What are Low Volume Fabrics and How Do I Use Them?


What are low volume fabrics and how can you use them to make a beautiful quilt? All your questions are answered here.

I LOVE sewing quilts with low volume fabrics. To me, they are modern and traditional, using lots of fabrics that don’t necessarily match, but look beautiful as a whole. We’re not starting something new, just borrowing ideas from early quilters who cut fabric pieces from clothing, sheets, and even flour sacks, piecing them together in beautiful patterns.

I used lots of low volume fabrics in my free Baby Heart Log Cabin Quilt Pattern.

What are Low Volume Fabrics?

The term ‘low volume’ usually refers to cream or white fabrics with a small or geometric design. Even though the print has a secondary design, it still ‘reads’ neutral so you can use it as a background.


Dots, grids, and text prints are all staple low volume fabrics. Low volume fabrics are most effective when lots of different prints are mixed together.

You can build up your collection of low volume neutral fabrics by buying fat quarters, yardage, and even bundles that are curated for you by fabric shops and manufacturers.


I use both cream and white low volume fabrics, and I don’t mind a just a little color sprinkled in.

But what about the rest of your quilt? You are going to need more than just low volume neutrals.


What we normally call ‘low volume’ fabrics are neutral colors and can look pale gray or cream from far away. In the color world, we may say that they ‘read’ pale gray or cream. Besides neutral low volume fabrics that ‘read’ gray or cream, other print fabrics can ‘read’ a solid color from far away too.

Now you can think of the colors in your quilt as ‘color families.’

Look at each fabric in your shash carefully and consider this: when you cut it up will all of the pieces still read the same color? Or is the print so large that the different pieces will now read different colors?

Large prints that have lots of different colors are beautiful, but I save them for the backs of my quilts (where I can appreciate them better). Small prints that keep their color personality even after you cut them up make the best low volume quilts.


So let’s practice choosing fabrics with my green stack. If I wanted to put together a selection of fabrics that read green (not turquoise), you can see if I would pick them or not in the photo above. Looking at only the edge of the fabrics, I can make a pretty good guess what the pieces will look like cut up.

The large floral on top is beautiful, but it has so many colors and probably none of my cut up pieces would read green. The second fabric is all over more turquoise than green. My best picks were the prints in the middle. That cute zig zag print is an obvious ‘no’ because even though I remember it’s mostly green (that’s why I put it on the green shelf) – I can’t trust that it will look green when I cut it up – it looks orange on the edge.


It’s going to be busy enough with all the scrappy-ness that comes from the many different fabrics you are using. The quilt above has just 3 color families: neutral, navy, and orange.

Scrappy low volume quilts like this one are a great way to mix in fabrics that you have leftover from other projects or ‘ugly’ fabrics that don’t match with anything else.

When I’m mixing ‘pretty’ and ‘ugly’ fabrics, I try to have at least 90% of the fabrics read my ‘target color’ and then the remaining few can be ‘wildcard’ fabrics.

The wildcard fabrics like the too-light butterflies in the pink section above don’t match the same deep color value as the other pink fabrics, but overall the pink section still works. The lighter butterfly fabric sparkles – it makes the quilt look like glitter! Oh, yeah, that’s why I call it a Glitter Quilt. 🙂


See all of my low volume Glitter Quilt patterns so far here.

Psst… I use strip piecing to save time and never cut a single square.

See all my free quilt patterns here.



Disclosure: some of my posts contain affiliate links. If you purchase something through one of those links I may receive a small commission, so thank you for supporting SewCanShe when you shop! All of the opinions are my own and I only suggest products that I actually use. 🙂

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  1. Maria Elena says:

    Dear Caroline: what a post! thank you: I never heard of "Low Volume quilts" and was intrigued to learn about it. I studied your explanation and photos. The way you explained your desired outcome along with the examples inspires me to look at my fabrics through new eyes. Recently a friend moved away and gave me a bit of her fabrics and I have been play around with them to see what I’m going to do. I’m going to study them against n to see if they fit into the low volume concept. The design of your quilt looks a bit advanced for me but I love it. When you say it’s a "Glitter quilt, does that mean the fabric has a sparkle? I kept looking to see where but maybe I don’t understand the word "glitter" in this context. (Sorry) pls explain? I’m a novice. Love your post.

  2. Linda Hamlin says:

    Great tutorial, and great timing. I’ve been putting off a pattern (Stagnation) that calls for low-volume fabrics, but I think I’m going to start it today. Many thanks.

  3. Thanks Caroline. I’ve been wondering about this very topic and you’ve answered most of my questions. I notice your "low volume" fabrics appear to be more white than cream. Are you inclined to keep these separate, do you mix them up, or are you inclined only towards the white?

    1. That’s funny, I thought I had more cream than white. 🙂

      I usually mix up what I have on hand and try to keep it as random as I can.

      Thanks for asking!

  4. Thank you so much, Carolyn! This is the best explanation of low volume fabrics I’ve read! So much appreciated!!

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