I love color but I didn’t always know how to get where I wanted to go. As a beginning quilter, I would choose two fabrics and muslin for the background. All that work and the results were just BORING.
Having absolutely no art classes in my background, it never occurred to me to research color in the art books at the library. In the mid-80’s, quilt fabric began to change from tiny, multi-colored prints to larger prints, more saturated with color. I was still just buying enough fabric for a single quilt and working through it until I finished. A 2-day class with Doreen Speckmann changed the way I bought fabric and my stash was born! Doreen taught me to think of each piece of fabric as a dab of paint on my palette.
Eventually, the marketplace included wonderful books on color from authors like Mary Coyne Penders, Jinny Beyers and Joen Wolfrom. They became my teachers. I devoted the next year to working through all kinds of color exercises from their books. I learned to speak the language of color.
As my quilts changed to richer, deeper, more nuanced colors, so did my choices in the garden. Where I used to just buy whatever struck my eyes and plop all the colors together, I learned to make a bigger splash by grouping like plants or colors and introducing a spark of the complementary color. Nature gives me green as the background color but it is never boring because there are so many tints, tones and shades. Even the time of day will make the colors look different.
Mother Nature makes the best selection of greens
I learned to put artemisia, Dusty Miller and lavender in the garden to separate the greens and add light. Look how the blue leaved hosta stands out above. I want fabric in all those colors!
The more I studied, the more strongly I felt about sharing what I was learning. I did workshops in my guild and eventually wrote a series of articles on color for The Quilter magazine. That series became the basis for my Color Companions class at Quilt University.
Requests from my students and my own ongoing desire to dig deeper into the mysteries of color led me to develop a class called Gradations and Transparencies. I sewed and wrote for a year! The class focuses on using many gradated values a color together in a quilt. Sometimes, as with We are Insignificant (below), the palette is very restricted but the use of value results in a big impact.
We are Insignificant
In the kaleidoscope quilt at right, the palette is analogous, meaning all the colors used are in a row on the color wheel. The values go from light to dark and alternate in each block to create the design. The corner pieces create the illusion of transparency, as if you are looking through one color to another. I struck it lucky when I looking for backing fabric and found a piece that picked up many of the colors used on the front. This quilt was made for my daughter, Jennifer. Her favorite color is purple and the walls of her bedroom are sage green. This combination gave her everything she needed.
The problem with learning a lot of about color – at least for me – is that I want to correct people when they do it wrong, much as I feel the overwhelming urge to correct their grammar. I try to resist the impulse. Unsolicited advice is hardly ever welcome. But sometimes a student picture will cross my screen and it is such a wonderful example of good color use, that I just want to stand up and cheer. That happened this afternoon as I was thinking about this post. The blocks made by Barbara La Belle are an outstanding example of using complementary colors.
Barbara La Belle from Ripless Paper Piecing
I still study color every chance I get. Often, that just means keeping my eyes open to the world around me. Other times, a new book will come along to teach me a new way to look at things.
P.S. Gradations and Transparencies starts this weekend at www.QuiltUniversity.com. Come join me!