When I give talks about colour selection for quilts I often hear muttering and sighs from the audience when I bring out my colour wheel to show. Why is this? Why are we so scared of a colour wheel? I think the simple answer is that it just looks so darned complicated we just blink and put it away for another day rather than try to figure out its complexities. This is my favourite colour wheel – it’s by my wonderful friend Katie Fowler ( katiefowler.net ), and it makes child’s play of exploring  colour relationships:

Let me try to change your mindset about this tool: The next time you pull out your wheel try to see it as a RECIPE BOOK  ! That poor ignored piece of card could turn into your best secret weapon for making winning quilt colour recipes, just like that family brownie recipe passed down through the generations is your “go to” choice for making that special dessert all your friends love. Here are just three simple colour recipes from the wheel to get you started, the COMPLIMENTARY recipe, the ANALOGOUS recipe, and the TRIAD recipe.

Let’s start with the first recipe, COMPLIMENTARY, which are two colours that are directly opposite to each other on the colour wheel. One complimentary recipe we use a lot in our quilts using RED and GREEN. Think of all those luscious red and green Baltimore Album quilts……that’s a complimentary colour scheme or recipe! Another obvious choice for red and green quilts are Christmas quilts. Here is a table runner showing these colours at play:

This quilt shows pure tones of red and green. Of course, you could choose muted tones of these colours, as I have done in this Trip Around the World quilt:

Here I used three tones of  muted tone-on-tone RED print fabrics (medium-light, medium, medium-dark), three tones of soft tone-on-tone GREEN fabrics, four RED/GREEN floral prints (note that the scale of the prints used varies from small, medium, and large) , and two neutral BEIGE fabrics to set the other fabrics off. I tend to use white, neutral, or black to provide the negative space to contrast with the fabrics chosen.

Another point to consider is the degree of lightness of the shades of fabric chosen. For this baby quilt (another quilt made using the  RED and GREEN COMPLIMENTRARY recipe) I have chosen Pink ( a shade of red), and Mint Green as the two main focus colours, with a soft white floral background :

Of course, you could choose to use BLUE and ORANGE as the main focus colours for a COMPLIME

NTARY recipe quilt:

Or how about PURPLE and YELLOW ? Well, you get the idea here…..these are all examples of quilt colour COMPLIMENTARY recipes you could choose.

Now on to the ANALOGOUS recipe. Analogous colours are those that are next to each other on the wheel, such as blue, green, and purple. Here is a simple quilt made with big half-square triangles that explores this idea:

Or you could choose Red, Orange, and Yellow for your analogous scheme, as I’ve done in this Giant Dahlia quilt. Notice that using various shades of a colour adds translucency to a quilt:


And another one using that same analogous recipe, Girasol:

How about a colour TRIAD recipe? This is when you choose three colours that are equally spaced on wheel, such as yellow, blue, and red. This log cabin quilt is called Escaping Ribbons, and here I’ve used that Triadic recipe:

Look at your your colour wheel again….what other recipes can you come up with?