Color Theory for Quilters: Warm and Cool Colors

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We hear a lot of talk about “warm” and “cool” colors in color theory. Warm colors are yellow, red-orange, yellow-orange and orange. Warm colors remind us of fire. These colors tend to stand out in our quilts. They also create a sense of warmth and excitement.

Cool colors are blue, green-blue, blue-violet, and violet. These colors remind us of grass and water. Cool colors tend to recede into quilts. They create a sense of peace and calmness.

In quilting, knowing about warm and cool colors helps us to make good design choices. I am currently making a red and white quilt. Because red is such a warm color that stands out in the quilt, I am balancing the red in each block with a white background.  If I’d chosen a warm color for the background — such as yellow — the quilt would be very intense and the red color would not stand out as much.

If you are making a quilt that is predominantly cool colors, you may want to add a pop of a warm color to create additional visual interest. Such is the case with traditional log cabin quilts, which were generally cool color blocks with a red or yellow middle. Why? I’ve heard because the center block represented fire, which was also the center of the home. A color theory explanation is that our ancestors knew that warm colors — red and yellow — stood out so much in the quilt, that only a little square in the center of each block was enough.

This Youtube video does a good job of explaining warm and cool colors.

There’s another benefit to knowing about warm a cool colors. If you color your hair at home, it can be difficult to choose the most flattering shade. You can follow my method, which is buy whatever color is on sale! Or you can understand color theory and choose a warm or cool color, which will flatter your skin tone. This video tells how to use your knowledge of warm and cool colors to select your next shade of hair dye.

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