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6 things you should know about the color wheel

 

Color, the world is full of color. As quilters we are drawn to the color around us and we’re also drawn to all the colorful fabrics in our local quilt shops. Although we all love color, many of us are afraid of color and overwhelmed in picking fabrics and colors for quilt projects. Using the color wheel can help us gain confidence in fabric and color selection so that it’s not a daunting and overwhelming task with every new project. Read on to learn the 6 things you should know about the color wheel.

 

The Sew Easy Color Wheel
The Sew Easy Color Wheel

 

 

What is the Color Wheel?

Did you know the color wheel was invented by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666? It has been around for quite sometime and has been adapted over the years by many different artists in many different disciplines. Today the color wheel is a tool made up of 12 colors. Depending on whose version you use, the red could be called magenta, and the blue could be called cyan.

I have the color wheel from Sew Easy which I picked up at my local quilt shop. I like this wheel because it has open areas in each color section to be able to view the fabric through. It’s easy to use and doesn’t have a lot of extra writing and markings that get in your way.

It’s also important to be able to have all the colors on the wheel butt up against the fabric for precise color selection and with this wheel it’s definitely achieved.

 

Color wheel with open areas for viewing fabrics
Color wheel with open areas for viewing fabrics

 

 

These 12 colors are all based on the primary colors of red, yellow and blue.  The primary colors are spaced evenly around the color wheel with 3 other colors between each primary color.

Red, blue & yellow - primary colors
Red, blue & yellow – primary colors

 

Example of primary color fabrics.
Example of primary color fabrics.

 

 

Secondary Colors

Mixing these three primary colors will result in the 3 secondary colors of green, orange and purple. The secondary colors are also spaced evenly around the wheel like the primary colors.

As a kid in art class I was always mixing yellow and blue to make green. How about you? Or I would just mix all of them and get a lovely brown. And now as an adult when we paint we are so cautious as we don’t want to make a mistake. Same with picking fabric – we’re so worried we’ll make a mistake. Oh, to be a kid again, carefree and willing to experiment so freely with color.

 

Green, orange & purple - secondary colors
Green, orange & purple – secondary colors

 

Example of secondary color fabrics.
Example of secondary color fabrics.

 

 

Tertiary colors

To take it one step further mixing the primary and secondary colors will result in 6 tertiary colors. These are red-orange, red-purple, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-purple and blue-green and they form a hexagon when connected on the wheel. These 6 colors are placed between the primary and secondary colors.

The 6 tertiary colors form a hexagon
The 6 tertiary colors form a hexagon

 

Example of tertiary color fabrics.
Example of tertiary color fabrics.

 

 

The colors are spaced evenly around the wheel.

Primary, secondary & tertiary colors drawn out on the wheel
Primary, secondary & tertiary colors drawn out on the wheel

 

 

The purpose of the color wheel

The color wheel is a visual tool to help an artist put together color combinations that look pleasing to the eye. These color combinations are called color chords, harmonies or schemes. The wheel has several different color schemes to choose from ranging from 2 colors to all the colors.

Here are some of the more common color schemes which I’ll talk about in depth as the week progresses.

Monochromatic – made up of colors from one color family – 1 color

Complimentary – made up of colors directly opposite of each other on the wheel – 2 colors

Triadic – three colors evenly spaced around the wheel to form a triangle – 3 colors

Tetradic Rectangle or Square – consists of two complimentary pairs that form a rectangle or square – 4 colors

Analogous– colors that sit side by side on the color wheel – 3 – 5 colors

Scrappy – all the colors on the wheel

As quilters or textile artists we can often become overwhelmed with choosing color and fabrics for our projects. For some quilters, making color choices and putting everything together comes naturally but for most it can be a bit of a struggle. The color wheel is a great tool to throw in your purse and take to the shop with you and use to help select your fabrics. And they even come in purse size.

How to use the outside edge of the color wheel

The color wheel has 12 colors along the outside of the wheel. I tend to look at each one as individual pieces of pie or spokes of the wheel. Each color is a different spoke of the wheel.

In each spoke is a range of that specific color from light to dark.

When deciding what color a fabric is, the easiest way is to place the color wheel on top of the fabric. For example, I have a 3 pieces of purple or violet fabrics. I placed the 3 purple spokes on the first piece of fabric. This fabric best matches up with the blue-purple spoke of the wheel.

 

The fabric matches the blue-purple spoke
The fabric matches the blue-purple spoke

 

 

The second purple fabric best matches up with the red-purple spoke.

The fabric matches the red-purple spoke
The fabric matches the red-purple spoke

 

 

And the last purple fabric best matches up with the purple spoke.

The fabric matches the purple spoke
The fabric matches the purple spoke

 

 

This color matching can be done with any piece of fabric to help with color clarification and identification when auditioning fabrics for a quilting project. By using the color wheel we as quilters become more confident in our fabric and color selections.

How to use the center of the color wheel

The center of the wheel is made up of shapes and lines that create triangles, squares and rectangles. All of these shapes help to depict the different color schemes that I listed above.

 

Center of color wheel
Center of color wheel

 

 

The middle circle of the wheel rotates separately from the rest of the wheel and the arrows or corners of the shapes can be pointed at any spoke on the wheel to create different color schemes.

For example, the equilateral triangle points to three colors that are equal distance apart on the wheel and these colors form a triadic color scheme. The primary colors are considered a triadic color scheme.

 

Primary colors are a triadic color scheme
Primary colors are a triadic color scheme

 

 

Isn’t color fascinating! And there’s so much more to learn! Tomorrow I’ll delve into a discussion about tints, tones, shades and the value of color. After today, just learning the 6 things you should know about the color wheel, you can be more confident in your fabric choices for your next quilting project. Happy Quilting!

 

The 12 colors of the color wheel
The 12 colors of the color wheel

 

 

 

 

 

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. Diane L

    Brilliant article – my Dad taught me a lot about colours from an artistic view point, but I never realized that there were tools like this, that would be so useful for quilting. Thank you so much!

  2. Quilting Tangent

    Thank you, for sharing a large color wheel and explaining how the colors work with each other.

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