Use of Color in Quilting

Seeing color, let alone talking about it, can be a challenge. When you think about it, you never really see a color on its own; it’s always affected by its surroundings.

It’s incredibly important for quilters to understand how colors fit within the greater context of a quilt composition. While on the hunt for a harmonious group of fabrics, it’s helpful to audition a variety of fabrics to see how they work together.

When looking at a stack of fabrics or an assembled quilt, most of us can tell which fabric sticks out like a sore thumb. Sometimes it’s difficult to pinpoint why.

You can make one fabric look like a different color depending on what other colors it is near. The surrounding color(s) will have an effect on the viewer’s perception of the color itself. A color will tend to emphasize its opposite in hue, value, and saturation in an adjacent color.

We can also exploit the principles of simultaneous contrast to make two different fabrics appear as though they are the same. With careful comparison, we can choose fabrics that seem like the same color when in fact they are different colors.

Our visual system wants to recognize a familiar object under varying light conditions. We will recognize a red apple at dusk and at midday even though the lighting of that apple has changed dramatically. Our eyes are trained to recognize which dark objects appear dark because they are in shadow and which are truly dark-colored.

Our eyes adapt the colors in our quilts. Depending on where we place a particular fabric, we may perceive it differently based on how it fits into the design.