Friday, June 4, 2010

Color in the Quilting Process

As quilters, we make decisions about color with every fabric choice. I expect that most of us are familiar with the color wheel, and that some us may have even had some color theory in an art class or related subject. I had a basic lesson on color in a college class many years back, but when it comes to color selections, I don't tend to analyze my choices in any logical terms. Colors speak to me emotionally, not logically.

There has been some interesting research on the subject. For example, the color red can make us perform badly on tests. Red has been shown to raise blood pressure, while blue is calming. People are more likely to make risky gambling bets sitting under a red light as opposed to a blue one. And the color red makes men more attracted to women. (I guess the Lady in Red knew what she was doing.) Then there is "drunk tank pink" used to calm the inmates, although it works only initially. The color of a room can even produce physiological affects. When employees at a company complained about a blue room being too cold, the company repainted the room a warm peach color. The temperature of the room never changed, but the people no longer found the room to be cold.

These are concepts I never consider when making color choices for a quilt, but I find them interesting. However, it doesn't explain why some people are more drawn to one color over another. My favorite quilting colors are the cool ones: purple, blue and green, especially in the jewel tones. However, my mother is drawn to fall colors. I notice some quilters find red to be absolutely divine. And others prefer more subtle hues. What's up with that?

Color in quilting has been a learning experience for me. As I mentioned above, I love the cool colors, however, I quickly learned that the cool colors really don't shine unless coupled with at least one warm one. (If I'd paid better attention to color theory in college, I might not have had to figure this out for myself.) Yellow tends to be my warm color of choice, but I'm trying to branch out to some of the others. Then there is my Storm at Sea WIP (the subject of an upcoming blog article) in which I'm putting my cool colors on black to see if they'll pop without using any warm colors. It looks good on EQ5, but will the reality be as good? Interestingly enough when I planned the Storm at Sea, I didn't think of it in terms of, "Will the black make the cool colors pop?" Instead, I thought, "Wow, this might be awesome". Yeah, a lot of analysis there.

So what is your approach to color? Do you tend to stick with your favorites? Do you know why certain colors are your favorites? Do you try to branch out?


  1. My approach to color is to just go with what I like. I like all kinds of colors, but I'd have to say I'm not real big on pastels. I don't have a lot of purple in my stash at the moment, but that doesn't mean I don't like it. I don't know much at all about the color wheel and never had an art class beyond junior high. In college, one of the artsy students painted her dorm room turquoise and orange, which I thought was a fascinating combination. Then my sister (who was an art student) told me they were complementary colors. Okay, whatever. They looked good to me. So that's basically my approach: If it looks good to me.

    That said, I do still like turquoise/aqua, and peacock blue (or teal blue) is my favorite color. I do like red, both wearing it and, judging from the quilts I've made, using it in a quilt.

    I'm learning a little bit more about color value as I do more quilting. But when I'm really in doubt, I ask a fellow quilter. ;)

  2. I'm a cool color person, too, and your favorite colors tend to be my favorite colors. When I'm standing in a fabric store, it is a challenge for me to decide what colors to buy because I don't necessarily want an all blue (in varying shades) quilt, or something like that, but what looks good with blue (besides white and yellow)? That's a dilemma for me. I'm working on it. I saw some lovely dark mauve/not quite wine colored fabrics and wondered what would go with those. I didn't buy them because I couldn't decide. I hope to figure out it soon.

  3. I love a box of crayons; the more crayons the better. So when I need inspiration I grab the box and spill them out on my cutting table. Sometimes I'll group them by color or put them in order like a rainbow. Then I see what catches my eye and start regrouping different colors. At times I'll just start pulling fabrics off my shelf and "audition" them against one another. When at a Quilt Store I will usually gravitate to very bold prints and will choose the colors within the print for a project.

    I love color so it's not surprising that my favorite color is red. It makes me feel happy and empowered when I wear it. I have started to branch out with tans, browns, and beiges in place of white and black. They make a softer neutral than the other two.

    My advice is to not over analyze it and just enjoy the process. :oD

  4. I go with my emotional / visual reaction to choosing colours. I've also noticed lately that I tend to like loud, bright , bold and a but chaotic. Even when I choose something muted (like my current snowball quilt - I tend to choose something that has a variety of patterns in it)

    I tend not to really be a pastel person , so one of my UFO's was a real challenge for me (and is probably why it's a UFO!)

    Great blog post Michelle. You've really got me thinking now.

  5. Colors are very fascinating, just take a look in our wonderful nature to see all the color combinations we believe is not possible. I've been into restoring and repainting an old house, and a few years ago chose colors for our new house. I tend to use other colors in quilting compared to the interior of our house as well as colors on clothes I wear. I can't work with pastels, don't appeal to me at all. I prefer more bright colors, and I'm always drawn to all shades of blue, except marine blue and pastel blue, but don't ask me why - I don't know. I need to work with colors that appeals to me, or else the project ends up UFO! :) Personally I'm not 'fixed' on the color wheel, I choose color combinations that appeals to me...
    Very interesting post - thanks for bringing it up!

  6. I keep thinking I need to learn to use the color wheel, and I understand it in concept, but I still find myself "auditioning" fabrics to see what speaks to me in combination. I gravitate towards brights and saturated colors, but because I work on quilts for our quilt ministry, I frequently have to work with colors that would not be my personal choice. However, I usually find myself liking the end result and sometimes find out that there is an unexpected benefit - such as the pastel quilt I made recently that I found to be very fresh and calming when it was completed. I have done some research into colors to avoid using "non-healing" colors in our quilts for seriously ill people but beyond that I just go with my gut on color. Thanks for the interesting post!!

  7. I lean toward earth colors, brown and green but I love pink too. I like pastels but it seems lately I have been working with a lot of bright fabrics. But to make a quilt for myself it will be done in the earth colors.

  8. A most interesting post, Michelle. I normally stick with the traditional, but before I make my decisions final, sometimes, I do explore the possibility of using something off the wall in the mix.

    I never learned the color wheel concept since I was in Engineering, so I tend to just go off on my own when it comes to picking colors.

  9. Michelle,

    Thank you for your kind words on my smocking... smocking is my stress reliever, as with cross-stitch... :)

    It's nice to hear from you. :)

    In stitches,


Your comments brighten my day. :-)