Tutorial: Using a Color Wheel For Quilting

One of the questions quilters ask, no matter what level of experience they have, is how do I figure out what colors of fabric to use?

In order to select fabrics that really make a statement in your quilt, you need to have a basic understanding of color theory and how to use the color wheel to your advantage.

Hopefully you remember some color basics from grade school, but here is a reminder, just in case you forgot.

Primary and secondary colors

The primary colors are red, blue, and yellow.  All other colors are made from combinations of those colors.

Black and white are not technically colors, but the appearance of light applied to the various colors.  For example, if you place a yellow piece of paper in the sun, the reflection will be white.  If you take away the light, the piece will appear black.

The colors midway between the primary colors are called secondary colors.  Orange, green, and purple are the secondary colors.

The colors between the primary and the secondary colors are called tertiary colors.  Usually the name of these colors indicates the combination used.  Examples are : blue-green, red-orange, and yellow-green.

Complementary colors are those directly across from one another on the wheel. You can combine two contrasting colors with black or white and get a striking look.

You can also use several shades of the same complements to get a quilt that is color co-oordinated, but soft and subtle.

Combining colors with a color wheel

Some of the most breathtaking combinations involve taking the three primary colors and adding white or black as a neutral.

Here the three primary colors: red, blue, and yellow are combined with a neutral to create a pleasing array of color. 

A more attention grabbing combination is to choose the three secondary colors and apply the same principle of adding black or white. 

You can also combine any two colors then add a third primary or secondary to the mix.  Think of the following combinations:

Blue, orange, green
                                       Yellow, purple, lime                     

Play with the colors on the color wheel, mixing and matching a primary with a secondary and tertiary or two secondary colors.  The combinations are numerous, and you can’t go wrong.

Monotone combinations

Keeping all your colors in the same family, but varying the tint or shadow creates a monotone effect.  These color arrangements can be very pleasing in Lone Star and Double Wedding Ring Quilts.

Triad combinations

Create a triangle anywhere on the color wheel and you have a triad.   Triads include red, yellow, blue  or orange, green, purple.  But think of unusual triads you can create.

Let’s combine hot pink, light teal, and peach.

You might not think to use these colors together, but imagine how they would look if you added a black to them.    

Suddenly they pop off the screen.

Keep playing with the color wheel.  It is the best tool to help you learn color theory.  If you are not sure how something will look together, test it out with markers.  I have the 100 pack of colors.  I can combine things on paper before I purchase fabric for a project.  

I hope you have enjoyed this lesson.