Updated November 17, 2020.
As stitchers mostly we take the colors for a project as given to us. They might be the colors in a charted needlepoint or they might be the colors painted on a canvas.
It’s, quite often, the colors that attracted us to the piece in the first place.
But what if we need to pick our colors from scratch? That’s another story. You can start from one of the basic color schemes and work from there, but what do graphic artists do when faced with this problem?
Hideaki Chijiwa, a professor, developed some rules for creating a harmonious color palette. They are in the book Color Harmony: A Guide to Creative Color Combinations. Here’s a summary and how to apply them to threads and needlepoint.
- Figure out the purpose. For us, that’s what the project is and, maybe, how it will be finished and where it will go.
- Review color basics. Not being graphic designers (whose work depends on this), it’s helpful if we understand something about the types of color, value, intensity and other such things.
- Choose a dominant color, then accent colors. In other words pick the main colors in your color scheme. The choice of a dominant color and color scheme will determine the accents.
So, for example, if I wanted a pillow for my blue sitting room and planned on a complementary scheme, my accent would be orange. But if I planned an analogous scheme, my accents would be blue-green and blue-violet.
- Select shades, then vary them. You know your main color, and your accents. Now think about how you can change them. For us this isn’t only about color change, but it also encompasses texture in both thread and stitches.
In my blue room. I’ve decided to do a pillow of a Lone Star Quilt in a complementary color scheme. I think I’m going to vary the orange by using a light orange for the background. I’m going to very the blue by picking different values of blue in different threads.
- Look at compatibility of hues You’ve been told and even done this, but I bet you don’t think of it in this way. We check this by putting the threads together and making sure nothing “sticks out.”
- Limit the number of colors. This means colors, not the different shades of those colors. The more colors there are in a piece, the harder it is to make it look cohesive. Two is easy to make look good, three is somewhat harder but still workable. Four is much harder and five almost impossible to make look cohesive.
- Put the colors into action. For a graphic designer this means making some sample pieces. For us, if we don’t feel confident about the combination it might mean making a small piece to see if everything works.
- Keep a logbook. This is something I should do but don’t. Writing down my choices would make it easier to remember and duplicate combinations I like.
Needlepoint is our passion, not our profession, but taking these tips from people whose profession is color will improve our needlepoint.
If you want to find great ready-made color combination for needlework (with DMC color numbers), thake a look at Stitch Palettes.