Auditioning Colors in the Design Process

Intuitive Color and Design by Jean Wells


As quilters, when we audition possible fabrics for projects, it is difficult to make a final decision until we actually see them interacting with each other. It is hard to tell what is going to work. For years, I have sewn together small (approximately 6 ½”) log cabin-like units, and I can quickly see how the fabrics are interacting. I always make myself do more than one project, and change up the proportion of color that is used in each one. So many times after this process, I have changed my mind from what I was envisioning, and then started the larger project more confident about my color choices. 3pincushions
The important words here are “Proportion of Color”. It is the percentage of a color family that you see in relationship to the whole. Always ask yourself, "What color family do I want the piece to read?" Then the others in the group should support the main color. I like to think of colors in descriptive words like value, intensity, temperature, volume, contrast (like opposites on the color wheel). Descriptive words help you to be more objective. I find myself digging around in my scrap bag from time to time looking for a “bright” or “dark”, etc., and more options appear to me when I use these words rather than the name of a color, like a perfect red.
I recently challenged myself with a color combination new to me. I happened to be straightening and rearranging our selection of Kona solids at the store. I came upon this cheddar like orange and the violets. Then I saw the dull violet! I could hardly wait to play with the color combination new to me. Note how I changed up the proportions of the two main colors in each of the projects.

I like to fill my pincushions with crushed walnut shells. You can buy them from your local quilt shop or a pet store. After I have stitched up the opening, I tuft the pincushions in four places using a longer needle and doubled sewing thread. I pull the thread through from back to front and back again and tie them off. (See photo below.)

Back of Pincushion

Then, I went on to working on this piece, as I taught my Adventures in Art Quilting workshop series at The Stitchin’ Post. Originally, I thought I would use the soft orange linen as the main color, but it just did not work. I ended up with a lot of cheddar but the proportions of the various colors seem to work. It is layered up ready for quilting. One of my students suggested quilting Southwest Indian ruins in the open spaces as she felt it had a Southwest feeling. I like the idea. Maybe I was thinking about the upcoming workshop that I will be teaching for Madeline Island School of the Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico at the Loretto Resort. I am teaching Spontaneous Designs from Nature April 16 – 20.


Share your exploration into color choices. I love seeing the work that all of you do!