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Color for quilters: seeing red.

Color is a part of life. Colors create emotion. There is beauty in each color and we play favorites with some. Our eyes are drawn to certain colors--we lean toward colors that soothe or energize us and are pleasing to our senses.

But sometimes we need to work outside of our comfort zone and create quilts and projects using colors we're less familiar with. I often hear comments like this:

"My daughter-in-law likes these colors but I don't know what else would work with them."

Or more commonly: "I don't know how to pick out fabric colors for my project. I just buy the fabric shown in the pattern because I don't know where to begin with picking out colors and fabrics myself."

My Simply Color books are meant to inspire and empower you with the confidence to understand each color individually--but not in a textbook sort of way. These books use words with beautiful pictures to explain how to work with each color. It's informational and coffee table worthy! The goal is to inspire you to work with colors you normally wouldn't choose, or to solidify the love of the colors you run to when you create, and to help you understand how they work in your projects.

Let's talk about the color red. Red is commonly associated with love, power and boldness. It can be used to brand a company or as an accent in your home. Red gives a bold punch of color--it grabs your attention. In quiltmaking, red can be considered a classic choice.

A few basic terms will help you talk about color effectively. The hue is the pure color. In each hue there are many variations of light, dark, muted and more or less intense. When we talk about red, it encompasses rust, flame, fire engine and pink.

Tints are the pure hue of red with added light or white. They have a soft, muted look. Think pink!

Shades are the pure hue with added dark or black. They are deeper and they look saturated. Think deep red!

Tones are the pure hue with added light and dark, or gray. Tones tend to be muddy. Think burgundy!

Red on the Color Wheel

You can do many combinations with red, but let's start with the most common: the direct complement (straight across on the color wheel).

In the RGB* color wheel, cyan is across from red. When you create a project with red and cyan, you will produce a very bold and intense effect. You'll want to pay attention to the intensity of the saturation in your colors.

Along with complementary you have split complementary, which is made by using one color on either side of the complementary color. For red it would be the combination of red, green-cyan, and blue-cyan.

Another combination in the complementary family would be the double complement. This is when red and its complementary color cyan are paired with a second complementary set right next to them on the color wheel. In this case it would be red, cyan, magenta and green.

Two colors chosen in equal distance from red are called a triad color combination such as red, blue and green. Adding one more color of equal distance gives you the tetrad color combination. In red's case it would consist of red, cyan, violet and green-yellow.

My favorite color combination is monochrome. This is accomplished by working closely within the tints and tones of one hue and using the colors to either side on the color wheel. For red this would be red, orange and red-magenta.

In my Simply Color books, there are four quilt patterns and several small projects like table runners, pillows or handbags. Use these books to teach yourself how to get out of your comfort color zones. Each one explores a color and gives you projects to help build your own color skills.

Most of the red projects are monochromatic. It is helpful to practice working with red (or any color) so you can build confidence and learn to select fabrics for your most special projects.

* The RGB color model is an additive color model in which red, green and blue light are added together in various ways to reproduce a broad array of colors. The name of the model comes from the initials of the three additive primary colors: red, green and blue.

Vanessa Christenson designs fabric for Moda Fabrics and is the author of the Simply Color books for Lucky Spool Media. Visit to learn more.
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Author:Christenson, Vanessa
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2016
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