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Monday, 17 January 2011

Colour, Light and Rainbows

Trying to write a blog is more difficult than I thought.  Last year, when I used to put up a new photo every day, it was easy - a visual thing.  Having to think what to write, even if not every day, is more involved.

I am working on new quilts for my forthcoming exhibition at the Carrefour du Patchwork in France next September, and is taking over my life entirely.  I think of designs, shapes, lines, and above all colour - how to convey the feeling of the light, using fabric.  And  actually make the quilts, up on my design wall.  Not to mention planning the whole exhibition - how many and what quilts to make, and how they will work together - and also all the paperwork!

The rainbow was my starting point on thinking about colour.  By constructing rainbow or spectrum-based quilts, I got a real feeling for the interaction of colours - the importance of the 'bias' of the colour - whether I chose an orange-bias read or a pink-bias red, and so on.  For the colours to work together, the 'biases', the saturation, the intensity of each colour in relation to the others, have to be just right.  And that works only by what quilters call 'auditioning' fabrics, and Josef Albers calls Interaction of Colour.  A visual thing.

My first ever quilt was based on the rainbow.  Then I made a few more.  The photo below illustrates one of them, "Tales of Tzars and Treasures", where I combined my very first Heide Stoll-Weber rainbow-coloured cotton sateens with black and white fabrics.

There are no cut and dry rules about what colour goes well with which other.  The only way to decide whether a particular colour combination works, is to put the fabrics together and then to consider the specific circumstances and requirements, the light quality, the amount of each fabric involved, the personal preferences... that's to say, the visual effect of the interaction of specific colours, and how that relates to what you are looking for.

My favourite book on colour is the old Bauhaus workhorse, Johannes Itten's The Elements of Colour - still available, mostly second hand, some times at a price... but it is worth every penny.   This book is a short version of his larger treatise "The Art of Colour" - worth several hundred pounds, if you can get hold of it - I used to read it in a college library.

Thank you for visiting and reading my ramblings!



  1. Interesting post, thank you. I don't use any colour rules whatsoever..I try and ignore them all, preferring to do as most people do anyway which is the auditioning thing. I love sitting in a pile of fabrics moving them about and getting a feel for which I like together. Intuition only I'm afraid and great fun. I had a difficulty changing to painting after fabrics because of this very thing. I now pretend my paint colours are plain fabrics and it helps a lot. I sometimes bring myself up short with my choices!

    I'm in awe of your colour combinations ..for me you have them absolutely right.

  2. I learned about colour theory in college, but I never use it consciously.
    I rely on good old intuition,auditioning and when it feels good, i,'m happy.

  3. Absolutely! Intuition is the thing to use. However, I found that a thorough study of colour theory gave me the understanding that allows me the confidence to not follow rules, and succeed in my choices!
    That understanding came first from doing all the exercises in Johannes' Itten book, and later from reading Josef Albers' Interaction of Colour, that tells you why there are no rules...Albers' book is extremely dense and difficult. I will talk about it in my next blog.

  4. Thanks Alicia for sharing your thoughts so generously. I know how to make a colour by dyeing, but have to learn all about how they interact in the final piece, or even in a handdyed piece of fabric itself. Just left ´the more colours the better´ station ;-). Love your coloured quilts.

  5. Thank you Nienke! Your hand-dyed fabrics are wonderful for making colour combinations that work beautifully!

  6. This is a great blog, Alicia. I really like blogs that make you think so keep at it! I tend to work instinctively when it comes to colour because I am a bit prone to being cerebral at the best of times. I own Itten's book so must have another look at it. This month I am thinking a lot about a piece of space-dyed fabric I made years ago and whether I dare pick out loads of the colours that are in it and then cut it up and create something where the only patterned fabric is this piece. Thanks for inspiring me further.

  7. Thank you for your kind comments. I will continue talking about colour, as it fascinates me. I found that doing many of Itten's exercises using pieces of fabric, not paint on paper, was very insightful. Look particularly at the chapter on Simultaneous Contrast - that's a fundamental concept for me.