Color can be deceiving

I was reminded of that with the recent finish of the Duncan Dog sweater.

Duncan 1

You can barely tell there is green above the lower brown design, or just under the line of brown at the top. In real life you can barely distinguish the green from the oatmeal. So this lacks the pop of a better color choice. Maybe if the background was cream it would work, but who wants a cream sweater on a low to the ground dog!!

What I thought would be distinct colors to use together ended up being too close in value. Wait, value, what is value in color? This is a lesson learned early on for quilters. Value is almost more important than color. Sure, color is what draws you to a piece, but without the right values of your colors, your quilt will read as a blob of shapes instead of a vivid design.

This is a piece that kind of shows that issue. In good lighting and with the right setting you would see that there are 4 fabrics in this piece. Instead, at first glance you see only three. Red, gold, and black. But in between the leaves of the “poinsettia” is a dark green fabric. They are an elongated diamond shape. And they are totally lost in this photo, or from a great distance. Good thing this piece is a table runner which is viewed at a close distance.


I thought I was making a great choice in fabric. The green has a black design on it, the gold has red and green flowers on it. But I neglected to do a value test. How do you do a value test?  There are a few ways that can show you how your choices will work together in your design.

  1. A piece of red or green plastic or film that is opaque. You can group your fabric/fiber together and view it through the film to determine what values you see. Light, medium, and dark are the values you need to help create contrast. Red won’t work on red fiber, green yada yada, so use bother together if you have both colors in your piece.
  2. Eyeball it. In my quilting days I would lay my fabrics in a row with the sequence in which I planned to use them. Or in an order close to how they would be touching each other in the piece. I would lay these over the back of a couch, or suspended from my quilt rack hanging on my wall. Then back away as far as possible. If the colors/prints ran together and I could not pick out the difference of one to the other, it meant bad choice.
  3. Your phone! Group your yarn together, put it in a well lit area, stand over it and take a photo, trying to eliminate as much background as possible. Then use your phone’s filter device to change the photo to Mono. This will show you values in a “gray” scale. You can determine which are darks, lights, or mediums.

vfn 1 vfn 2

With these yarns there are two in the green family, two in the berry family, and one cream. You can see how the cream is the light value, the lower left is a light value, the lower right is a medium, and the two at the top are darks. In planning a Shwook hat I am told I need 3 dark and 2 light, or 3 light and 2 dark. In my choice of yarn I would say I have 2 lights and 3 darks. That medium could be either, so I just need to control where I place it.

So, off to Excel I go to map out my color placement. And here is what I came up with.

Screen shot 2014-11-03 at 6.59.10 PM

White is cream, the pink is the rose, the teal is the dark green, the burgundy is the budgundy, and the lime is the olive. By pairing the dark green with the cream and rose I am ensuring that portion will pop. Likewise pairing the dark burgundy with the olive, they read as a dark and a medium in mono.

The true test will be the test swatch, only, I don’t waste time with that, I just cast on and go.  Besides, in looking back I can see which colors I need to avoid pairing together from this project that used the same yarn. The darks cannot go in the same row!!!

And for a parting shot, here are two pieces that work, but have minor issues that make me wish I had done something different.

burst round robin

On the left the top left and lower right corners have the gold as the cornerstone. Gah! It just gets lost in the background. And the green against the purple in the spokes is slightly indistinct. On the right, the prairie points that match the background fabrics should have been left off. The placement is echoed in the sequence on all sides, but symmetry should have been sacrificed for value. I am likely the only one this bothers, and it’s very minimal, so I should just get over it already.


2 thoughts on “Color can be deceiving

  1. Or I can ask my color blind hubby. His sense of value is strong. He hates the red geranium in our yard because the leaves and blooms are the same value.

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