February 15, 2019

Background Fabric Guide for Quilters

One aspect of quilting that was overwhelming to me at first was background fabric. There are so many different shades of white! Not to mention all the other fun colors one can use. Today I'll share my experiences with them. Get ready to get into the details!

We'll start with whites. I break up "whites" into 3 categories: bright white, creamy white, and cream. Here's what they look like all together.  

Here is bright white (with beige), creamy white, and cream in projects. It's tricky to capture on camera, but in real life the difference is quite evident.

Specifically, these are Kona Ivory with Moda Bella 98 white, Kona Snow, and Kona Bone

It really makes a big difference which one you choose. Creamy fabrics on bright white background look tacky, and bright white fabrics on cream make the background look like it's dirty. Brightest white will show stains like crazy, cream gives you a little more wiggle room.

Here is an example of when whites don't match. I used a creamy background white (Kona Snow) with a Riley Blake line Summer Blush, which has a bright white background. In photographs it's not as evident, but in real life you really notice. It's not the end of the world, it's still a very pretty quilt, but I wish I had planned better. In this case I sewed it with dark night time indoor lighting, and didn't really notice until the next day when I saw in it natural light. Sometimes it's a tough call, as in the case, because I like the look of the colored fabrics against the creamy white better than I would against a bright, but the whites definitely don't match up. Let's talk about each one.


My favorite cream is Kona Bone. I use Konas the most just because that's the color card I have. It looks like RJR Cottom Supreme in Linen White would be comaparable, and I love their fabric too. I tend to use Bone with Fig Tree, older Bonnie and Camille lines like Marmalade, and anything with a creamy tone. If you ever used any Baby Jane by Cosmo Cricket, that's a very good example of a fabric on cream. It's an older line and one of my very favorites. 

Image via Fat Quarter Shop

Here are some projects I've used it for. Patterns are noted and linked below each picture. A lot of these go way back to when my photos were quite blurry, ha! Sorry about that.  


 No pattern, but you can check out how to put zippers in pillows.

 Garden Lattice from Simply Modern Christmas by Cindy Lammon

 Jumping Jacks again

Vintage from Simply Retro by Camille Roskelley

Creamy White
I use this by far the most. It's usually the best option, in my opinion. There are two that look almost identical to me- Kona Snow and Moda Bella 97, though I never use both in one project. I buy bolts of one or the other depending on what sales I find on Black Friday. Right now I'm using Snow for all my projects. They both work really well with most Moda fabric, particularly Bonnie and Camille or Lella Boutique. 

Jumping Jacks again, I've made 5!

no pattern, gift for my niece the Easter baby :)

You should know that some people have had trouble with Bella 97 picking up colors from other fabrics in the wash. It is, after all, their "prepared for dyeing" white. I've used it a ton though, and have never had a single problem. Just wash cold, gentle, use a color catcher, and put it in the dryer immediately! Never let a quilt sit wet. 

Bright White
For bright white I've used Kona White, Moda Bella 98, and Riley Blake Riley White. I use this shade the least because it has the potential to look tacky with some fabrics, or have kind of a blue shade to it. Sometimes it works well though if you need a lot of contrast, or if you're working with fabrics that are brighter, such as Tasha Noel, and most any Riley Blake.

For this Primrose Path Quilt, I used Kona Ivory (the beige) with Moda Bella 98 bright white. I needed a bright white to really pop against the light background, a creamy one would have blended in and the chain wouldn't have been very visible.

Photo by Quilt Photography Co. 

Same story with this quilt. This is I Heart You by Then Came June and Pen and Paper Patterns. They just had a sew along and I LOVED IT! Since my aqua background (which is Cloud 9 Glimmer in Ice, and it sparkles!) was so light, again I needed something stark against it. In this case it was Riley Blake White.

When I made this quilt for Moda Bake Shop, they sent me bright white and it turned out beautifully. Lella Boutique fabrics are very versatile! There's a free pattern for Jane's Ladder.

Low Volume White
Another fun option is to use a low volume background. Low volume just means a fabric with white background and a very light colored pattern on it that appears white from a distance. There are varying degrees of "volume", Heritage Threads has some great posts about this.

An example would be this rainbow quilt. The stripes appear white from a distance, but up close you'll see that they are Riley Blake Swiss Dots, which are on a bright white. Low volumes can add a really fun element to your quilt.

Other backgrounds

You certainly don't have to stick to white! Mixing it up with your background color can be a really fun change, not to mention a more stain-hiding option.

A really popular background is Moda Crossweave. It feels and looks different than quilting cotton- a bit rougher, and has a beautiful texture. This quilt uses the Black cross weave.

I used the Moda crossweave in Gray for this Valentines quilt.

I've also used Robert Kaufman chambray dot in Indigo. This one is a little slippery and shifty to work with, but if you stick to a pattern with no bias cuts it's no problem at all. I should also point out that all of these kinds of weaves are very messy when you cut them up! Lots of dark lint and fluff. Keep a Swiffer top and lint roller handy :)

 Scrap quilt for charity

 Cakewalk by Thimble Blossoms

Finally, in my world aqua is a neutral and very much worthy of being a versatile background. This is Moda Bella Ruby Ice with Moda Bella 98 bright white in my First Snow pattern. This one was sewn by Julia of Red Rainbows Handmade.

Remember that background fabric is like choosing paint for the walls of your house. It may look light on the swatch, but it's always waaaay darker in mass quantities than you think it will be. When in doubt, choose the lighter shade. Both this aqua and the beige I used for Primrose Path look super pale on the swatches.

I hope that is helpful and wish you luck in all your background planning and sewing! 


  1. Hi Allison, thanks for sharing this, very helpful. Those of us who only shop online this is extremely useful information. Thanks for showing the comparisons in the quilts.
    Best wishes

  2. I posted this same problem in Kimberlys stitch squad facebook group yesterday. I only shop online and need that one white to stock up. I mostly use Lori Holt, Fig Tree and Lella Boutique fabric lines. You helped A LOT!

  3. Thank you for showing comparisons of these. I, too, shop online and it can be difficult to chose backgrounds from a picture on a screen.

  4. This is a very helpful post! I also use Kona Snow most of the time. I buy the Kona white and Snow by the bolt, but the Snow I go through much faster. I love the look of Ivory with the bright white in your Primrose Path quilt! It is stunning!

    1. also buy the Kona snow for many backgrounds. I find it does not show through as much as a true white when you have to press a seam towards the white. The majority of my quilts are either blue & white, or snow and light or medium value pastels. I’ve never tried colored solids as backgrounds but might try it eventually.

  5. Thanks for a neat post today! Very good reminders! LOVE Your work!

  6. This post was so helpful. Posting your pictures was a significant assist in explaining the differences. Thank you!

  7. What color white would you use for a handkerchief quilt. Would a Muslim work? I have vintage thanks that are different whites with flowers of course.

  8. Wow! What a helpful post! Thanks so much!!

  9. Great info. Thanks! Love the Low volume Chain. Where can I get that pattern?!

  10. Thank you! Very helpful!! Would also like to know what pattern your chain is. It’s beautiful! 😍

  11. Very good article. I like your light aqua solid as a possible background.