Colour theory for quilters

The choice and combination of colours and prints on quilt fabric can make or break your quilt. To make this a bit easier to understand, we first need to take a look at colour theory.


When it comes to colour, the best advice that can be given to any quilter is to use colours that you like.  The second tip is to observe colour relationships around you.color wheel

Looking at a quilt, it may sometimes seem flat or dull, and this is a result of using fabrics of the same value or tone.  It is important to use a combination of light, medium and dark colours.


color wheel
primary colour

Primary colours

Primary colours are red, blue and yellow.  These cannot be created from a combination of other colours, and thus are considered primary because other colours can be created from them.

secondary colours

Secondary colours

Secondary colours are achieved by combining two primary colours.

Red and blue produce purple.

Blue and yellow produce green.

Red and yellow produce orange.

tertiary colours

Tertiary colours

Now, when you add a little of a primary to a secondary colour, you produce what is known as a tertiary colour.

Secondary orange with primary yellow produces yellow-orange.

Secondary orange with primary red produces red-orange.

And so on.

complementary colours

Complimentary colours

Two colours opposite each other on the colour wheel are considered complementary.  In this example, purple and yellow are complementary.

analogous colour

Analogous colours

Analogous colours are those that are next to each other on the colour wheel.

Colours are also described as warm or cool.  Warm goes clockwise from 12 o’clock on the wheel, and cool goes clockwise from 6 o’clock on the wheel.  Then colours have value, i.e. lightness or darkness.  A tint of a colour is the result of adding white to a particular color, whereas a shade of a color is the result of adding black to the colour.  In between these, we have tone, which is the result of adding grey to the colour.  In this respect a view finder is very helpful.

To help make a decision about colour for a block, perhaps make a sample block to see how the colours work together.


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