Choosing Fabric Colours | The Basics

There are so many beautiful fabric colours and prints, almost an endless choice, so how do you go about choosing for your patchwork project? Combining colours and prints can come easily to some people, but for many it is a real challenge to get the balance and look that they want. Luckily colours have a “system” and we can use that system to help guide our choices.

So what are the best colour combinations to use for your patchwork project? The simple answer is…which ever colours you want to use and that bring you joy. That’s all that really matters for a creative project. But if you are looking for a little guidance in choosing colour combinations then read on for some step-by-step help with colour theory and combining different numbers of colours. The right colour and fabric choices can make or break a project; the number of colours (or variety of colour) you choose can have a huge effect on the patchwork design so it’s always important to think about colour combinations alongside the patchwork design you are making.

Colour Theory

Colour theory is the rules and guidelines we use to help create good colour schemes and colour combinations. But where do these rules and guidelines come from? The theory of how colour works is thousands of years old; I don’t want to get into a whole physics lesson as we’re meant to be talking about fabric but in basic terms light is made up of the colours of the rainbow. Many great scientists have examined colour, including Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton, and from this has come the colour circle or colour wheel. And it’s from this colour wheel that we can work out which colours work well together, with them either being opposite each other on the wheel, or next to each other.

A closer look at the colour wheel

The colour wheel doesn’t just show the colours of the rainbow, it also shows different versions of each colour too. All colour wheels are arranged a little differently but it’s really useful to have one that shows a good variety of each pure colour. Ideally your colour wheel will contain the following for each main colour:

  • Pure hue – this is the most intense version of the colour, like the crayon version of the colour
  • Shade – this is a less intense colour than the pure hue, black has been added to it
  • Tint – again this is less intense colour than the pure hue but this time white has been added to soften it
  • Tone – this is the least intense version of the colour, either grey or the compliment colour has been added

Colour Wheel Combinations

Now let’s look at a few of the colour combinations you can achieve using the colour wheel. We’ll come back to this in more detail in the next blog post.

Complimentary
Two colours that are opposite each other on the colour wheel.
Blue-green and red-orange

Split Complimentary
One colour on the wheel plus two more that appear either side of the complimentary colour.
Red-orange with blue and green

Analogous
Colours that appear next to each other on the colour wheel (three or four colours).
Blue, blue-violet and violet

If you don’t have a colour wheel and do struggle with getting colour combinations you are happy with then I’d highly recommend investing in one. They are a cheap tool (and often come as freebies on magazines) and definitely worth it. You can download them online but personally I think they are easier to use with one actually in your hand rather than on a screen.


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