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Value Judgments

Recently, I’ve been making a lot of value judgments. I mean that in the artistic sense, of course – in this case, determining the relative lightness or darkness of certain fabrics.

About 15 years ago, I used value to create a 3-D woven effect in this quilt I made for my son:

This quilt was based on a quilt called "Amish Weave" I saw in Colleen Wise’s book Casting Shadows: Creating Visual Dimension in Your Quilts. As Wise notes, “I have completely disregarded color. I’ve focused only on value. The illusion of weaving over and under still works! Proof that value is more important than color.” You may have heard others say something similar: "Color gets all the credit while value does all the work."

When I made my version of the woven quilt, I chose groups of fabric in 5 different values. The palette I started with isn’t exactly the one you see in the finished quilt. My lightest values ended up seeming too light, so I turned the first light 9-patches I had made into another quilt.

Then I re-worked my two lightest value groups to flow better with the darker fabrics. I still used the same kinds of colors (yellow, green, pink, blue, etc.), just in different values.

In a more recent example, value is what makes my tumbling blocks quilt look 3-D. The light, medium, and dark fabrics are in the same position in each block to give the impression of light and shadow.

The blocks I’m working on right now are about value gradations within a color or color range. One of the challenges of working with plaids and stripes is that some of the fabrics have big value variations within each fabric. In those cases, sometimes it’s hard to determine the overall value of the fabric. One trick I’ve learned is to take a picture of the fabrics in question with my phone, then edit the photo to appear black and white. When it’s black and white, value is the only thing left to evaluate.

I went back and forth with this selection of fabrics, trying to make them work as a gradation. Fabrics A and B threw me off. Fabric A has a white background, but also some thick navy lines and strong blue and green elements. Fabric B, a smaller scale plaid, has lighter weight lines and overall lighter colors, but less of the brightest white.

Were they in the correct positions? I tried the black and white photo trick to see if it would help.

I wasn't convinced one way or the other, so I tried a different trick: I switched the two fabrics in question, and looked at the color and the black and white versions.

That black and white photo, especially, makes it clear to me that B, the smaller scale plaid, reads as lighter than A, the larger scale plaid. I went ahead and made the blocks based on that information.

I like this group of fabrics together because they *all* have the contrasts of the blue, green, and white within the plaids. I think part of the difficulty I had was because Fabric B almost reads as solid in this context – it has less contrast than the other fabrics.

I’m having fun with these value judgments, and I’ll update you all when I figure out what their final quilt will look like. Until then, do you pay attention to value in your quilts? What tricks do you use to help when you get stuck? Let me know in the comments!


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