Ho Hum to Dazzling: How Color Value Affects Your Quilt

Color VALUE: What is it?
The color value of a fabric is simply a measurement of lightness or darkness – contrast – when compared to other colors within a design. It’s an important determination to make when deciding whether your fabrics will blend or contrast.

Why is it important?
Have you ever used gorgeous fabrics, finished a quilt top, and – too late – noticed that it looked a little (or a lot) boring? The use of different color values creates visual depth and contrast. Without contrasting values, your design loses definition, as the individual patches seem to disappear. No matter how beautiful the design or fabrics may be, the overall effect will be flat when contrast isn’t in the picture.

The determination of value is also important in those areas that you might want to blend – when making a landscape design, for instance. Same or close color values allow your varied fabrics to appear visually the same in tree trunks, leaves, faces, etc. As you experiment, you can achieve shadows and bright spots in your scene.

In this Storm at Sea, the medium-to-dark tones flow like waves.

How can I determine my fabric’s color value?
Some quilters use color value finders to evaluate the colors they’ve chosen. You can make your own out of green and red see-through plastic (often found in the form of report covers at any office supply store), colored glass, or cellophane. Red works on any color but red, and green works on any color but green. If you can find gray plastic, use that instead! When you look through the color filters, you’ll see the contrast without the color. Hold the filter near your eyes, not on the fabric.

Another way to evaluate value is to use a copy machine on a grayscale setting. Arrange fabrics side-by-side, or piece a sample block (not sewn) and copy it. The resulting gray-toned image will show clearly whether the fabric has contrast – or not. You can do the same sort of thing with a digital camera on a black and white setting – and you can adjust the fabrics while you view them on the camera.

Users of EQ7 will find it easy to save a pattern and convert it to grayscale.

A static design. Where did the waves go?
But I have a print – Is that different?
Of course, there are lighter and darker areas in every print. Color value of small to medium prints can be determined by the above methods. Interpret the value of large prints (big florals or gradated fabrics, for instance) by evaluating the sections upon which you will be focusing.

Remember that one color may appear light among dark fabrics, yet may be the darkest-value fabric in another fabric group. It’s relative to the other chosen fabrics. Sorting in value order can make a stunning statement when used in any concentric design.

The movement is not as prominent in this too-medium version. The dark squares move forward.

As you see in the three diagrams above, when color values change, the entire look changes. Paying attention to color value can take a quilt from ho hum to dazzling! Don’t be afraid to experiment. And above all, if it looks good to you, go with it.

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