Color Wheel

A Color Wheel is a chart representing a logical arrangement of colors. Based on a circle, the relationships between primary colors (red, yellow, blue), secondary (orange, green and violet) and intermediary or tertiary colors are easily defined and visible. The original color wheel was developed by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666.  Since that time our understanding of color has expanded to understanding color with light (Additive Color Wheel), how color is visible (Munsell Color Wheel) and how color appears on our Televisions and Computers (Subtractive Color Wheel).

For Quilters the current Artist Color Wheel, based on RYB (Red, Yello and Blue) or the CMYK Color Wheel (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow and Key-Black) referring to the 4 colors needed for printing color, are the most valuable. Which ever you choose, stick to it!  Many tools also include a Value Finder. Each color or Hue on the either Color Wheel is changed with the addition of White, Gray or Black. When White is added to a color it becomes a tint. When Gray is added it becomes a Tone, and color becomes a Shade when Black is added. Using tints, tones and shades in your fabric selection is referred to as Value, the lightness or darkenss of the colors used.  Value is an important tool for Quilters as it defines and creates space. To see the value of a color, use a Red value tool on fabric colors, except RED.  Use the Green value tool on colors except GREEN.  A Grayscale is used to evaluate color to be used for photographs or computer imagery. 

Benefits of a Color Wheel

Artists find the Color Wheel an important tool for selecting colors for their work. Understanding the relationships between colors and value helps in planning quilts.

  • Color Categories- Colors can be separated into Cool and Warm colors. Cool Colors, like water and grass, are thought to be relaxing and soothing.  Warm Colors, like fire and sun, are bright and exciting.
  • Complementary Colors-  Selecting fabrics of colors across from each other on the Color Wheel will grab your attention
  • Analogous Colors- Choosing three colors in a row will match well and gives a harmonious feeling.
  • Value - Choosing a variety of light, medium and dark fabric will add spark and interest to your quilt.

Supplies and Tools for Color Wheel

Color Wheel- there are many styles available for quilters, from simple to complex and portable to a wall hanging.

Value Finders- there are plastic value finders and even glasses!

Color For Quilters- While an Art Degree is not necessary to be a quilter, basic knowledge of the Color Wheel is very helpful. There are many books available for quilters and sewists.

What I Wish I Knew When I Started Color Wheel

Reading a basic book on how quilters can learn to use a COLOR WHEEL in my early quilting days would have been so helpful.  Don't be afraid of color- sometimes a bit of that complementary color might just be the sizzle you were looking for!

Color Wheel Resources

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