Talking Color

(Tips from the “Carny Roadside Attraction School of Crazy Quilting”)

Martha Green © 2004

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I’ve been invited to write about color theory for this month’s magazine. First let’s talk a bit of history. My school is an offshoot of the crazy quilting tree that deals with beggars’ quilts. These were crazy quilts created by the less privileged folks who had begged fabric and trim from tailors, dressmakers, milliners, and the like. The quilts were assembled as the maker acquired supplies. These quilts were by their formulation random and arbitrary. The quilters were unable to make a game plan of a color selection because materials on hand dictated the outcome of the project. So we see color isn’t always a consideration. We crazy quilters have different considerations and priorities.

Differences today enable us to have many greater choices in creating our crazy quilt items. Herein lies part of the problem. Many of us are skilled artists and quilt makers. As the saying goes… “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Some of us come from a sane quilting back ground that takes great pride in developing various color combinations. There are also tried and true methods of color selection that work great for sane quilts. Crazy quilting is however a horse of a different color. I can’t stress this enough. We have an emphasis that is slanted and aspires to a much grander charter. While sane quilting color formulas may work fine for crazy quilting, we can’t be afraid to color outside the lines and our comfort zone. We have many chances to pick up needed additional color in the form of lace, thread, appliqué, trim, and beads as we continue the process. We have many more tools to improvise with than our sane sisters.

Crazy quilting is about solving problems and color is one of our most useful tools. It is most important that we trust our judgment. We must acquire only fabric that we truly love. A lot of sane quilters go to a store and pick out their fabric all at one time to make their quilts. We are gatherers, and we scoop up fabric when and where we find it. I say, “Love the fabric because we may have to look at it for a very long time.”

I work with a pallet of primary and secondary colors minus blue and plus black. Blue is hard to avoid because it’s sneaky, but I do my best. I work with this pallet because I love looking at it. Many people love and understand blue, and they want that color to be dominant in everything they do. That’s great because they are enamored by that color. Some folks love rich browns; some desire pastels or white. This is all perfectly fine as long as we love the color. I maintain two large scrap bags. One contains predominantly green fabric scraps, and the other houses all the rest. I have one lovely quilt that is almost all orange because that was what dominated the scrap bag. Sometimes the color dominates us instead of the reverse. I just love when that happens. It makes me feel the old girls are watching over me.

I would also point out that the smaller our pieces the less we need to be concerned about color. When we use small pieces the embellishment tends to dictate the overall look of the quilt rather than the patches. If color is a problem, go smaller.

I adore black and use it whenever I can. I think it makes everything richer. There is also a theory behind this. In my school, The Carny Roadside Attraction School of Crazy Quilting, we call these patches black holes. It’s a color trick. If something is amiss in the quilt, using black aids in putting things right. A sad motif or jarring color may be retrieved or blended by utilizing the black hole. This would work for any solid that one sprinkles into the mix. Within the hole, we can mirror the motif or embroidery with the odd or out-of-place color and unite any friction.

I’m so happy when a newcomer writes to a crazy quilt list and says they have made an ugly block. There is always a wonderful chorus of quilters that rise up to say there are no ugly blocks. They know that magic will prevail. That is what we are dealing with as we sit, sew, dream and conjure. We are the fabric magicians. Halleluiah, Amen!

We handicap ourselves if we fall prey to planning excessively. Try to avoid too much past life “bleed though” from sane quilting experiences. Resist being hampered by preconceived notions. If our colors are too pat or too formulated, we run the risk of diminishing some of the “crazy” in our crazy quilting. That crazy is of course what sets us beautifully apart.

These are just my opinions. All others are equally valid.

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