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3 ways to determine the color value of fabric

 

Yesterday I reviewed the exciting color wheel. Today, I’m going to add to all that information and give you even more. As you can tell the color wheel isn’t just a circle with colors on it but a very powerful tool to help with the selection of fabrics in regards to color schemes and value. I’m going to talk about value which is the lightness to darkness color of a fabric and show you 3 ways to determine the color value of fabric.

Many quilter’s have trouble determining the color value of a piece of fabric. Without value there’s no contrast within a quilt and no WOW factor.

Let’s get started with how fabrics are made lighter or darker.

What is value?

Value is very important in quilt making whether it be a traditional patchwork quilt or an art quilt. Without the use of value there would be no contrast in the quilt and contrast is what draws the eye to the quilt. The use of light, medium and dark valued fabrics or colors within the piece is what creates the contrast. Depending on where these values are placed, and what other value they are placed beside, will result in varying degrees of contrast.

Value represented on the wheel

Each color wheel is different but for the most part each color is represented with a tint, shade and tone or light, dark and medium valued version of the color as well as its pure form.

What is a pure color?

Pure color is the form of a color when it has not been altered in any way shape or form hence it’s in its purest state. Pure colors are usually very vibrant and intense.

On the Sew Easy color wheel the pure colors are found at the inner most section of the spoke close to the center. They correspond with the section that is labelled A.

 

Pure colors on the Sew Easy Color Wheel
Pure colors on the Sew Easy Color Wheel

 

 

Pure colors can be altered so that they form a variety of values within that one color by making them lighter or darker than the pure color.

What is a tint?

A tint is produced by adding white to any pure color. By adding white, pure color is softened and made lighter. Depending on the amount of white added, it will determine how light the pure color becomes.

An example of tints would be pastels such as baby blue, soft pink, light yellow or pale green. Pastels are quite often associated with newborn babies.

On the Sew Easy color wheel the lighter values or tinted hues of each color are found to one side of the pure color and are labelled with the letters F and G.

Tinted colors on the Sew Easy Color Wheel
Tinted colors on the Sew Easy Color Wheel

 

 

What is a shade?

A shade is produced by adding black to any pure color. By adding the black the pure color is made darker. Depending on the amount of black added, it will determine how dark the pure color becomes.

An example of shades would be navy, chocolate brown, forest green and deep purple. These dark colors are often associated with night.

On the Sew Easy color wheel the darker values or shaded hues of each color are found to one side of the pure color and are labelled with the letters B and C.

Shaded colors on the Sew Easy Color Wheel
Shaded colors on the Sew Easy Color Wheel

 

 

What is a tone?

A tone is produced by adding gray to any pure color. By adding the gray to a pure color the color is subdued or made duller. Gray can also be added to a tinted or shaded color to create a subdued version of a light or dark fabric.

An example of tones would be steel blue or murky blue. They often appear muddy in appearance. These colors are often associated with winter as they are often dull and subdued.

On the Sew Easy color wheel the tones or subdued colors are found at the outer most ring of the color spoke and correspond with the letters D & E.

Tones or grayed colors on the Sew Easy color wheel
Tones or grayed colors on the Sew Easy color wheel

 

 

Determining value

There are 3 different ways to determine color value of fabrics when placed side by side.

1. Tonal estimator

The Sew Easy color wheel comes with a tonal estimator. It’s that piece of red acrylic found at the bottom of the packaging. I consider it to be a value estimator because as we learned above a tone is when gray has been added to fabric but not all fabrics have had grey added to them.

In actual fact the tonal estimator is removing the color from the fabric to create a gray-scale of the fabric or fabrics which allows us to estimate the value of the fabric.

 

The tonal estimator
The tonal estimator

 

 

To use the tonal estimator place your fabrics on a table side by side. I prefer to overlap mine so that there are no gaps in between the fabrics, this way the color of the table beneath doesn’t show through.

Fabrics overlapped on the cutting mat
Fabrics overlapped on the cutting mat

 

 

Position the estimator over the fabrics and look at the fabrics through the estimator. Often it’s easier to bring the estimator up to your eye rather than taking your eye to the estimator. In the photos that follow I used my camera as my eye and so the guide looks rather larger than normal but the view through the tonal estimator is the same.

The fabrics should appear in a gray-scale with no color. Here, I positioned the tonal estimator at the middle to lighter end of the fabric run. As you can see there’s a definite difference in the value of each of these fabrics in this fabric run.

Tonal estimator positioned over fabric for viewing value
Tonal estimator positioned over fabric for viewing value

 

 

I moved the fabric which was second from the right in the photo above to third from the right in the photo below. In this position it doesn’t look quite as dark as it did in the position above and that’s because it’s now sitting beside a fabric that is darker whereas before it was between two lighter valued fabrics.

Positioning and the surrounding fabrics also have a huge impact on the value of a fabric.

Repositioning the fabric can change the value
Repositioning the fabric can change the value

 

 

Using the tonal estimator works well for all fabrics except red due to the fact that the tonal estimator is red itself. I find it a challenge to see the value of red fabrics with it. There are green ones as well which will help with the red fabrics.

Sometimes we are quite surprised by the results of this tonal estimator – what we thought was one value when changed to gray-scale looks a lot lighter or darker than we perceive it to be.

2. Taking a photograph

Taking a photograph of the fabrics you wish to use and turning it to black and white will help you determine the value of a fabric. By turning it to black and white the color is removed and only the gray-scale of the fabric remains. The same idea as the tonal estimator above.

 

Fabric run from above changed to black and white to create a gray-scale image
Fabric run from above changed to black and white to create a gray-scale image

 

3. Squinting

Yes, good old eye squinting will help to determine the value of color. When squinting, the eye is closed enough that the color receptors in the eye aren’t working and so the eye can only see in gray-scale. By only seeing in gray-scale the color has been removed and the value of the color or fabric is easier to see.

Squinting though is not the ideal method of determining value but it can be used in a pinch. Besides it causes wrinkles and crows feet which we do not want.

Lighting is also very important when determining the value of fabrics and choosing fabrics for a quilting project and I’ll talk more about it tomorrow.

I hope you enjoyed the wealth of information today and hopefully it’ll help you to look at fabric differently. Value is the most important key to creating quilts with that possess that WOW factor everyone is looking for. Along with having great lighting and knowing the 3 ways to determine the color value of fabric, don’t forget to pop that tonal estimator into your purse for your next shopping trip at your local quilt shop. Happy Quilting!

 

 

Jennifer runs Quilts by Jen, a fantastic educational resource for quilters with many great free tutorials ranging from how to choose fabrics, understanding the value of fabrics, pressing, building Bargello runs, pinning, binding, sandwiching, couching, quilting, and much more. Check them out!

2 Comments

  1. Linda Williamson

    I have difficulties with tones and values. I’ll bookmark this to reference this for future planning. Thanks

  2. Tamie Wilson

    Thank you for sharing this information. I remember being taught squinting in art class many years ago. Love what the tonal estimater does!

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