All About Palette Builder: An Interview with Anne Sullivan from Play-Crafts

Friends, I’m so excited to share today’s post with you! Like pretty much all quilters, I love playing with color and thinking about different color schemes. A few times on the blog I’ve mentioned Palette Builder, a fantastic online tool I use to draw color inspiration from photos. The creator of Palette Builder, Anne Sullivan of Play-Crafts, generously agreed to answer some questions so we can all learn more about this tool and how it works. Let’s get right to it!

Tell us a little bit about your background and what your motivation was for creating the Palette Builder.

Horse Palette

I’m an artist and a programmer, which is fun but is also kind of like having two kids in my head that rarely get along. I recently got my PhD in computer science, and my focus was on game design. Some friends and I got together in our last year to talk about The Future ™ and chatted about making a crafting game over wine and cheese while sitting in an old Victorian (the setting seems really important for some reason.) We were all crafters and gamers, and thought it’d be fun to marry the two. As we got further into the wine bottle and the night progressed, we were deeply enraptured with the idea of creating some game that when you were done, you had some sort of pattern or even crafted design when you were done. Which still does sound neat.

However, at one point, one of us sat back and said “You know what’s fun already, and doesn’t really need a game to make it more fun? Crafting!” We all laughed, but it was true. And that turned our thoughts towards creating design tools with playful, almost game-like interfaces. My friends went on to get “real” jobs, but I decided to try to make these playful tools a reality, and two of them co-founded Play-Crafts with me.

Palette Builder was the first tool created because I love color, and it seems so integral to all the other tools we want to create. Being able to go from inspiration to design to finished product is not necessarily an easy process, but having a way to find colors seems like a good first step!

Without giving away any secrets, can you describe a bit about how it works? For example, I’m curious how the initial colors are chosen when I upload a photo.

If you can read javascript, you can actually see how it works by viewing the source of the webpage. So there are no real secrets. :) This is a simplification of the process, but we look at every pixel in your image, and sort them into color buckets. Then the bucket with the most pixels in it is the first color in your palette, the bucket with the second most pixels is the second color, and so forth. There is a bit more to it where we make sure the color buckets aren’t too similar in color (so you don’t end up with a palette of 10 almost-the-same-exact-shade of blue), but that’s the basics of it!

Palette Builder code

Tell us about the new features. I’m particularly excited about being able to choose Kona colors!

The very first version of palette builder we created had the ability to “crop” the image to zero in on one part of the picture, and to change the “variety” of the colors in your palette. The variety was basically changing how different the color buckets needed to be (described above.) Most people didn’t notice or use the cropping feature, and the variety slider seemed to confuse a lot of our users.

So I decided to revamp the tool completely and make it more fun, since that was the underlying goal. So now there is an initial palette chosen, but you can have much more control over the colors by choosing them directly from the image. I knew I was going in the right direction when early user testers would write to me and say how much fun they had using it! Success! :D

Grass Fabrics

Matching to Kona fabrics was always something we wanted to do, but I wanted the tool to be refined enough that I wasn’t embarrassed to show it to Kona. Fortunately, they were as excited by the idea as we were! And now that the framework is in place, we should be able to fairly easily add the ability to match other solids as well as thread, floss, yarn, paint, whatever. We just need to get permission first. So hopefully you will see more choices in the future!

How do you use the Palette Builder in your own projects? Have you come up with any particular color schemes you’d like to share?

I often use the palette builder as a jumping off point. I’ll play with it and find a palette I love, and it helps inspire a future quilt. I don’t always follow the palettes religiously, but I enjoy seeing color combinations I may not normally have thought of that make me want to work with those colors.

I have recently completed a quilt and a quilt top using the palettes from Palette Builder, which I’d be happy to share! The first is a jumbo star quilt that I created for a charity auction. My friend, Adrianne ( posted a photo of some flowers she liked on Facebook and I just loved the colors, so I immediately asked her if I could use it for a palette. At the time, Kona matching wasn’t implemented, and it was right after I finished that quilt that I made the time to get it to work!

Jumbo Star fabrics

Jumbo Star Quilt

(Note from Cari: I remember seeing this quilt on Anne’s blog and absolutely falling in love with it. You can read more about the design process and check out the amazing quilting job she did on it here.)

I also just finished up a quilt top last week before I left for Sewing Summit. I was looking for a color palette that captured the summer to fall transition without being the traditional fall colors. I remembered that I had a photo of a red dragonfly, and dragonflies are sometimes used as symbolism for this time of year, so it seemed a perfect fit. I chose the palette and used the Konas to help choose my prints as well. It made me so happy that Kona matching was working, and I admit I never would have used Kona Ochre (the golden color) had it not shown up in the palette!

Dragon Fly Fabrics

Herringbone Stack

Red Dragonfly Quilt Top

Thanks so much for all the great questions! I really enjoyed talking about the tool, and I’d love to hear how others use it. :)

AnneThanks to you, Anne, for taking the time to share with us, and for creating such a great resource! Readers, be sure to check out the Play-Crafts blog for more inspiration. Although she didn’t mention it, you may also be aware that Anne’s herringbone quilt pattern (above) is currently taking the blogosphere by storm, with lots of participants in the Molli Sparkles Broken Herringbone Quilt-Along. I recently used Palette Builder to create the color scheme for my Penny Sampler (still getting caught up on that!). Feel free to post any links to your own use of Palette Builder in the comments; I’m sure we’d all love to see some more examples!

Penny Sampler Progress

Hi friends! It’s week three of the Penny Sampler class and I’m here to show you my blocks from weeks one and two. I have totally fallen in love with appliqué while taking this class! We have…

12 inch heart block:


6 inch mitten block (my favorite so far!):


6 inch clover block (clover on clover!):


6 inch heart block:


And then the pièce de résistance, the little village block:


The class has been great so far. I can’t believe how much content Rachel delivers for the price of this course. The pace is good too; I’ve been able to keep up with making my blocks except for this week while I’ve been traveling.

On that note, I wanted to let you know I may be posting here less frequently for the next few months. Between wedding planning (coming up in two months!) and lots of travel lately, I’ve gotten off my regular schedule.  I’ve decided not to stress out about it too much, but just to enjoy this time of my life and pop up here when I have something interesting to show you. One project I have in the works is a lace shawl for my wedding. It was quite a production to find the perfect yarn for it. Once it’s finished I’ll be back to tell you the whole story!

Star Dresden Pillow

I bet a lot of you saw Nicole’s Star Dresden Tutorial a few weeks ago, right? Wasn’t it great? I knew I had to make one right away.

Star Dresden Pillow

I have to confess: for whatever reason I’m not really drawn to the traditional Dresden block. But something about Nicole’s idea of making the inside of the petals pointy as well as the outside just completely transforms this for me. Maybe it’s the star shape that then appears in the center, which has a vaguely Islamic feel to it. It goes pretty well with my Palatina Pillow, don’t you think?

Star Dresden Pillow and Palatina Pillow

I modified Nicole’s instructions slightly to make twelve petals instead of thirteen. The template I used is here if you want it. I basted both the front and back pieces to batting and some muslin before assembling the pillow. The only quilting I did was some hand quilting around the star. The starting point for my fabrics was this cute custom bundle from Fabricworm, with some other fabrics from Amy Butler, Tula Pink, and (no surprises here) Carolyn Friedlander thrown in.

Star Dresden Pillow Detail

I was about 90% done with this two weeks ago before I left on a trip (hi, future in-laws!), but I had a little snafu with the binding. I’ve never made a pillow with binding before, and I didn’t make it wide enough to cover the multiple layers of batting. So frustrating! I had to buy more of the binding fabric to redo it, because by that point my heart was set on it and nothing else would do. Here’s the back closure.

Star Dresden Pillow Back

Another confession: there is just the tiniest voice in my head that’s telling me the star shouldn’t be quite so off-center. I was trying to be all modern and out-of-the-box, but the voice says maybe I went just a little too far. It’s telling me to take my seam ripper, remove the dresden, and make a whole new pillow. I’ve decided to ignore that voice. Sometimes you just have to draw a line in the sand of your own craziness.

However, this brings me to another thing I feel compelled to share with you, which is that I finally figured out how to use my seam ripper… as a ripper! Don’t laugh. I don’t know quite how this eluded me for so long. I had been using it to pick out individual stitches from one side of the seam, but somehow I never thought to position it so that it could slide along the seam between the two layers and pop-pop-pop them apart in one fluid motion. I feel like I discovered the freaking wheel, you guys!

In other news, I’m excited that the Penny Sampler class starts this week. I’ve got all my supplies and am rearing to go. Now that it’s been driven home to me what newbie sewer I am, I just know I’m going to learn a ton!

Indigo Dyeing with Stitch Resist

Hi all! I have a guest post today on the blog Likes To Smile. My friend Stacey issued a challenge to come up with a craft project involving a bandana and embroidery thread. I show how to dye the bandanas using indigo, stitching with the embroidery thread to create interesting resist patterns.

Shibori patterns

I did the indigo dyeing with my friend Liz. In addition to the stitch resist, we also had fun dyeing some commercial fabrics with Rossie’s plexiglass resists. Here’s one of my favorites that we made.

Indigo dyed fabric

Anyway, head over to Likes To Smile to read all about indigo dyeing!

Penny Sampler Fabric Choices

I’m excited to be taking Rachel’s Penny Sampler class along with my new friends Laura and Nicole. (Anyone else taking it too?) Here’s the quilt we’re going to make. The class officially starts August 19th, but this past week Rachel posted some ideas to inspire us with our fabric choices. Here’s what I pulled together.

Penny Sampler Fabrics

I took a new (to me) approach to choosing fabrics, which is that I started with an inspiration photo–this piece of embroidery from a Swedish blogger–and then chose specific colors of Kona cotton to match the photo. (Check out the newly improved Palette Builder at Play Crafts, which matches the Kona colors for you!) I cut up my Kona card a few weeks ago, and this is the first time I used my new little fabric chips.

The quilt we’re making has a lot of detailed patterning, so in addition to ordering yardage of the Kona cottons, I pulled together primarily simple fabrics, with just a few big prints. I was able to pull about half of the fabrics from my stash, and then I gathered up my little chips and hit the fabric store! Even though it isn’t an exact match, I couldn’t resist buying a quarter yard of this print with Dala horses!

Dala Horse fabric

It was interesting to me how hard it was to find fabrics to match my blue chips. I would say about 80% of blue fabrics I saw were somewhere in the blue-green spectrum, whereas I was looking more for sky blues. I guess blue-green must be what more people are buying right now. I would never have noticed something like this if I hadn’t been looking for a very specific shade. Although, now that I see these fabrics together, the sky blues do have a more vintage look.

Penny Sampler fabrics

I took the quilt design file Rachel gave us and started coloring it in on my computer. The light blue area on the right hand side is a focus fabric. I’m thinking that maybe instead of blue I should choose a low volume print to go there, to keep things more balanced. Or buy more Dala horse fabric for that spot! What do you think? It’s clear I’m going to have to use a light hand with the pale pinks and blues to keep this from looking too much like a baby quilt.

Penny Sampler Design

It’s not too late to register for the Penny Sampler. The class covers appliqué, machine paper piecing, and precise piecing in general. I can’t wait to take my quilting skills to the next level!