Considering Colour


Cynthia's Quilt - 2000, 90cm x 55cm. Commissioned and owned by Cynthia Harvey Baker of Kojonup Western Australia, this will soon be on its way to Austria, to be exhibited in a collection of Western Australian quilts later this year.


Colour surrounds us, and every day we make choices based on colours, instinctively wanting to make wise choices.  As we take clothes from our wardrobes, the weather, scheduled activities and even our hormones influence colour choices without us thinking of these connections.   At a salad bar, the colour of a food is a factor in choice; and did you know nutritionists have found that the more colours on your plate the better nutritionally balanced your meal’s likely to be ?

When young, most of us learn which colours suit our complexions, developing confidence with colour that stays with us for life.  However others struggle, saying things like “I’m no good with color”; they pay consultants to coordinate wedding details, decorate their homes, and get their personal colours done.  When I was young, all brown clothes made me look ‘washed out’ or ill.  Perhaps because of modern fabric dyes and the aging process, today I can wear more browns;  and as my hair colour changes periodically, that also changes the possibilities!

I have often claimed that in the world of art quilts and from those who teach within it, there is not nearly enough emphasis on design and color compared to the myriad of technical demonstrations and tutorials in magazines, dvds, books, tv, online and real time courses and classes.  Many quilt makers have high skill levels in all the construction techniques required to make wonderful quilts, but can lack ability and/or confidence developing colour schemes for their projects.  Collections of new fabrics appear several times a year in coordinated prints and solids to make copying a project from a magazine possible, but without basic knowledge of just how different colours work together, a quilter assembling her own individual color scheme may not even realize when a quilt shop assistant has helped her make ‘less good’ or even wrong fabric selection.

How colours work together, “colour theory”, is a large area of study by many artists over several centuries,  and it’s a bit daunting for those who find pages of terms and definitions wherever they look for information on working with color.  To help overcome this problem area I teach a one day, non sewing workshop – “Colour Confidence For the Theory Challenged Quilter”.  Using several  different visual sources, students experience several very practical methods of devising a colour scheme that really works.  Towards the end of the workshop, as these results are reviewed, students are introduced to basic color terminology,  colour/hue/tint/shade,  and  monochromatic/complementary/triadic  etc.  with reference to a color wheel.  Without knowing any technical terms these students have already successfully put together viable personal color schemes, and for most this eye opener is enough color information to enable them to continue creating confidently without deeper theoretical study;  for others it is a starting point for further study if they wish to pursue it.  But I think everyone  should  know of these online color resources which have recently appeared out on some of the lists I read : helpful in finding some basic color schemes from everyday things. an interactive, ie online, color wheel  – a real strength is that schemes are presented as balanced with major and minor colours in different proportions. is an interesting little site by Sherwin Williams, the paint company.  It’s an app that lets you move your mouse over a photo online and it will produce a color card of up to 10 colours from that.  An interesting little ‘how it works’ video, and I was all keen to bring it on, but somehow I could only sign on through facebook, and I chose not to do that.

Cynthia’s Quilt – the colour scheme was developed around several pieces of fabric from her native South Africa that Cynthia wanted included in the work.  It was photographed against a black background.

4 Responses to “Considering Colour”

  1. […] suggested a number of articles you might find helpful about color. You’ll find them on her blog on her web page at Share […]

  2. Olga says:

    Colour is such a fascinating subject area. I keep meaning to read up more on it. Thanks for giving me another nudge. I’m constantly amazed at what colours work together in Nature – but need extremely careful transposition to artefacts. I like the colours you used on your example quilt. Your colour combinations I find very evocative of landscape.

    By the way, I’m delighted to find someone else who eschews Facebook.

  3. If you are keen for some intense reading on colour theory, this website is an amazing resource I have been researching colour theory to understand it better and to teach others and I learnt so much from this site even though I couldn’t understand the scientific side, it was worth ploughing through as an artist to clear out the inconsistencies that I had previously been taught.

  4. Alison says:

    Thanks for the link, Bernadine. I had a look at it, and yes, it certainly would provide intense reading on colour theory. As such, it’s a prime example of what I mean when I say that the terms and definitions that confront the student of basic colour help are rather intimidating in their complexity; but I will add it to the list as one source for more detailed study by any student wanting to go there.

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