Welcome Weeks Ringle from the Fun Quilts studio who is visiting here today and discussing her and her husband Bill Kerr’s new book Transparency Quilts, their new magazine Modern Quilts Illustrated and talking to us about colour.
Kathreen asked me to write about color – how we use it and how we think about it. My husband and business partner Bill Kerr and I both have Masters degrees in design so we were taught color theory using the seminal books on color theory such as Johannes Ittens’ The Art of Color. Ittens’ book describes the terminology of color and the relationships between colors. However, understanding color and designing with it are very different things. We’re not big believers in “color tools” or formulas for color work rather we like to teach people how to “see” and think about color in new way.
Although those nice color forecasters at Pantone will tell you that this year the important color is “Tangerine Tango” and last year it was “Honeysuckle”, our aim is to design with an approach to color that will make our work seem fresh 20 years from now. Trendy colors come and go but great color work is timeless.
In our new book Transparency Quilts we show quilters how to look beyond hue (or color) and look at value (the lightness or darkness of a hue) and saturation (sometimes referred to as intensity). We describe in the book how to look at fabrics in a different way so you can begin to see that placing some fabrics next to others creates the illusion of a transparency. We have numerous examples of transparencies that don’t work because we know that it takes some visual cues to understand the complex relationship among a group of fabrics.
In general we approach designing with color with an idea or sometimes a question. We did a fabric line a few years ago celebrating the diverse flora found in the US. So while there were the predictable pinks and greens found in most traditional florals, there were also soft blues and greys for the succulents found in dry climates and deep greens found in the ferny forests of the Pacific Northwest. Occasionally we’ve asked ourselves questions such as “What would happen if Marimekko went to Guatemala? What would that look like?” or “How could you take Civil War fabrics and make them modern?” To us it’s the juxtaposition of two disparate design vocabularies that sometimes yields interesting color work. Sometimes it’s a memory. The inspiration for the color work in one of our quilts was my grandmother’s favorite swimsuit that she swam in along the shores on Virginia in 1968. It was a lovely 60s palette of aqua, light blue, olive and a seaweedy green that still looks fresh and sophisticated.
For a quilt that appeared on the cover of American Patchwork & Quilting a few months ago, we asked ourselves how far we could push the idea of eclectic – eclectic in pattern as well as color. As we gathered 36 very different fabrics together we knew that we’d have to have some constraints or it would turn into visual mayhem with Kaffe Fasset prints next to Civil War reproduction fabrics next to primitive prints next to traditional florals. So we eliminated very light fabrics, very dark fabrics and bright fabrics. By limiting our palette to medium-value, medium-saturation fabrics, we soon found that everything pretty much looked good together.
When I was a landscape architect I knew a renowned plantsman who began every garden design trying to figure out where his favorite plant would go. He had a go-to palette of plants that he liked to use and they formed the starting point of every design.
We work very differently. We’re out to discover new palettes, new combinations of colors and prints that you’ve never seen before and that you would never have thought to put together. A great compliment to us is hearing someone say, “I would never have thought those colors would look that good together.” The same goes for prints. In the second issue of our magazine Modern Quilts Illustrated we’ll be combining the fabrics of two designers at opposite ends of the design spectrum.
If you’re about to start a project you can do the same thing at home. Think about who the project is for or what you want the quilt to be about. Is it for a soft-spoken friend or a high-energy child? If you’re working off a fabric you love, what colors beyond the colors in the fabric would compliment it? Is it a bright fabric that might be calmed with a neutral or is it a large-scale print that might be easier to work with if paired with a smaller-scale print? For a little color inspiration we have included in Modern Quilts Illustrated a fun feature called Palette Chasing. We find an interesting palette in some part of the world and we reassemble the palette using currently available fabrics. Our first chase was at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC. The rich palette may be over 100 years old but it’s a classic. Future issues will take you around the world in search of great color work because spending a little bit of time planning color work never goes unrewarded.