Quilting Tips on Color Theory

Color and your Quilt

Quilting Tips on Color Theory Applied to QuiltsA basic knowledge of color theory helps quilters when choosing fabric for a project. Color is a very subjective matter; color creates feelings and our cultural background influences it, but knowing how colors relate to each other is necessary in order to create a quilt design that works well.

The color wheel as we know it is the creation of Sir Isaac Newton. For quilting purposes, we need to become familiar Quilting tips color wheel for quiltingwith the RBY model. RBY stands for “red blue yellow”. It is the model used for mixing pigments (inks, dyes or paint).

Primary colors: in the RBY model, primary colors are red, blue and yellow. These colors are mixed to create secondary colors, and they cannot be created themselves by mixing pigments.

Secondary colors: are green, orange and purple. This next layer of color is created when two primary colors are mixed together, therefore mixing yellow and blue creates green, orange is created by mixing red and yellow and purple is created by mixing blue and red.

Tertiary colors: are red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-purple and red-purple. They are created by mixing either two secondary colors or one secondary color and one primary color.

All the colors are placed evenly spaced on the color wheel, creating wedges. Primary colors are spaced with three wedges in between, secondary colors are one wedge away from the two colors mixed to create them and tertiary colors sit between the the two colors used to create them

White and black are also colors in the context of pigments. They are used to create shades and tints. Shades are the mixture of any color and black. Tints are the mixture of colors and white. The mix of black and white produces gray, and gray mixed with colors creates a tone. They are neutral colors. Neutrals give the eye a place to rest and to serve as a background to other colors in quilts.

Monochrome color combination uses one color only. Depth and interest is created by the use of the color with other fabrics in tones, shades and tints and if desired, neutral colors like gray, white or black. It’s an easy combination; it’s balanced and visually appealing.

Analogous color combination is one with colors used together that sit next to each other on the color wheel. A quilt made with an analogous color combination could use red and orange and red orange. Pick one color to have more prominence than the other two or three and use shades and tints to give it depth. Quilts made this way are pleasant, convey the feeling of the main color used (warm/cold). They are serene and comfortable.

Complimentary color combinations use two colors opposite each other in the color wheel. When using this scheme is important to give one color in the quilt more importance than another (using more amounts of one of the two colors). When one color becomes the focus, the other used sparingly becomes a highlight. These combinations draw attention because are vibrant and full of energy

Triadic color combinations use three colors spaced evenly across the color wheel. They have the energy of a complimentary scheme, but a little more subdued and harmonious. As with the complimentary scheme, use one color as  Quilting Tips Triadic color combinationsthe main focus of your quilt, and the other two as accents. Don’t forget to use tones, shades and tints if the three colors look too harsh together (navy blue, yellow and red look easier on the eyes than bright blue, yellow and red).

Warm colors are red, yellow and the colors created by mixing them. Blue, green and purple are cool colors. Warm colors create energy and appear to pop out of the quilt, cool colors recede and are often times relaxing. Yellow stands in a category of its own. It is full of energy and it can dominate a design, because it seems to pulse when used on a quilt.

Dark colors (shades) also seem to recede while light colors (tints) come forward. The relative amount of black or white added to a color is called “value”. Value is a very important consideration in quilt design. It is important to mix light and dark colors in a quilt to give it depth and dimension. A quilt made with fabrics of similar values is boring and flat, regardless of the colors used. Value is relative: a light fabric is light in relation to the rest of the fabrics used on the quilt –if all the fabrics are dark, a medium value fabric can look light, while if all the fabrics are light, a medium value fabric can be dark-.

There are cultural associations regarding color. Red is energizing, it’s the hottest of all colors. It is extensively used in quilts, from two color appliqué quilts (red-green) to the center of Log Cabin patterns. Blue is relaxing, and it’s associated with peace. It has been a favorite color in quilts, as in the indigo blue and white quilts of the 19th century. Green is a mixture of blue and yellow, containing both the qualities of energy and calmness. Dying fabric green was a double process until the arrival of a chemical green stable dye in the late 19th century, a very desirable yet hard to achieve color. Purple is associated with wealth and royalty. It’s a rich color, and depending on the amount of red and blue used to create it, it can be warm or cool. Purple doesn’t appear much in antique quilts because there was no vegetable or chemical dye that produced purple that was colorfast and light stable. It wasn’t till the decade of the twenties in the 20th century, when a chemical purple dye, stable enough started being produced. Orange commands attention, because of the energy of both red and yellow. It’s a friendly color and one used to convey vitality.

There are cultural associations regarding color. Red is energizing, it’s the hottest of all colors. It is extensively used in quilts, from two color appliqué quilts (red-green) to the center of Log Cabin patterns. Blue is relaxing, and it’s associated with peace. It has been a favorite color in quilts, as in the indigo blue and white quilts of the 19th century. Green is a mixture of blue and yellow, containing both the qualities of energy and calmness. Dying fabric green was a double process until the arrival of a chemical green stable dye in the late 19th century, a very desirable yet hard to achieve color. Purple is associated with wealth and royalty. It’s a rich color, and depending on the amount of red and blue used to create it, it can be warm or cool. Purple doesn’t appear much in antique quilts because there was no vegetable or chemical dye that produced purple that was colorfast and light stable. It wasn’t till the decade of the twenties in the 20th century, when a chemical purple dye, stable enough started being produced. Orange commands attention, because of the energy of both red and yellow. It’s a friendly color and one used to convey vitality.

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