette might seem a daunting task, but we find that when prepared, gathering colors together and using them, is made much easier by swatching each color beforehand. Swatching is a printers friend. Just like when we knit, swatching allows us to understand and evaluate what we are about to print, but because we are using and mixing our own dyes, instead of knitting a small square of cloth, we apply thickened dye to a plain square stamp and print this on cloth.

Compare your Swatches

These useful printed samples help us make color placement decisions, allowing us to compare one color to another while they encourage us to see differences in value and revealing how those colors communicate and interact with one another.

Being able to see all colors at your disposal helps you decide where to begin printing.

Once you print your main color (green in above photo), compare some complementary colors by placing new swatches atop your printed goods. Evaluate which color appeals to you.

This is a side by side comparison. I ended up choosing color #7 in Light value for this example (The photo on the left).

Keep Swatching

More often than not, I start by mixing three colors in all four gradations and swatching all. Once I begin using these colors and seeing how they interact, I will question whether the prints need another addition of color, if it does, I will mix that color and swatch it as well.

Swatching and keeping these color samples organized becomes a form of tracking, which will allow you to recreate a print, or color a new print effectively, based on past experience. Swatching helps you see and get to know the color you are working with. Swatching takes much of the guess work out of gathering up a color palette, and this leaves you with greater confidence to print fabrics that are quite appealing. All while helping you build the skills to become a savvy colorist.



Melanie Testa is an accomplished textile and quilt artist. She holds a degree from the Fashion Institute of Technology in Textile/Surface Design and exhibits her fiber art at various galleries and quilt shows around the country. Melanie will debut Florabunda! by RJR Fabrics in October 2017. Melanie’s fabric designs favor hand carved vinyl, cutting stencils, fun foam and screen printing over working with computer aided design.

Her most recent book, Playful Fabric Printing, coauthored with Carol Soderlund and published by Crafting a Life, LLC delves deeply into motif making, color use and printing technique in service of making gorgeous quilts with a hand printed flair.

Melanie also authored Dreaming from the Journal Page, Transforming the Sketchbook to Art by North Light Press and Inspired To Quilt, Creative Experiments in Art Quilt Imagery by Interweave Press. She hosts the Quilting Arts Workshop:  Print, Collage, Quilt.


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