The appeal of blue and white by David Owen Hastings

the appeal of blue and white

By guest contributor David Owen Hastings

What is it about a blue and white palette that is so appealing?

The appeal of blue and white by David Owen Hastings

I’ve always been drawn to blue and white together. There’s something timelessly refreshing about this color combination. It makes me think of cool breezes on a hot and humid day, sparkling water and puffy clouds in summer, snowy landscapes and clear blue skies in winter.

Or maybe it’s because I grew up in Iowa wearing OshKosh B’Gosh overalls in indigo blue, often with a white t-shirt underneath.

Blue and white in Japan

The appeal of blue and white by David Owen Hastings

In Japan, blue and white are a popular combination for yukata cotton kimonos. Since the summers in most of Japan are hot and humid, the light and airy yukata in blue and white are just the thing to help you keep cool.

Working with a limited palette

The appeal of blue and white by David Owen Hastings

One of my early printmaking instructors had an excellent exercise for her students, which I continue using to this day: how much variety and visual interest can be created using a limited palette of just two colors? She would have us start with just one color of printing ink plus black. It would challenge us to see how much variation in hue, value and texture we could come up with, using just those two colors. 

I love using this same exercise as a starting point for new quilt designs, mixing one strong color with otherwise neutral fabrics, and see how interesting I can make a quilt within these limitations. Why not try it with indigo blue and white?

Selecting fabrics for quilts

The appeal of blue and white by David Owen Hastings

There is an incredibly diverse array of yukata cotton patterns available in this classic blue and white combo, and sometimes it can feel overwhelming. They all make wonderful material for creating modern quilts. But which ones to choose? They are all amazing! I’d like to share my thoughts for how I choose to mix yukata cottons in interesting ways when I’m working on a quilt.

Working with a theme + scale

The appeal of blue and white by David Owen Hastings

Sometimes it helps to start with one fabric: your standout star. Usually this is a bold, graphic design that has a large repeat pattern. Big flowers are a popular choice. You can start with one fabric of very large flower designs, then pair it with other yukata patterns that are on the floral or nature theme, but at a different scale.

Another possible theme would be purely geometric patterns: pair a large-scale geometric stripe that has big Kanji characters with some smaller, more textural geometric designs. Yukata fabric meant for men’s kimonos is often more geometric and small scale, and I love pairing menswear fabrics with bolder, statement-piece prints.

The appeal of blue and white by David Owen Hastings

Consider value

When working with a simple palette, value can play an important role. If all of your fabric selections have a similar darkness (or lightness), density, or scale, then nothing will stand out when you put them together. Aim to select a variety of values. You could choose a mostly overall dark indigo fabric with small areas of white as your starting point, then pair it with a medium tone fabric, plus one with a mostly white background and small areas of indigo in the pattern.

Mix in some solids

The appeal of blue and white by David Owen Hastings

These vintage yukata fabrics are a bit more dear than your typical commercial quilting cotton. For one thing, they come off a narrow bolt that is typically about 14 inches wide. For another, they are vintage so in limited supply. I like to make my vintage fabrics go as far as possible by mixing them with some contemporary, commercial cotton fabric in dark blue and white, or off white. I love using subtle textures, either printed or woven into the fabric. Some of my favorites are Essex Linen and Quilters Linen from Robert Kaufman Fabrics, Palette by Marcia Derse for Windham Fabrics, Dublin from Northcott Fabric, and Oakshott Fabrics from the UK.

Make it modern

The appeal of blue and white by David Owen Hastings

It’s a fun design challenge to work with vintage fabrics like yukata cottons from Japan. Thankfully, we can get them easily here at the Okan Arts online shop! Ask yourself: how can I take something old, and make it new and fresh?

This is the focus of one of my workshops, Indi-Go-Modern, in which we explore this idea first by stitching small paper studies (called maquettes) to work out our design ideas, then move on to our beautiful fabric, mixing it with some contemporary solids to stretch the budget, and also to allow the vintage patterns to shine. 

I know you must share my love of blue and white. I hope this post gives you a few more ideas for how to explore this wonderful pairing in your own quilts.

Happy sewing!

The appeal of blue and white by David Owen Hastings

David Owen Hastings is a quilter, graphic designer, print and textile artist, and a former President of the Seattle Modern Quilt Guild. He creates contemporary art and modern minimal quilt and textile designs. David’s creative approach to modern quilting has led to a busy schedule of workshops and lectures on quilting, branding for artists, art and textile techniques. For more about David, please visit or follow @davidowenhastings on Instagram.

If you’re interested in booking a virtual workshop for your guild or group, contact David.

ABOUT US: Okan Arts, a petite family business, is co-owned by mother-daughter duo Patricia Belyea and Victoria Stone. Patricia and Victoria sell Japanese textiles online, host creative quilting experiences, and lead quilting & textile tours to Japan.