Lessons In Color: Creating a Color Wheel

Hi Friends!

As a fabric shop owner, one of the things I find challenging is making sure my shop is stocked with fabrics in a wide range of colors and options.  Like you, I also shop for fabrics (albeit on a grander scale), and more often than not I have to shop for these fabrics without the aid of having the fabric in front of me!   If you shop on-line, that sounds familiar doesn’t it?

You too are shopping to fill in the gaps of your own fabric collection, or starting from scratch and coordinating for a new project.  Or maybe you have something that is nearly complete and you need to find that perfect fabric to see it to the end!

Wouldn’t it be great if there was a way to communicate in color?  Well there is, it’s called the color wheel!  Though I must warn you, not all color wheels are the same.  I have found that the best color wheel for quilters (and sewers too) is the 12 slice pie version with gradations from light to dark.

quilters color wheel

Much like a painter’s color wheel, the Quilter’s Color Wheel has 3 Primary Colors (Red, Yellow, Blue) and 3 Secondary Colors (Orange, Green, Purple) and then the 6 in-between colors, or Tertiary Colors which are a mixture of the Primary and Secondary (Red-Orange, Orange-Yellow, Yellow-Green, Green-Blue, Blue-Purple, Purple-Red).

When a painter creates a color wheel they start with a pigment and by combining white to the pigment they will Tint the pigment down to the lightest value they can create.  When they add black to the pigment they work the value scale in the opposite direction creating Shades until reaching nearly all black.  A painter also has the advantage of mixing complimentary pigments together to produce neutrals.

We quilters and sewers however find ourselves in a very different situation. UNLIKE a painter, we can’t just mix a color, rather we have to SHOP!  Our fabrics come in a vast array of colors and every single time we make choices, in a shop or within our own fabric stash, we have to decipher the color code.

For many a new quilter, sewist or designer, this is where the blood runs from our faces, eyes glaze over and we are left in a haze of aimless wandering.  We don’t know where to turn or how to choose a fabric.  We test bolt after bolt and sometimes spend hours trying to come up with a mix that works.  Sometimes this can be so very frustrating, not to mention extremely time consuming!

To solve some of this dilemma, the fabric industry helps us out with several solutions:
1. Coordinated Designer Collections (All the fabrics work with each other.  Great if you know what you want to make and you buy the fabrics at the same time, or can find the fabrics!  Good luck once these fabrics begin to sell out, most fabric manufacturers have limited inventory and once most of the collection is sold the fabrics are closed out.)
2. Pattern Kits (These are great too, but what happens if you made a mistake and you need more?  Pattern kits usually do not have much room for error)
3. Color Stories such as ‘Color of the Year’, ‘French Country’, or ‘Beach Comber’  (These are great places to start too!  With a color story you can narrow your focus to just a few colors…but you still need to find those colors!)

So let’s start at the beginning with our own fabric collection.  Let’s first discover what we have.  This is where it gets fun and I promise you once you’ve done this exercise you’ll begin to see your own collection in a whole new way!

First I want you to print the Quilters Color Wheel .  This is a .pdf file that will print on 12 pages.  The wheel is in color so be sure to use a color printer and not a black and white (I know, sounds obvious, but that is important).

Next, tape the 12 pages together…DSCF2007

…and trim


Now the fun part!  Start cutting swatches from your fabric collection and layering them into the color wheel…DSCF2010 DSCF2012

Take your time.  In fact, this step will take quite a bit of time but there’s no rush!  Really study the colors in your fabrics.DSCF2013

Pin the swatches in place.DSCF2014

Eventually we’ll sew these swatches down but for now just pin.  Work through your collection until the entire color wheel is covered.  During this process ask yourself the following:

1. Are there lots of missing colors on my wheel?

2. Do I have multiples of the same color?

3. Are there any colors you have a hard time finding a place for?

As we work through our wheel I’ll address some answers and solutions for those questions.

Ready to get started?  Great!  Now go and start your own Quilter’s Color Wheel!


2 thoughts on “Lessons In Color: Creating a Color Wheel

  1. Thank you. I’m going to try this. Ordering fabrics online is hard because lighting in photography is so different than when you have it in person and even the same shop doesn’t have the same lighting in all their photos making it impossible.

    1. This is so true!!! Some shops also tend to have very very small pictures which too makes it difficult. I can’t say I’m perfect but the photos of the fabrics is something we try to get right…or at least get as close as possible! Thanks for the comment and keep going on your color wheel!

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