Using Light-Dark Color Combinations in Quilts

Make Pleasing Color Schemes by Mixing Fabrics with Different Values

Learn how using a mixture of both light and dark fabrics helps create quilts with color combinations that please the eye.

Understanding the concept of color value can help quilters learn to combine fabrics to make quilts with a satisfying sense of visual balance, a “rightness” that everyone can see, even if most people don’t understand the color theory behind it.

Basic knowledge of value will help you become more confident in choosing colors for your quilts, for other sewing projects, and for your home décor.

Color Value Measures a Color’s Brightness or Darkness

When you work with fabric colors, the word “value” refers to the brightness or darkness of a particular color. The more white a color contains, the higher its value, and the more light and airy it looks in a quilt. The more black a color contains, the lower its value, and the richer and deeper it looks in a quilt.

Color Mixing with White and Black Creates Tints and Shades

The 24 primary and secondary colors on the color wheel are called pure hues. Every color on the wheel can be lightened by combining it with white or darkened by combining it with black. The resulting color mixtures are called tints and shades.

  • Tints are pure hues lightened with white and are always paler (higher value) than the pure color.
  • Shades are pure hues darkened with black and are always darker (lower value) than the pure color.

Some of the pure hues – yellow, orange, yellow-green, and green, for instance – are inherently bright. Other pure hues – red-purple, purple, and blue-purple, for instance – are naturally darker and heavier looking. This built-in value affects how the colors look when they are combined with fabrics of other colors. Learn more about basic color theory for sewing and quilting.

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