Color My World

It’s now autumn and the landscape is awash with every hue of red imaginable.  This time of year automatically makes me think of pumpkins and Christmas trees and warm fires.  It gives me a cozy kind of feeling that makes me want to snuggle beneath a quilt, have a quiet cup of tea, and read the weekend away.

Blue has the opposite effect for me.  It makes me think of warm summer days, the cool Atlantic Ocean, sailboats, sandboxes, sundresses, and the smell of suntan lotion.  It makes me want to throw everything into a suitcase, hop in the car, and head east until I see ocean waves.

Funny how one color can make you feel one way, and another can make you feel completely different.  Color is like that.  And it’s all subjective.  Blue or red could have the complete and total opposite effect on you.  The best part is that neither effect is wrong.

The last blog I wrote on color featured the complementary color scheme – those colors directly opposite of each other on the color wheel.  Now I want to offer you a couple of other color wheel choices that can be used in designing quilts as well as introduce you to some tools that are really nifty to keep in your sewing bag.

The first alternative color scheme is the split-complementary.  Take a look at the color wheel below:


The quilt that I introduced in my last blog about color had two complementary colors – yellow and violet.  They are on opposite sides of the color wheel.  A split-complementary color scheme takes one color on either side of the complementary color and adds them into the mix.  So if my quilt was to be a split-complementary, I could take orange-yellow and yellow-green fabric as well as red-violet and blue violet and throw it in the mix – which I did with the lime green.


There is also the double complement.  This happens when two complementary colors are chosen that are right next to each other on the color wheel.  Refer back to the color wheel.  Besides my yellow and violet, I also could have chosen yellow-orange and blue violet or yellow-green and red-violet fabric.

Triadic colors make up another color scheme to think about.  This happens when two additional colors are chosen that are equal distance from one of the main colors.


For instance in my quilt, violet is the main color.  If I were thinking about a triadic color scheme, besides the yellow and violet, I would have chosen red-orange and blue-green.

Before we can get to the final color scheme, I need to define some terms for you.  First of all there is hueHue is the pure color of whatever fabric you have chosen.  Think about your first box of crayons you opened up as a kid – remember those fat crayons in the primary colors?  Think of those when you are pondering the hue.

Now take the hue and add white.  That gives the hue a tint.  When you add white to violet, you get lavender.  When you add it to red you get pink.  When you add it to black, the result is gray.  Lavender, gray, and pink are tints.

Let’s take the hue and add black to it.  This will produce a shade.  These tend to be really deep colors.  If you add black to red, you get burgundy.  If you add black to blue, navy is the result.  Burgundy and navy are shades.

Don’t confuse shades with tonesTones are made when gray is added to a hue.  They can closely resemble shades, but tones are a bit muddy.  It’s critical to be careful when adding tones to the rest of your fabric that you’ve assembled for your quilt.  If all the other colors are clear hues, shades, and tints, a tonal fabric can pull the color value down and stick out like a sore thumb.

Which now brings us to the last color scheme – monochromatic.  While the prefix –mono – may sound boring, the color scheme is anything but.  A monochromatic  color scheme takes a hue on the color wheel (such as violet) and uses tints, tones, and shades of this hue on either side of it on the color wheel.


If I were planning a monochromatic scheme with violet, I could chose red-violet, blue violet, lavender, deep violet.

Does all this sound complicated?  Sometimes I think we take what’s really simple and as we try to explain it, it becomes really difficult.  The wonderful part about all of this is that most of this comes naturally.  We are exposed to color as soon as we are born and our eyes can focus.  The brain immediately begins to file through the colors, tints, shades, and tones and sorts it all out.  Unless one is color-blind, for the largest part, finding beautiful color schemes comes as naturally as breathing.  So..relax and enjoy this part of quilt planning.

However, if you’re still a little antsy about choosing colors, take a trip to your local hardware store and mosey over to the paint section.  Chances are they have a kiosk similar to this


I cannot tell you how helpful these paint chips are when planning a quilt.  I am so incredibly thankful that these things are free!  When I’m unsure of a color scheme or if I’m simply looking for inspiration, these cards are a huge help.  And they fit handily inside a sewing bag or purse that you can take to your local quilt store to find fabric.

I also really, really like this tool:

This is the Ultimate 3-in-1 Color Tool  from C&T Publishing by Joen Wolfrom  It has 24 color cards with numbered swatches, five color plans for each color, and a red and a green value finder (I discussed value in a blog last year).  It comes in a handy-dandy protective pouch and slips easily into your purse or bag.

If you don’t come away from anything else with this series on color, I hope I’ve at least taken the fear out of picking out fabric.  I’ve seen far, far too many talented quilters opt for making the quilt just as it looks on the pattern because they are too afraid of making their own color choices.  And I know an equal number of them who would much rather opt for kits than go on the great adventure of finding their own fabric.

Don’t be that quilter.

Love and Stitches,


Sherri and Sam


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