Color Theory for Weavers - Part Two

This is part two 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 three will be coming out in late April—stay tuned by signing up for the Gist Yarn newsletter.

The color wheel is a great basic system for categorizing colors, but its best use is as a guide for coming up with color palettes for weaving. The color wheel can be used to choose warp and weft colors in many different ways, and in today’s blog, we’re going to look at a few of these methods—and then use our new knowledge to weave a color gamp!

Breaking Down the Color Wheel

Here are four ways you can use the color wheel to make color palettes.

Gradation Shawl Weaving Pattern

Monochromatic Colors

Monochromatic color palettes are created when you choose only one color and work within its different values, shades, tints, and tones.

The Gradation Shawl is an excellent example of a project that uses different values of the same color (Sapphire) to create a monochromatic color scheme.

Another example of a monochromatic weaving project is the Tone on Tone Scarf—the contrast between the two different shades of blue (Eclipse and Dusk) creates the pattern.

Viken Trivets Weaving Pattern

Complementary Colors

Complimentary colors are those that lie directly across the color wheel from one another. A good example of this is the Viken Trivets: it uses opposing colors Aster (violet) and Butter (yellow) (with the yellow-adjacent Honey as support).

Rose Colored Glasses Towels Weaving Pattern

Warm and Cool Colors

The color wheel can also be evenly divided into two sections: warm and cool colors. On the cool side of the wheel you’ll find yellow-green, green, blue-green, blue, blue-violet, and violet. That makes the warm colors red-violet, red, red-orange, orange, yellow-orange, and yellow.

The Color-and-Weave Placemats feature cool colors blue-violet (Cobalt) and yellow-green (Pistachio), while the Rose Colored Glasses Towels have a warm color palette: yellow-orange Sun, red-violet Cerise, and red Blush.

Mixing Colors

Of course, these four ways of mixing color aren’t the only way to use the wheel—a quick Google search will show you many other ways that color theory is used to make color combinations. But unlike paint, where two colors can be used on their own or completely blended together, weaving yarn is a bit different: there’s the color of the yarn and then the color it creates when it’s mixed together in your finished textile.

Depending on the weaving structure you choose, you may see more or less of certain color. When it comes to balanced weaves like plain weave or twill, you’ll see both warp and weft in equal amounts—the same is not true for unbalanced twill or some two-shuttle weaves, when the warp or weft may appear more strongly. That means that a color scheme that works for you in plain weave may not be as successful in twill (or vice versa!).

There are two easy ways you test how your chosen colors will interact together. You can make a small sample to test out the exact weave structure and colors, or try what is a common beginner project for many weavers: a color gamp.

Fade Gamp Weaving Pattern

Color Gamps

What’s a color gamp for weavers? The basic idea of a color gamp is a weaving project with different sections of color and/or threading and treadling (if you’d like to learn a bit more, Handwoven Magazine has an excellent online article here).

By alternating these different elements throughout your warp and weft, you can see how different colors and patterns blend and mix, which can be very inspiring and serve as a useful reference for future weaving projects.

I don’t often make gamps, but if I’m trying to figure out something about a new yarn, color, threading, or treadling, they can be very useful. I think of them as a kind of textile dictionary: a reference and record of how two (or more) different yarns or colors might interact and come together.

When it comes to color choice, it’s hard to beat Array, which has 19 colors (including black and white!) with 3-5 different values each. This means Array has at least one color in each section of the color wheel—for example, Ocean is blue-green, and Cayenne is a true red.

Instead of choosing the primary colors used in many gamps, I chose two colors (Flamingo, red, and Marigold, yellow-orange) in an analogous, or warm, color palette. I used all four values of each color to create a fade, or ombre, from light to dark.

This project uses plain weave to create a balanced textile and give both warp and weft colors equal opportunity to shine. The warp and weft colors follow a simple stripe sequence. From the left to right in the warp you’ll find Flamingo 1 (the darkest) followed by a short alternating section of Flamingo 1 and 2, followed by a solid section of Flamingo 2. This pattern continues across the width of the warp, with the two lightest values of Flamingo and Marigold meeting in the middle. The weft follows the same pattern, resulting in a gentle fade (or ombre) that creates a blended grid.

What I think is especially fascinating about choosing two colors like this is that our eye mixes a third color where the Flamingo and Marigold meet—a red-orange hue. This is another part of choosing colors for weaving that we often don’t think about: how our eye blends colors together in the finished piece to create an entirely new hue.

If you would like to try making your own gamp, The Fade Gamp is available in the Patterns & Kits section of the website. Suitable for four shaft table looms, this project is an excellent way to dive into your Array stash (or start one!) and play with different colors and values. Choose from the original colors, or experiment by choosing complimentary, analogous, or warm or cool color schemes. A primary or secondary color scheme would work too. Start with your favorite weaving color (or least favorite) and see where it takes you!

Here are three ideas to get you started:

Next month we’ll be applying all of this (hopefully!) fun color knowledge to build our weaving confidence and take a greater, more in-depth look at coming up with our own unique color palettes.

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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