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Color Theory for Weavers - Part Three

This is part three of a three-part article on color for weavers. If you’d like to read part one (which goes over some color theory basics) you can find it on the blog here: Color Theory for Weavers - Part One. Part two takes a look at some of the basic ways artists use the color wheel and can be read here: Color Theory for Weavers - Part Two.

In this last installment of our color series, we’re going to see how we can put all of our new-found knowledge into practice with some easy tricks and tools for your next weaving project. Understanding color theory is only one part of the equation—looking at your stash and making decisions can be an entirely different proposition, and it’s where many weavers stumble. But, like anything, practice makes perfect—and there are a few easy ways to start your exploration into color, as well as tools you can use to make it simpler.

The Easiest Way to Use Color

One of the simplest ways to use color is to choose a light and a dark. While choosing a neutral like white or black (like in the Tidal Towels, which use white and blue) is the absolute easiest, this strategy works for color too—just look at the Equinox Napkins, which use a light and dark green; Mallo in Fir and Lichen.

This strategy usually works well because it relies on the contrast between the two yarn colors to help create pattern and separate different parts of the project.

In part one of this series, I mentioned an easy trick that works for contrast too—simply take a photograph with your phone or digital camera and use the editing tools to turn it into a black and white photo.

A Note on Black, White, and Grey AKA Neutrals

As noted in part one, black and white aren’t really colors (they’re shades!) but we often talk about and use them as colors, using terms like ‘neutrals’ to refer to them.

Let’s say you’ve got a cone of Beam in Cobalt—mixing it with Licorice or White will instantly create a classic simple color palette. 

When it comes to grey, however, it’s not always as straightforward. Greys, taupes, creams, and tan are often all treated as neutral colors, but they generally skew towards either a warm or cool tone. Just look at Beam’s Mist and Natural: Mist is a cool, blue-ish grey, while Natural is a warm color when compared to White. These subtleties are something to keep in mind and explore—the hint of a warm color may skew your palette and make a subtle difference to your finished handwoven cloth.

Tricks for Making Color Palettes for Weaving

If your weaving stash looks anything like mine (ahem), starting a new project can be daunting. With so many colors to choose, finding something to match or coordinate with a favorite cone often sends me into decision paralysis. Here are a few tools you can use to come up with color combinations for weaving.

I have my handy paper color computer, but it only gives me generalizations based on the 12 primary and secondary colors in the color wheel. If I want to be more exact, a virtual interactive color wheel can be really helpful.

One of the first virtual wheels I tried was the one on Canva. It’s very straightforward—click and drag your mouse inside the wheel to set the color, and then use the outer wheel to adjust the tint/tone. The drop down menu below the wheel has a handful of color combination options to choose from like complimentary, monochromatic or analogous. 

For example—let’s say I’d like to weave the Checked Twill Towels. The kit comes in Jade, Lemon, and Dandelion, but I’d like to make them using Blush as my base color (since I’ve got plenty of leftovers from my Bloom Table Squares). Using Canva, I approximate the color of Blush to be #edc0bb (you can copy and paste that number into the Pick a Color box if you’d like to try it out).

Using the drop down menu, I can then generate color pairings—for example, Canva suggests that a blue similar to Pacific or Dawn would be complimentary to Blush. The triadic color palette also suggests three colors that I think would make great Checked Twill Towels: Blush-Pistachio-Lilac.

Beam Color Palettes

The only thing I don’t like about the Canva wheel is that if you pick a light color like Blush, it only gives you light-colored pairings—with the exception of Pacific (which was my choice), all of the above colors are fairly low contrast, which is quite different than the original kit combination. To create a bit more color separation, I might try swapping out Jam for Lilac—while it’s more of a red-violet than Lilac (a true violet), it will provide contrast to your finished project.

Canva Color Wheel

Beyond Canva there are plenty of other virtual color wheels you can try. Because there are variations in how people order the colors in the color wheel, you might get different results by trying other websites — for example, when I put Blush (#edc0bb) into Paletton, it suggested a light blue-green as a compliment. And I quite liked its triadic color suggestion: Blush-Pacific-Pistachio!

Finding Inspiration

One of the oldest methods of building a color palette is to look at the world around you—whether that’s a photograph of a your garden, your favorite painting, or even your dinner, artists have been using their surroundings as inspiration for thousands of years.

Online palette generators can help you quickly analyze photographs and pick out key colors. If you’ve got a favorite artist or style, it’s often really easy to find a digital image to use as many museums digitize and offer downloadable images from their collections—which is how I’ll illustrate this next example.

But before we get started…when using images that belong to other people it’s important to do so legally, so that you protect the artist’s copyright and intellectual property. One of my favorite resources is the the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Open Access Initiative, which has made all of its images of public-domain artworks available for unrestricted use under the Creative Commons Zero license. You can browse thousands of works of art from across the world and time—and download high-res images to use to generate weaving color palettes!

For this example, let’s say I want to weave the Color Block Bandanas, which requires three different colors of Mallo. Searching the Met’s collection by ticking the Open Access box pulls up what feels like an infinite number of artworks that are a part of the Open Access Initiative. By using the filters, you can narrow down your search to a specific time, place, material and more; today, I’ve chosen a painting attributed to Ragunath titled Celebration of the Birth of Krishna (Janamashtami) as my color inspiration.

Celebration of the Birth of Krishna (Janamashtami)

I tried three different websites to generate a color scheme using this work.

coolors.co is basic and easy to use. Upload your image, and then use the Picked palettes slider to generate palettes from the image. You can add or delete colors from the palette as needed—my favorite three-color suggestion gave me a palette close to Fir-Clay-Spice.

I tried icolorpalette.com too, and while it gives you a fixed selection of five colors, I liked that you could download a collage that showed your image and palette. When I put in Celebration, I could see Spice, Denim, Honey, Steel, and Clay in one of the randomly generated palettes it gave me.

Color palette generated from artwork

Generated color palette

Mallo Color Palette

Similar color palette with Mallo

Adobe also has an online color wheel and palette generator, giving you five different color mood pre-sets to choose from: colorful, bright, muted, deep, or dark. I liked categorizing the palettes this way and the palettes the program chose felt pretty accurate!

    Want to learn more about this image and how I used it? Please see the Met’s Open Access FAQ here.

    The work I have used is: Celebration of the Birth of Krishna (Janamashtami), attributed to Ragunath, date ca. 1880-1900. Opaque watercolor and ink on paper. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Gift of Subhash Kapoor, in memory of his parents, Smt Shashi Kanta and Shree Parshotam Ram Kapoor, 2008.

    Please visit its online home here for additional information, or visit www.metmuseum.org.

    Try and Try Again

    Ultimately, tools like these will only get you so far. The best way to test out color ideas and patterns is to sample and try things out. Remember what I said about exercising your eye back in part one? Just as nobody runs a marathon without training, developing your creative eye for color takes practice and equal doses of success and failure. And in the end, these tools may suggest a color pairing looks great…only to have it look terrible when it’s woven together!

    That’s where design, value, contrast, and weaving structures have a role to play—but that will have to be a whole other article. Until then, weave a LOT! Try a color gamp, make lots of samples, and use up yarn in small projects like my Simple Coasters—small projects are a great way to take little risks and learn what you like and don’t like.

    We’d love to see if you weave any of the above mentioned projects using these alternate color palettes—do they look good? Get in touch with us or share your projects by tagging us on Instagram.

    About Amanda Rataj

    Amanda Rataj is an artist and weaver living and working in Hamilton, Ontario. She studied at the Ontario College of Art and Design University and has developed her contemporary craft practice through research-based projects, artist residencies, professional exhibitions, and lectures. Subscribe to her studio newsletter or follow her on Instagram to learn about new weaving patterns, exhibitions, projects, and more.

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