Colour Works

by Rosemarie Smith BA Hons Creative Arts
A guide to using colour in textile work

Colour mixing 1

The colour wheel is a simple diagram that explains the basic facts about colour.

  • Draw a circle and bisect it with 3 lines through the centre, dividing the circle into 6 equal segments, as you would a cake.
  • Write the names of the colours start with yellow at the top, then working clockwise, orange, red, purple, blue, and green.
  • Use paints to fill in the segments labelled yellow, red, and blue. These are called the primary colours. (Paints in these three colours are the only ones needed to complete the wheel.)
  • Make the secondary colours, orange, purple, and green, by mixing pairs of the primary colours together: yellow and red = orange. Red and blue = purple, blue and yellow = green. Then fill them in on the wheel.

Colour mixing 2

For this you will need paint in black, grey, white and one of the colours from the colour wheel.

  • Choose your favourite colour from the wheel and paint a patch of it in the middle of a sheet of paper.
  • At the top of the sheet make as many tints of the centre colour as you can by mixing different amounts of white into it.
  • To either side of the centre makes as many tones as you can by mixing in different amounts of grey.
  • At the bottom of the sheet makes as many shades of the colour as you can by mixing in different amounts of black.

Colour scheme 1

  • Select 3 colours lying next to each other on the colour wheel e.g. yellow, orange, & red (2 or more of these are known as an adjacent colour scheme)
  • Alter one of the 3 into a shade by the addition of black, another into a tint by the addition of white.
  • Use the resulting shade and tint + the 3rd pure hue to paint a simple striped or checked pattern on paper.

Hint Play about with various variations of the shades and tints + the pure hue until you arrive at a pleasing colour scheme.

Colour scheme 2

Colours opposite to each other on the colour wheel are known as complementary e.g. yellow and purple, red and green, blue and orange.

  • Take a pair of complementary colours and make another scheme as before.

Hint Johann von Goethe assigned a number to colours to indicate the proportion of different colours to give a balanced result: Yellow 3, Orange 4, Red 6, Violet 9 Blue 8, Green 6. For example, if your scheme includes yellow and violet you should use 3x as much violet to yellow. You can try this rule with stripes.

Colour association 1

Colours are associated with events, moods etc.

  • Make a list of colour associations such as red for danger, green with envy, royal blue, etc.

Hint A list of words associated with colours looks better if you alter your handwriting or font on a computer to describe the word, e.g. red for danger may be big and bold.

Colour association 2

Make a mood board for a landscape feature and its associated colours e.g. blue lagoon, autumnal woodland, and polar landscape. You may have to produce a mood board to show your client your ideas.

Collect scraps of fabric, paper, and bits, cut from magazines featuring the chosen colours.

Stick these to a board in a simple arrangement appropriate to the theme. For instance, cut scraps into swirls and arrange in an overlapping way to give a lagoon effect or simple leaf shapes and stick down in a random pattern for a woodland theme.

mood boards
Mood boards

Taking it further

Make a colour wand, winding various types of threads around it. All manner of things can be used to make colour wands - embroidery threads, wools, shredded fabrics, wires, strings, tapes, etc. Beginning with yellow, you can work through the colour wheel and the rest of the colour schemes to make a range of colour wands.

Deciding on colour schemes or harmonising with existing ones may become an important aspect of your craft work. Some very original colour schemes can result from selecting the colours you like the least. It is also a good idea to sometimes work with a limited palette of colours to produce monochromic effects (tints, tones, and shades of one colour).

Keep your eyes open around you for colourful inspirations in nature, or in the built environment - take photographs or work from postcards.

Gallery - trees in three colour schemes

textile hanging
Hanging based on trees for a hospice relatives room overlooking a wood

Trees in winter colours

book cover
A book cover - The Memory of Trees, in autumn colours

© 2012 Rosemarie Smith

Workshops and courses

Rosemarie Smith offers a range of day workshops to Embroidery Groups, W.I, schools, etc, in the South West, and longer courses through Kersbrook Training open and distance learning.