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Color For Clothing Not for Quilts
Mary Asper, Green Mountain Designs


When you make a quilt, your goal is to have it enhance the room in which it will be placed, or to bring joy to the person to whom it will be given. Clothing is different; whether for yourself or someone else, the clothing should enhance the wearer!

There is a long-standing fashion joke about the dress (or jacket, or whatever) coming in five feet ahead of the wearer -- and what does everyone notice? You don't want people to be saying "Hi, garment -- look who you've brought along today!"

There are a few simple guidelines to follow to accomplish making a garment YOU can wear, rather than it wearing YOU! Then the compliments will come your way.

Here is what I call a Short Course in Color Theory to help you get started. These definitions will help you evaluate your color choices - not to mention impress your quilting friends!

HUE - refers to the name of a color such as red, blue, fuschia.

VALUE - is the lightness or darkenss of a fabric. Also known as intensity.

PURE COLOR - a color as it appears on the color wheel, with no black or white added.

TINT - pure color with white added (i.e. red plus white becomes pink). Tints are always clear colors and often are pastels.

TONE - pure color with some black and some white added (grayed). Red can become mauve when it is a tone. Tones are always muddy and tend to be medium.

SHADE - pure color with black added. Red can become burgundy as a shade. Shades are usually dark and clear.

WARM COLORS - hues that have gold overtones, such as orange, turquoise, golden browns, coral, etc.

COOL COLORS - colors that have blue overtones like Christmas red, hunter green, chocolate brown.

MONOCHROMATIC - tints, tones and shades of one hue; for instance, sky blue (a tint), country blue (a tone) and navy (a shade) are monochromatic. Generally monochromatic color schemes are also of like intensity.

CONTRASTING - hues that are opposite on the color wheel.


1. Light or bright brings forward. 2. Dull or dark recedes.

Now that you know the basic terms and two important principles, let's discuss applying them to clothing!!

1. When making quilts, you are creating "pictures" -- sometimes literally! This may be a simple as creating a block design that will contrast with the background, or creating a complex design of mixed blocks and borders that will make and overall "look" that you desire.

The goal in clothing is also to create a picture, with the added element of YOU. In order for the clothing to enhance the wearer it must not demand its own attention, but fit into the whole. Therefore, avoid extremely light, bright or dark, dull areas that will draw the viewer's attention. Strive to achieve wholeness in your look.

2. Avoid creating "targets" -- especially in areas you do not want to attract attention. Some common problems are center backs; (the tendency is to place a block there and let the arrows zing!), fronts of jackets, vests and coats (this is obvious on a woman!) hip area (often jackets and vests are cut off right where they do the most damage!). Be conscious of these problem areas and work to overcome making them stand out!

3. Quite often in clothing, balance comes into play. I use a "three point" philosophy; if one element stands out, it disappears when I balance it with two others like it in other areas. Triangular arrangements seem to disappear into a design. A "target" back can be balanced with other complex elements spread across the area. Giving the eye several places to "look" draws the focus off one particular area.

4. I talk a lot about "visual weight". A jumper with a pieced bodice has "weight" in that area because of the complexity of the design. A jumper skirt has less visual weight, and must be balanced with the bodice by increasing its area (e.g. making it longer) or by increasing its complexity (e.g. adding a pieced border, etc.)

There are good examples of this on my web site http://www.greenmountain.quiltshops.com. For instance, the Trip Around The World from Jumpermania (look under Books, Jumpermania, Miniature Piecing Made Simple) has lots of visual weight in the bodice. It is balanced by the plaid skirt (visually complex fabric) and by being the proper length (more area). A shorter skirt would make the jumper look "off balance."

The Folk Art Flowers Jumper (look under Patterns) has a great deal of visual complexity in the hem. If the bodice were blank, the viewer would stare at your mid-calf all day! Placing a contrasting binding around the neckline and adding a simple appliqué to the bodice adds enough visual weight to the bodice that it is now balanced with the skirt.

5. When choosing colors for garments, consider your personal coloration. Choose fabrics that will complement your skin and your hair. People with dark hair and light skin will look better in cool. shades. Ash blondes with medium skin are best with cool tones and tints. People with dark hair and light skin will look better in cool shades. A strawberry blonde with porcelain skin will look good in warm tints or pure colors. Auburn haired women with freckles are best enhanced by warm tones.

6. Consider your figure characteristics, and remember the two foundation facts of color enlightenment! If you are large and want to look smaller, choose dark fabrics. If you want to look larger, choose light or bright. If you want to minimize your hips, use lights for the bodice; vice versa if you would like to minimize your torso!

Always remember: your special techniques and skills used in garment making have a different goal from quilt making: to enhance YOU, the wearer! Wouldn't it be nice to hear "Gee, you look great in that!" and THEN "Did you make it?" rather than the other way around?

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