Color Theory for Quilters: Color Pioneer Josef Albers


“Homage to the Square” by Josef Albers

As I mentioned last week, I am taking a class on color theory. I think I’m like most quilters in that I choose fabric — and color schemes — based on what I think looks pleasant. If I’m feeling less daring, I’ll just wander around a quilt store (or browse online) and buy a bunch of fabric in a single line, then pay for my purchase being confident my quilt will look unified. But I’ve never been totally sure why I like some colors and not others, or exactly what makes some colors go together (or not!). For the next few months, I will be sharing my research into color theory with you on “True Color Tuesdays.”

Josef Albers is considered the father of color theory, and you are likely familiar with his series on squares. Quite honestly, they don’t look like they require much skill, but he started this series when he was in his early 60’s and it was a culmination of his life’s work on color. Today, most classes in color theory begin with learning about Josef Albers.

After viewing some of Josef’s work with squares, I have a few observations to share:

1. Colors really do look different based on which colors surround them.

2. Certain squares recede, while others come forward, depending on their color.

3. Color theory is complicated.

4. His paintings look a great deal like many blocks in the modern quilt movement.

This video shows the background to Albers’ paintings. I think it demonstrates his commitment to using very specific colors, as well as his belief that simple squares can represent complex ideas.

How does this apply to quilts? First of all, we must remember that colors do not exist in a vacuum. That yellow fabric that you’re dying to include in a quilt may look brown, grey or green — depending on the other fabrics in the quilt. Secondly, some quilt fabrics will pop and may take away from other fabrics on your quilt — and this may vary depending on the placement of other fabrics on your quilt top. Finally, your color scheme may invoke ideas and images beyond what you intended.


2 responses »

  1. What a great quilt that square would make. One could do little pieces of each of the colours to make one big quilt….or lots of blocks that look like that one…..or try recombining them???

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s