Color Theory for Quilters: Understanding the Color Wheel


Being able to understand color theory begins with understanding the color wheel. (Trivia point — the color wheel was invented by Isaac Newton in 1666.) At it’s simplest, a color wheel has 6 colors — 3 primary (red, blue and yellow) and 3 secondary (orange, violet and green).  Between secondary colors we can add tertiary colors (red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green, yellow-green, red-orange, and yellow-orange).

As quilters, our goal is to use the color wheel to develop pleasing — and interesting — combinations of fabrics. Say you have a guild challenge that requires you use to violet and one or two other colors.  I’m sure your first thought would be to skip that meeting! But here’s how you could use the color wheel to come up with a color scheme:

1. Analogous Color Scheme — these are color schemes using three colors, with a primary color in common. Violet could be paired with a blue-violet and blue, or a red-violet and red.

2. Complementary Colors — this is the color directly across on the color wheel. Violet’s complementary color is yellow.

3, Triad — three colors equidistant from each other on the color wheel. Violet would be paired with orange and green.

Now that’s progress! Would you have thought of pairing violet with blue, red, yellow, orange or green? Maybe. But it might taken you a long time to puzzle it out. Using the color wheel will allow you to quickly organize your thoughts and create a great quilt.

Here is a short Youtube video that does a good job explaining the color wheel:

Here is a great article on using the color wheel and color schemes.


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