Wednesday 10 July 2013

Colour Process - Alison

Today's amazing guest post on colour process is from Alison who blogs at Little Island Quilting. 

First off I’d just like to preface this by saying the only exam I failed at school was Needlework and the exam I got the lowest mark after that was Art.

That’s meant to show two things: I am no expert and anything is possible if you really want to do it. I also think I’ve reached the stage where I am with fabrics and quilting by instinct rather than any deep understanding of colour. Having Jess ask me to write this has meant I’ve really had to think about what I do and why I do it.



I would say my starting point when making a quilt is not normally colour. I begin with value: ie dark, medium and light colours.
I personally think how you tackle the levels of dark, medium and light are probably the most important part of how your quilt will turn out. I prefer my values to be on the edge of one category or another as it gives a feeling of softness, it blurs the lines of the pattern (which I like) and it does mean you can take a more relaxed attitude to what ‘colour’ to use. It makes your eyes work to see the pattern and for me, I just find that very visually exciting.

When I’ve decided on my values I then begin to think about warm and cold. White is crisp but it is also cold and can read very ‘flat’ for me.

Because I felt the white made this quilt a bit 'flat' visually, I decided to add the little butterfly corners in 

Creams add warmth to me. And if the darks, mediums and lights that I’ve used have cream hues in them (as opposed to whites) then I will probably go with cream backgrounds.

I’ve mentioned it before and I know there are those who don’t like it but I find brown invaluable. It acts as a warm bridge builder between so many colours that I often find myself reaching for it.

Black -  I’m not a huge fan of on it’s own. I find it too draining and too safe…if that makes sense. Black and white together are a different matter. Then I think they add an exciting neutral component to a quilt and are especially brilliant when my scrappy quilts are overflowing with powerful and contrasting colours and designs.

I never plan the fabrics I am going to use in a quilt from start to finish. I think there are a number of reasons for this:

·      I equate planning with work and I don’t want to work at my hobby
·      I don’t have a local quilt store I can pop to for just the right amount/shade of fabric
·      I therefore have to work with what I’ve got and if I use it up (which I invariably do) it pushes me in another direction as I am forced to use another piece of fabric. I think that is where my scrappiness comes from; that and the joy of fabric buying!

Another thing to mention is that all the time I am making a quilt I am thinking if it is visually stimulating on the eye. I also like gardening and in numerous garden design books it mentions creating little rooms and vistas for your garden; to not lay it all out flat in front of you, to give the eyes a chance to discover something new each time you look.

Poncy as it may sound, I can relate that to the colours in a quilt. I don’t want to look at a quilt and drink it all in immediately. I want to look at it and have my eyes darting all over it to take in the different shades, colours, tones, scales and fabrics used.

So bearing all that in mind, I start pulling fabrics. I’ll sometimes start with just one main print that I want to use, just because I’m drawn to it. If I’ve done that, then I start pulling fabrics that go with it. I know many people recommend looking at the colours used on the selvedge but I don’t as that puts me off. It makes me think that I should be using certain colours because they appear on the selvedge and instead, I’d rather work instinctively.

As I’m pulling fabrics and starting to sew I’m thinking:

·      Is there enough movement for the eyes – I try and achieve this through using a complete range of scales and styles of fabric. In my mind everything and anything will go if it is cut up small enough
·      Balance – have a nice balance of colours. By that I mean if my first random scrappy block has some orange in it, I’ll make sure it appears at least once someone else
·      However, the good thing about going scrappy though is you don’t have to worry too much about balance because the law of averages usually dictate that eventually I will have used most colours
·      Have I got my values right?
·      If I feel I’m going too mad and random with fabric choices, then I look to rein it back in by using black and white fabrics or a neutral or even a patterned fabric that I then start to use a bit more than all the others.

If I had to offer any tips on an exciting colour combination it would be:

·      Don’t buy the whole range of one fabric line. If you have to, don’t use it all in the same quilt. Mix and match
·      Think value first and colour second
·      Don’t spend too much time agonising over what will and won’t go – if you’re busy concentrating on values and you use enough different scraps, eventually it’ll all go!
·      Try to get a mix of florals, geometrics etc going and include different scales
·      Use brown!
·      Oh and use purple too. I never see many quilts with purple
·      Mix it up – use different genres of fabric and yes that does include any batiks. I have some
·      If you don’t like a particular fabric, consider turning it over and using the reverse side
·      And above all else...HAVE FUN! 


Jessica said...

Great post! Thanks, Alison! Your attitude of letting things come to you is refreshing and encouraging. I use purple in as many quilts as I can!! Though, I'll have to try for more brown. :)

Kay Holm said...

great post. thanks for the insights. I never thought of using the back of a fabric and now I will look more at browns.

sarah elizabeth :: {no} hats said...

I feel like such a color theory for quilters groupie at this point, but once again you and your guest poster did not disappoint! Not in the slightest! And of course I'm totally biased because I secretly want to *be* Alison, but now at least I have myself a little toolkit for seeing how her creative mind works ;)

Rosa said...

Great.Thanks for the tips!

Carla said...

Hello Allison. I think you were probably ahead of your time, and your teachers didn't know it ; ) I have always caught my breath at your quilts. Nothing 'flat' for sure. Pure eye candy.

Cynthia@wabisabiquilts said...

Alison - what a fantastic post! You've articulated "scrappy" so well. Hurray for brown! Your quilts are gorgeous. Thank you!

Kelly said...

Fab post Alison! I love how you mix colours in your quilts and it was great to get a bit more understanding about ow you go about it. Not sure on the brown bit though ;-)

Charlotte Scott said...

Someone once said (in relation to brown), that if you don't use a colour JUST because it is that colour, it's like excluding the violin from the orchestra. You need the whole spectrum of colours to be able to pull from to make harmony.

Great post!

mtnquiltr said...

Thanks Alison for a very interesting post. I admire your quilts very much, so I was curious about your method, process, or lack of same! I personally find value very hard to discern, I've been told taking black and white pictures helps. I will keep your comments very much in mind!

Vicki said...

Your work is absolutely outstanding! Thank you so much for this post.

carla said...

Hi!!! Thank You!!! I very much enjoyed your post!!!! I love brown and purples!!! Prefer black and white mixed rather than alone!!! I am still real new to sewing and quilting!!! Your quilts are very colorful and amazing!!!

Leanne said...

This is very helpful and I will try to do it next time I attempt a scrappy quilt.

Benta AtSLIKstitches said...

well i got thrown out of sewing and also failed art, but i think you picked up far more by intuition than i did!!!!!!

jeifner said...

Maybe it's like decorating a house, keep using things you like and they will eventually all go together. I really need to start finding ways to use brown. I like the color and can't seem to add it to my quilts.

pamela said...

This was a very helpful post! I also was miserable in home-ec (that's what it was called back in the late 70's). Didn't take art classes either. Trusting your instinct on balance is something I don't think can be taught, but learned along the way. Your quilts are a beautiful illustration on balance. I could look at them for hours.

Canadian Abroad said...

Alison is a genius with colour.

ipatchandquilt said...

He, here is another remark from an art teacher:" you are AWESOME" ! You get an A+ from me, girl!!!
Yeeee for purple too! Never understood why there is so little of it in quilt-land.
esthersipatchandquilt at yahoo dot com
ipatchandquilt dot wordpress dot com

jednoiglec said...

I have to print your post and read it carefully each day. Maybe in the future (in 1000 years?) I'll be able to sew something so wonderfully as you! And I have to change my attitude to brown...

Annabella said...

What a fabulous post - so many great tips. The value v colour thing is really interesting.

audrey said...

Great post! I always love Allison's quilts and what she has to say about scrappiness makes it obvious why her quilts always 'work'.

Archie The Wonder Dog said...

What a terrific post by Alison! I love the way she uses colour in her projects and although she's never going to convert me to a brown lover (I already love purple!) I'm going to look at my fabric selection with a different eye from now on - thank you!

Stephie said...

I have an MA in fine art and even (shock horror!) A level needlework qualifications - and you prove to me what I believe to be true without a doubt: you can have all the colour theory in the world, but without an instinctive appreciation you end up with nothing but a formulaic design. I think charm packs and the like are the scourge of creativity - avoid them like the plague, lol!!!!