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I was stuck.  A new member of DK Quilt Guild and a recent volunteer to post a diary, I had no subject matter for my big internet debut, and I was sweating it.

Then I went to see my doctor, and there on his office wall was a handsome quilted wall hanging done in harmonious colors with perfectly even hand-quilted stitching.  He noticed my interest and told me that it was the work of his sister, who, as it turns out, is an accomplished and published quilting teacher, writer and especially a color expert.  I went home and looked her up, ordered her books, and then I got hooked on her whole perspective into the world of color.

Christine Barnes is a quilt artist extraordinaire who resides in Grass Valley, CA.  She is a woman with impressive credentials and an astonishing career in color and design.  Her writing is sharp and clear, her examples are superb, and her enthusiasm is contagious.  I just finished reading her book Color: The Quilter's Guide, and I think it changed my quilting life.  Christine has generously allowed me to reference her material, and she even supplied some of the photos below.

My quilts have all turned out nice - some better than others - but nothing, ever, great.  Too stubborn to copy a color scheme and too pigheaded to buy one of those perfectly matched charm packs, I have made some fabric choices that produced mediocre results.  Almost all of my quilts were hand-quilted and embroidered or appliqued and that rescued them from dullness, but there was clearly something lacking in the finished product.  I couldn't see what was wrong until I had finished the quilt top, but I know now what was wrong was the color value - that was the problem over and over.

When I started reading Christine's book, I realized that I had been oblivious to the different qualities of color.  Some people may have a natural feel for it, but I needed to study the color wheel to understand the relationship of colors.  I became intrigued with interaction of the color complements - the colors opposite each other on the color wheel - and then that connection further expanded by adding the adjacent colors on the wheel to the mix.  What seems like an unlikely combination can come to life with some experimentation.

When analyzing color, different characteristics need to be determined.  Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a color.  Value is relative to surrounding components.  Value is the basis of color study and sets the design in the quilt.  Visual temperature refers to the hot and cool elements of color and can be used to create powerful designs.  Intensity refers to purity of color as opposed to dullness and is referenced in terms of high and low-intensity.

As I progressed through the color lesson, I began to understand some of the things that had gone wrong with my quilts.


Value, visual temperature and intensity are all missing from this project that never got off the ground.  There are actually three patterns there - flying geese, roman stripe and a sample of around the world.

Display invoice 4

A couple of value issues here?  The patterned star in each block is lost.

Display invoice 3  

A little bit of unintentional transparency is demonstrated on this lollipop colored quilt.


Can you imagine going through all the trouble to make a Baltimore album quilt and then making it in mauve and turquoise?

Oh, well, enough about the flaws in my quilts and on to some examples of color theory stretched to the max.  These quilts are from the newer book of Christine Barnes, The Quilter's Color Club, and you can see for yourself the magic she does with fabric.  

9 luminosity  

Here is another beauty.
5 value

And another.
6 value & pattern

A close-up of the technique.
4 value  

To sum it all up, these books have been a real inspiration to me, and I am looking forward to putting some of my newly attained knowledge to work.  I feel like it is really going to make a difference.  Plus I love it - playing with color is plain fun.

Maybe some of you could show us some examples of color characteristics at work in your quilts - both good and bad.  It seems to me that learning about color and design from looking at quilts is the ultimate way to develop color sense.

Okay, anybody there??

DK Quilt Guild: A place for quilters to gather, share ideas, projects, and to make the world a better place, one quilt at a time. Join us and share your thoughts, projects, questions, and tips. Quilters here are at many different levels of skill. Beginners and non-quilters are welcome, too!

Diarists needed!

5/27 -- Pam from Calif
6/3 -- mayim
6/10 -- OPEN
6/17 -- Melanie in IA, unless someone else wants to take it

We NEED diarists! Melanie will be offline 6/10. If no one steps up to cover, there will be no DK Quilt Guild diary that day.

Originally posted to DK Quilt Guild on Sun May 20, 2012 at 03:00 PM PDT.

Also republished by DKOMA.

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