CNCHnet . . . The Textile Arts Webzine of the Conference of Northern California Handweavers

Color Makes it Sing

 

cape fabric

cape fabric

Most of us have fallen in love with yarn at a shop or vendor hall at a conference, rushed home, warped the loom, woven the piece, and then taken it off the loom and been unhappy. It could be the wrong sett, or a technique problem, but often what we are disappointed with is the color. It is too dark, too light, muddy, the colors just don’t work together, etc.

We know exactly which weaver in our local guild knows how to use color. Their show and tell items always look terrific! Chances are that person was not just born with “color sense” but has spent time honing their knowledge of color theory.

You can improve your understanding of color and how to use it with textiles to make more successful work. As I tell students in my weaving workshops, we spend too much money on our yarns and too much time on our weavings to produce “dogs” my word for those weavings you don’t want to show anyone. My other mantra, “color won’t help a poor design, but color can make a good design sing!”

If you want colors to sing in your work, why not set 2017 as the Year of Color for your own focus?

What follows are thirteen different approaches, exercises and ideas to learn about color and improve the use of color in your work. These are all things I have tried, done, or use to keep learning about color. Whether you are a beginner at color or master of color theory, there is always more to learn.

Here are eight EASY exercises, which means you won’t have to invest much time or money.

    1.   Color Self Evaluation
In a notebook or new computer document answer the following questions:
a)  As a child what was my favorite color? Why?
b)  As an adult what is my favorite color? Why?
c)  What color(s) do I dislike? Why?
d)  What color(s) am I afraid to use? Why?
e)  What colors do I use repeatedly in my weavings?
f)  What color(s) would I like to use in my weavings?
g)  What are my frustrations about color?
h)  What is my favorite color medium to use when I am designing color for a project?
Yarns
Fabrics
Crayons
Colored pencils
Colored markers
Watercolor paint
Other kinds of paint
Pantone color guides
Color-aid paper
other
i) How familiar am I with basic color vocabulary? Shade, tint, value, hue, primary, complementary, etc.?
j) When I need ideas for colors to use, what do I look at?
k)  What artist or makers work do I look at/ to for color inspiration?
l)Why do I like the way this artist/maker uses color?
Add your own questions.

     2. Interview That Person
The next time you are at a guild meeting, go up to the person who shared that wonderfully colored item during show-and-tell and ask them how they learned to use color. Record what they told you. You may feel so bold as to ask if they would look at your next project as a color consultant.

     3. The Color Around You

leaf

leaf

Color surrounds us constantly whether we spend our time running errands, working at a computer, cleaning and other chores, gardening, walking, waiting at appointments, shopping, making, care-giving, driving, or golfing.

Give yourself specific observation assignments over a period of days, weeks, months or seasons to notice everything about color around you. Record your responses to what you see by writing it down, taking photos, voice recording, whatever method of saving information works for you.
For example:
11/2/16 This morning while walking the dog in my neighborhood here is what I noticed about color:

6/15/16 While waiting in line at Costco I focused on color and this is what I saw:

9/12/16 Today while driving across the salt flats on I-80 heading west between Salt Lake City and Elko I observed the following about color or lack –there-of.

     4. My Own Color Reference Go-To Guide
I label manila folders with headings of things I’m interested in:
Winter, Barns, Vegetable, Texture, Farm Animals, Biking, Mountains, Symbols, Logos, Scandinavian Design, Trees, etc. One is labeled “Color.” Whenever I’m going through junk mail, a pile of old magazines, postcards I’ve collected on a trip, concert programs, or any other paper that comes my way, before recycling it, I go through it and tear things out and file them in my folders. These become my go-to guide when I’m designing a new project. Specifically, my Colors folder has pages I’ve torn out of clothing catalogs, home interior catalogs, paint chips from the hardware store, virtually anything that shows color or colors used in ways that inspire me.

I do the same thing on Pinterest. When I wanted to paint a wall yellow last year, I searched Pinterest for all kinds of yellow used in different interior spaces and labeled the folder, “Yellows.”

      5. Invest in a Color Wheel
If you don’t already own a color wheel, get one at your local art supply store or online. They cost from $6-16. Keep it out in view in the place you plan and design your project and choose your yarns. Refer to it. Learn the basic color theory vocabulary.

     6. Color Wrapping Exercise
What you need:
Object from nature
Matte board
Assortment of yarns
Double-sided tape

color wrap shell

color wrap shell

color wrap with paint

color wrap painting

Find an object from nature—a shell, stone, fruit, vegetable, etc. Look at the object from all angles in bright daylight or with full-spectrum light. Analyze and dissect all the colors your eye can see in that object. Use yarns from your stash at home or take a trip to the yarn store. Cut a strip of matte board one inch wide and eight inches long. Cut lengths of yarn that represent the colors in the object. Wrap the yarn around the matte board securing it on the back side with double sided tape. As your eye gets more attuned to seeing all the colors in natural objects, you can use a variety of yarn textures to help represent the feeling of the object. You can also wrap yarns in widths proportionate to the amount of individual colors in the object.
         Variation: Do the same color wrapping exercise but this time with a favorite postcard or photograph.

     7. Quilt Fabric Focus
What you need:
1/8 yard or a fat quarter of several quilt fabrics
Copy machine, scanner, camera, or computer
Yarns from your stash
a)Take a trip to your local quilt store, or maybe you already have a stash of fabric at home. Look for fabrics with color combinations that really appeal to you. I am always drawn to Kaffe Fasset fabrics and Hoffman fabrics. Buy several samples.

tie dye cat back

tie dye cat back

cabbage and rose fabric

cabbage and rose fabric

b)At home use your scanner or copy machine set at B&W setting to scan or copy the fabric in shades of grey. Or take a photo with your smart phone camera or digital camera and use an app or program to view the fabric as values. Look at the fabric itself and the grey-scale image side by side. How many different values are used in the coloration of the fabric? How is value used in this commercial fabric to make an appealing design? Do you consider value when you combine yarns for your weavings?
c) Now lay out the fabric and dig into your yarn stash to find colors that represent the colors used in the commercial fabric. Do the yarn colors surprise you? Would you have considered using these yarn colors together without seeing the commercial fabric first?

Thai jacket backThai jacket detail

 

 

d) Another assignment is to weave a small amount of fabric using the yarns you choose that work with the commercial fabric. Then use the woven fabric and the commercial fabric to make a small bag, eye glass holder, baby booties, etc.

red ikat jacket detail

red ikat jacket detail

 

      8. Ruby Beholder
Because I often weave with an inlay technique, I use a quilter’s value-finding tool called a Ruby Beholder to determine which yarn colors to inlay on the surface of another color. They cost from $6-9. This one minute video shows you how to use the tool https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKF_H6MGL3U
Basicly the tool masks the yarn colors so you only see light, medium and dark values.

yarn and ruby beholder

yarn and ruby beholder

 

Here are five MEDIUM assignments which means they will involve investing more money and time.

    9.  To Dye For
Before I knew I was going to be a weaver, I took a community education class on natural dyeing. That was my first formal introduction to color. Take a dyeing class or workshop offered by community education, your weaving guild, or other groups in your area including quilt, spinning, clothing, or knitting.

No classes or workshops around you? Check out a dyeing book from your guild or public library, get some basic supplies from Dharma, Pro-Chemical or Earthues, gather a friend or two, and set up your own weekend workshop.

Keep records and samples of your experiments. Soon this will become your own dye “recipe” guide.

These two dye books are oldies but goodies. I still refer to them when dyeing.
Synthetic Dyes for Natural Fibers by Linda Knutson
A Dyer’s Garden by Rita Buchanan

     10.  Learn from Your Stash
a.) Take out all the yarns in your stash where you can see them. Ha, ha, for some of you that would mean renting a ballroom! So limit yourself to just the yarn stored in one closet or some other limiting mode!
b) Analyze your stash. In what color do you have a wide range of values, tints, shades? Are there colors you never use? Are you lacking in colors that would contrast or complement the yarns you have?
c) Then decide which aspect of color you want to explore in a weaving: analogous colors, complementary colors, gradation of value from light to dark, etc.
d) Choose a weave structure or weaving project you have wanted to execute for a long time that would work with the yarns you have in your stash or that you would only need to purchase one or two more cones of yarn for.
e) Use not only the yarns, but spend some time with color mediums sketching or collaging, figuring out how to arrange the colors in your warp and weft.

color study

color study

f) And if you are really patient, put on a sample warp(s) to experiment with different weft colors or order of warp colors. Show the results to another weaver for critique.
g) Then weave the project. Analyze what worked (hopefully everything), what didn’t. Show it to other weavers and friends who are makers in other mediums to get feedback on color.

yarn

yarn

weaving draft

weaving draft

fabric

fabric

textured plan weave

textured plain weave

       11. Book Learning
There are a myriad of books written about color and color theory. The following books I used in art school, in my own color education, or are books students in my workshops have recommended. Buy the book. All the books listed are available either new or used on Amazon.com
Then don’t just read, but do the exercises over the course of a summer, your vacation, a year.

Edwards, Betty. Color: A Course In Mastering the Art of Mixing Colors. New York: Tarcher/Penguin, 2004. ISBN I-58542-219-3

Itten, Johannes and Faber Birren. The Elements of Color: A Treatise on the Color System of Johannes Itten Based on His book the Art of Color. New York: John Wiley and Sons, Inc., 1970. ISBN 0442240384

Wong, Wucious. Principles of Color Design: Designing with Electronic Color. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 1997.
ISBN 0471287083

Kurtz, Carol. Designing for Weaving: A Study Guide for Drafting, Design and Color. New York: Hastings House, 1981.
ISBN 0803815794

Chijiiwa, Hideaki. Color Harmony: A Guide to Creative Color Combinations. Rockport, MA: Rockport Publishers, 1987.
ISBN 0935603069

Holtzschue, Linda. Understanding Color An Introduction for Designers. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1995.
ISBN 0442016832
Note: In 2017 the 5th Edition will be released. I highly recommend any edition of her book.

Eiseman, Leatrice. Pantone Guide to Communicating with Color. Sarasota, FL: Grafix Press, Ltd., 2000.
ISBN: 0966638328
Note: She has written a number of books on Pantone color. Chose the one that is suitable for you.

   12. Online Learning
There are numerous online classes on color. I have not taken any of them. I would love to hear from folks who have. Places to start exploring are:
www.Lynda.com
www.Craftsy.com
www.iquilt.com
Your local community or junior college

13. Go to School
This method requires the most money and time. But if you have the means, and love to learn, then going back to school is a wonderful investment in yourself.
Look for color classes in both the art and design departments of a college or university.

Color takes practice and study. The more you work at it, the better your color sense becomes and the more successful your projects. In the words of Walt Disney “The way to get started is to quit talking and start doing.”

quliltedselfportraitcropped

 

Nadine Sanders has co-written two books on the Theo Moorman weaving technique.  She is known as the “shoe-string lady” for spreading the gospel of tying-on and tensioning warps with shoestrings, and she leads textile tours of Scotland.  Nadine lives in Sebastopol, CA. Visit www.singingweaver.com 

 

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