Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Let's Talk Color - Part 1

There's a lot of buzzing going on related to choosing colors for a quilt. And while a lot of our friends are planning on fabrics specifically for Shakespeare in the Park, we thought that a bit of info on colors might make choices easier. Choosing colors is the one thing I hear quilters say most often -- "I don't know how to put colors together." My own experience with colors began during "art class" years, and what I learned there has been applied to how I use colors in my quilts. Not that I still don't get that awful combo (believe me, it happens), but for the most part I end up happy with colors.

Let's start with the basic color wheel. Colors are divided into "warm" and "cool" colors with the colors on the right side of the wheel being dubbed warmer than the cooler ones on the left side of this wheel. We probably all know that the primary colors are red, blue, and yellow, and that all the other colors of the rainbow (and the color wheel) are made up of these colors. We add white and black to the colors to change the saturation of the color, essentially "graying" the color. If we take our primary colors and begin mixing them together, we come up with secondary colors ...

Yellow and Red = Orange
Blue and Red = Violet
Blue and Yellow = Green

Now we're going to mix up some more colors, and we will have our tertiary palette and can begin to choose fabrics. The tertiary colors are a primary color (red, blue or yellow) mixed with a secondary color ... and we now have red-orange/yellow-orange, blue-violet/red-violet, blue-green/yellow-green.

All the colors you see on the color wheel are in their purest form -- they are hues. When we begin to lighten or darken them using white and black, we are changing the saturation of the color. Add enough white to red and you have the palest pink ... which is still a red color, but you have changed the saturation and the value so it is the lightest on a value scale.

The value scale runs in black/grey/white ... the deepest values are at one end and the palest values are at the other end of the scale. In between the colors are called midtones. The saturation of the color in your fabric shouldn't be confused with the value of the fabrics you're putting together. One way to get a good idea of the values of the fabric you have chosen is to take small pieces and tape them onto a piece of paper and put them on a black and white copier.
A quicker way is to take digital photographs of your fabrics in black and white so you can instantly view the value scale you have chosen. By doing this you are removing the color/hue and will be left looking at your fabrics in terms of value -- light, dark and midtones. A striking quilt will have all three levels ... a really nice quilt will have at least two values, and a boring quilt will have only one value -- nothing to make the eye move around. Zee, one of our readers,
just took a black and white photo of a quilt she was putting together and realized she had to move some blocks around to better distribute the values.

The colors we choose, whether in decorating a room, buying our clothes, or selecting fabrics for quilts, are not arbitrary -- we are attracted or repelled by colors that hold some kind of personal meaning to us. Here are some brief explanations of the meanings of some colors ...

Red = energy and passion
Orange = happiness and courage (and why do we shy away from orange in our quilts?)
Yellow = wisdom and intellect
Green = growth, abundance
Blue = tranquility, trust (most popular color in quilters' stashes -- how about yours?)
Indigo = knowledge, power
Violet = spirituality and strength
Pink = friendly, loving
Brown = order, dependability
Gold = illumination and wisdom
Grey = dignity and self-control (no wonder there's none in my stash!)
Lime = possibilities and perception (my stash overflows with lime!)
Blue-Green = heart
Black = protection and independence

Your homework: Spend some time with your stash evaluating the colors you collect and how the color relates to who you are. Do some sorting by saturation and value. Think about how you are feeling when you have each of your colors in your hands.


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