A few years ago, I taught a workshop at one of my local guilds. While there I was fortunate enough to have Christine Barnes as my hostess for the duration of my visit. I think we had met briefly in passing at other quilting venues, but I never had an opportunity to spend time with her. She is a delightful lady and an accomplished quiltmaker who is passionate about color and has written a best-selling book on the subject. I learned that not only do we share a love of quiltmaking, but also both pamper ourselves with cashmere socks! Don’t ask me how we managed to move from the subject of quilting to socks, but I remember that we both slipped out of class early in order to check out the specialty sock shop located across the street from the quilt shop. What a fun day we had.
I can’t tell you how often I hear students say “I’m just not good at color.” I think it’s safe to say that many quiltmakers feel challenged in the area of color. I’ve touched on this subject before in previous posts but feel that it’s important enough to explore from another angle, so to speak. I always enjoy learning how different quilters deal with the same subject. I always learn something new and hope you will feel the same after reading this interview I had with Christine. Enjoy!
What is your background in color and design?
I’m often asked how I got into teaching and writing about color for quilters. Like almost every other quilter, I began sewing when I was very young. (One of my more “memorable” projects was a doll quilt filled with cotton balls, because when I asked my grandmother what was inside a quilt, she said, “cotton.”) Degrees in textile and costume design and magazine journalism led to a career writing books on color, decorating, remodeling, and soft furnishings for Sunset Books, as well as four quiltmaking books, and tech editing many more. My latest book, The Quilter’s Color Club (C&T), was released in spring 2011. I’ve been published in a number of quilt magazines, including American Quilter (Jan. 2012), American Patchwork & Quilting (Oct. 2011), McCall’s Quilting (Jan./Feb. 2012), Threads, and Fabrications, a British quilting magazine. I feel lucky to be able to do what I love for a living.
Christine's book provides all the information necessary to make your quilts sparkle with color.
From my teaching experience, I feel that color is one of the most challenging aspects of quiltmaking for many quilters. Do you agree and if so why?
Yes, most quilters feel challenged, sometimes overwhelmed, by color, but that’s because they haven’t had any real exposure to basic color concepts. Without the opportunity to learn, it’s hard to grow in your use of color. The good news is that a sense of color can be learned through observation and experimentation. There ARE rules, and they really work! I like to say that it’s more about practice than talent.
What is your advice to students who would like to improve their color choices?
Consider getting together with a small group and starting a “color club.” Then begin to work with the basics—value, temperature, intensity, and the color wheel—and analyze and critique each other’s work. A small group gives motivated, like-minded quilters a place to study, experiment, share, and discover new ways to think about and work with color. You’ll see your work evolve, I guarantee.
Note: Christine’s book gives guidelines and helpful hints for starting a color club. The terms (value, temperature and intensity) may be new to some of you so I asked Christine to share her definitions along with some images.
Value is about the lightness or darkness of colors. She typically describes value as light, medium, or dark, but of course, there are endless variations.
Light, medium and dark value swatches of blue-green.
Temperature is about how warm or cool colors appear. Yellows, reds, and oranges are considered warm; blues, greens and violets are thought to be cool (red-violet and yellow-green can be either, depending on other colors in the mix.)
Samples of cool colors on the left and warm colors on the right.
Intensity has to do with the brightness or dullness of colors.
The swatches on the left are more intense (brilliant, saturated), while those on the right are low intensity (dull, muted) versions of the same colors.
How do you approach a new project? Do you have a pattern in mind, a color scheme, or perhaps a collection of fabrics?
Sometimes it’s a desire to play with a certain color or colors—I have my current favorites—or a new fabric that I just have to have. Right now I’m working with a lot of solids, especially shot cottons. I’m always buying fabric without a project in mind, just because the color is wonderful. Then when I’m putting together a new quilt, I have what I need and love.
If there was one piece of advice you could offer our readers who are interested in improving their color choices, what would it be?
Keep working! Make mock-blocks, quick cut-and-paste color studies, to see how the colors and patterns interact. You just can’t predict how one fabric will play against another until they’re cut into pieces and placed side by side. Usually, if something isn’t working, it’s a value issue—the lightness or darkness of color. I tell my students that “value does all of the work, and color gets all of the credit.” Also consider “magic fabrics,” those that have a sense of light coming from underneath the surface or from the side. These fabrics are the secret ingredient in transparency, luminosity, and luster.
Note: To read more about “magic fabrics”, transparency, luminosity and luster, sign up to receive her newsletter, Christine’s Color Connection.
Sample swatches of "magic fabrics" used in the "Transparent Circles" quilt.
In "Transparent Circles", value creates the illusion of lighter, transparent circles floating above darker background squares, or darker circles floating above lighter background squares.
Do you ever get “stuck” on a project? If so, what do you do to work through it?
Oh yes, I get stuck. But I take concrete steps to make something work, auditioning fabric after fabric in mock-blocks or on my design wall. I pin up fabrics and look at them throughout the day. I work with the values in a block to make the design “read” and create the illusion of depth. If the fabrics are mostly warm, I balance them with cooler colors. To a muted scheme, I add a fabric with bits of intense color to liven it up. And if I’m still stuck, I try fabrics I think might not work, because they often do. (This is especially true when choosing a border fabric.) Working, really working, with color stretches you, and you’ll see the results in quilts that you love!
"Elegant Circles" by Christine Barnes.
To read more about Christine, learn about her workshops, books, and patterns, visit her website, where you can sign up for her color newsletter, Christine’s Color Connection, and learn about her “Magic Fabrics, Special Effects” retreat at Lake Tahoe in June.
Happy creating everyone.