Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Dyeing by Numbers 'Round the Color Wheel

Fen Palette
The color wheel is an important -- no critical -- tool for anyone working with color. I first started studying the color wheel when I became interested in interior design. I love a colorful home and learning how to put colors together to set a mood or evoke an atmosphere is fun and inspiring. One of the first books I studied when I was trying to decide on paint and furnishing colors for my home is Interior Color by Design by Jonathan Poore. It's a detailed primer on color theory and how it translates into interior design. This was my introduction to the color attributes of hue, value and chroma. Poore details different types of color schemes like monochromatic, analogous and complementary. His book is a terrific resource on color that can be applied to many art forms.

Understanding color is especially important for fabric dyers. Just like with interior paint, mixing dyes is subtractive color. Subtractive because every time you add a color to the mix, light energy is absorbed and a darker color is the result. If you combine all of the subtractive primaries (magenta, turquoise and yellow) in equal proportions, you'll get black, where all light energy has been absorbed.

When working with dyes, we can use more than three primary colors, because dye manufacturers make more than three pure (unmixed) reds, blues and yellows. This increases tremendously the number of secondary and tertiary colors we can create from pure dyes.

My project over the summer is to create swatches exploring combination of 11 pure dyes, as well as combining various sets of three primary colors in a 10 step process to create a color triangle.  That's a lot of swatches!

I got the idea for combining three primaries in a 10 step process from Linda Knutson's excellent book Synthetic Dyes for Natural Fibers. If you buy only one book on fabric dyeing, buy this one! Linda's explanation of how the color wheel works relative to fiber reactive dyes is outstanding.

I'll be offering small samplers of the swatches I'm making for sale. All of these hues are available by custom order by the yard. I can dye them on mercerized 100% cotton or on a hemp/cotton blend.

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