Color in Quilts
The colorwheel can help!
The color wheel has three Primary Colors - red, blue, and yellow. These are sometimes called the pure colors because every other color is made up of some combination of these three. The Secondary Colors are the colors these make when mixed: orange, green, and violet. Intermediate Colors (sometimes called Tertiary or Triad colors) are a combination of one primary color and one secondary color. These are: blue-violet; red-violet; red-orange; yellow-orange; yellow-green; and blue-green. These 12 colors are occasionally referred to as high intensity colors.
The warm half of the color wheel--from red violet to yellow --is considered warm. These colors are often the dominant colors in a quilt, appearing as if they are advancing toward you. The other half--from yellow green to violet--is considered cool. These colors appear to recede, as though the space is expanding. Pure colors will also tend to advance, while tints tend to recede.
Keep these effects in mind if you are designing a quilt you want to appear three dimensional. Don't forget that the warmness or coolness of a print often depends on its relationship to other prints. A warm color in the middle of several cool colors will look warmer than the same color in the middle of several other warm colors.
The purity of the color compared to it's neighbors can also change the effect of that color. For example, a pure color such as a yellow, in the middle of more muted colors (tones and shades) will draw the eye to that color. This is one way to create the illusion of transparency. For example, a yellow surrounded by red with orange in between them gives the illusion of yellow washing over red.
Complementary Colors are colors which are opposite each other on the wheel. Blue and orange for example, or purple and yellow are complementary colors. Because you are using colors from both the warm and cool sides of the color wheel, pairing a color with its complementary color will make both colors more vibrant.
For a little more variety, use two colors and the complement of the color that is between them. For example, between purple and green is blue. The complement of blue is orange, so a purple/green/orange combination would work. This is called a split complementary. A split-complementary can also use one color plus the two colors on either side of its complement. Split-complement quilts have less contrast than straight complements.
Analogous Colors are several colors which are next to or very near each other on the color wheel. Yellow and orange for example, or yellow, green and blue. Colors which have an element common to each other will always look good together. For example yellow and orange (which is actually yellow mixed with red.) To spark an analogous quilt, use an accent color which is directly across the color wheel from the center analogous color. For example, yellow, orange and blue-violet.
Monochromatic Colors are the various tints, tones and shades of a color. A monochromatic quilt can be very soothing - or very dull and boring. A monochromatic quilt depends on a variety of contrasts in value, intensity, temperature and texture to avoid being dull.
Triad colors are three colors equally distributed on the color wheel, such, red, yellow and blue. Tetrad colors are the four colors equally spaced around the color wheel combine to make a tetrad. Because these combinations use colors from both the warm and cool side of the color wheel, quilts made in these colorways tend to be more vibrant.
Polychromatic colors are the exact opposite of monochromatic colors. Polychromatic quilts are an explosion of color - think scrappy or controlled scrappy quilts.
Neutrals--black, white, gray, and every variation in between--are not part of the color wheel. When using these colors in your quilt, black is considered to be warm while white and gray are considered cool. Use a light neutral with a white base if you quilt has a lot of tints. Use an off-white or beige neutral with a gray base if your quilt has a lot of tones. It's good to use some neutrals in your quilt to give your eyes a place to rest.
When choosing a color scheme, consider common color associations. There is always a strong symbolism inherent in color. For example, some cultures associate violet with royalty. Use the brightest color in your palette to call attention to the most important elements but remember that large areas of bright, strong colors can be overpowering. Small areas of light colors can be overlooked altogether.
Not sure what to call a color? Try this Name That Color wheel.
Next Page: Common color associations
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