Friday, September 28, 2012

COLORS for sewing

me in black with brights and the Prada 2012 Cruise Collection pastels (blogged here)


COLORS!  I'm for 'em. Aren't we all?! 

Seeking to mistake-proof my sewing, I have studied the subject on the internet. (If you have more knowledge, please share /set me straight in the comments). Here is a nifty little color test if you are curious about your own color sensitivity.

Color theory is worthy of several semesters of college-level classes, but here are some basics.  There is hue, which is the red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet description.  Then there is chroma, or how saturated and rich the color is, as opposed to muted.  And finally, value describes how close the color is to black or to white. There are infinite shades of gray between black and white and all of these grays travel through colors.  That is how you can buy gray paint that looks green on your walls, or purple or blue or beige on your walls.  There are a lot of grays.



Back in the 1980's,  seasonal color analysis became very popular as a way of choosing flattering makeup and clothing colors. Here is a quick synopsis of the 4 seasons: Winter and Summer are cool, Spring and Autumn are warm. Winter is higher contrast with more saturated colors whereas Summer colors are cool, muted and lower contrast.  Autumn colors are warm, darker and muted, compared to Spring's warm, lighter and richer colors.

In more recent years, Kathryn Kalisz and others expanded the theory to 12 categories.  In this way of thinking, each primary season has two siblings that are a little closer to neutral than the "true" season.  Having 8 additional palettes has made this useful to all the people who did not fit neatly into the original 4 seasons.

The main issue I have with color analysis is applying the knowledge. It is still up to me to find fabrics that fit my requirements.  Unless I want to wear nothing but solid colors, I need to evaluate prints somehow.  So often, prints have some of "my colors" but also include a few colors that I hate.  My last fabric shopping trip was my most successful ever. I actually walked through fabric stores, waving around a color fan (procured here).  I let the color fan draw me to prints, sometimes surprising prints.  Almost every fabric I bought was purchased with some trepidation, but I really like all of the garments sewn from this last batch of fabrics.  The main colors new to me are yellow and green. It is so nice to expand my palette!

What about you?  Do you buy into the whole color analysis thing?  Ever had it done?  Think it helps or overly confuses? Do you have a good gut instinct about color? 

OR- do you think it is better to wear a broad variety of colors and, maybe tweak your makeup to enhance the combination and rock on! 

45 comments:

  1. I had my colors "done" once. They were Spring colors, warm with some cool exceptions (like some purples and blues). They are helpful but at the same time, limiting when it comes to dressing for Fall/Winter--can't wear coral all year lol. I know to stay away from stark white and choose ivory instead.

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  2. I find the color theories very interesting and they can help some move out of a comfort zone but I have also seen some people become very rigid in their color choices and not even look at something not on their "recommended color list". Who is to say the one person that did their colors was right? I really prefer brights, saturated, jewel tones. and no beige ever. If I am not wearing at least one piece of bright color I don't feel right. and when in doubt, I wear turquoise, my happiest color.

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    1. you know Beth, I think I have been too rigid at times, too. It has taken me a while to realize that I love some greens.

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  3. I never bought into having your colors done probably because instinctively I know what works best for me. That being said, I'm sure that there are others who do need the help, and a service is provided. But I think that if you pay attention to what colors look good on you and what colors you feel good in, you will begin the process of knowing what colors to use in sewing.

    BTW, I'll say again but that last bunch of prints you picked were awesome!

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    1. thanks Carolyn, I particularly liked that last batch too.
      I suppose I fall somewhere in the middle of needing /not needing help. I did not pay anyone to colorize me, I just figured out my colors on my own and ordered the color fan online. The color fan has been a nice tool when I am overwhelmed by all the fabric.

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  4. Wonderful post, so well explained! After many trials and errors I sort of figured out I look best in rich autumnal colors so I tend to instinctively choose fabrics that fall into the rich warm fall colors category!

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    1. It must be lovely to wear autumnal colors during autumn - if you live in a climate with seasons. I use those color for centerpieces on the table. That's about as close as they can get to me:)

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  5. Like Cathy I know that if I wear stark colours especially black around my face I disappear so I avoid that and go for grey and navy. I usually wear a patterned and coloured scarf to bring 'life' to my face. I love colour but do think that some are difficult to wear no matter what your natural colouring is. Yellow is hard and some shades of blue only make me look jaundiced! If someone compliments me on my appearance I take note of the colours I was wearing that day - that's the only analysis I've had! I think you would suit some bright colours - emerald green especially.

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    1. I like the scarf idea and yep I agree with emerald green. I am just starting to wear it within the last year.

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  6. I had my "colors done" many years ago when it was still pretty new. It helped me to realize why clothing of certain colors always looked awful on me and why I was drawn to other colors. That said, I am not a slave to it. I still buy colors that appeal to me and interestingly enough, they usually fall into my warm spring color palette. But at least now I know why. :)
    --LindaC

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    1. I've noticed the same thing - I am drawn to the colors that look good on me.

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  7. Like Carolyn, I know what works for me. Pretty much anything -- except chartreuse. It makes me look ill.

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  8. Good question about colours. I think that colour analysis might help a person gain confidence in their colour choices, which is excellent, but I think that eventually a person can wear all colours - we may be better off keeping some of them away from our faces though. I can't wear a yellow-green close to my face, but I can wear it as a skirt. If I found a top in that colour that was awesome in design, I'd probably still wear it because the silly grin on my face would be more distracting (I hope!) than the sallowness of my complexion.

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    1. facial expressions! I forgot! The most important ingredient :)

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  9. I had my colors done in the 80s and I think I was a spring (cool pastels stick in my mind). I found that following the advice that I was not to wear black a bit difficult. I don't wear black all the time, but it is a staple and I was told not to wear it. The same with red. I'm not supposed to wear it, but I do and people compliment me sometimes. I think they are more complimenting the garment and not how it looks, but who knows. I think I do look better in some colors than others, but sometimes I just go by what I like. As I've gotten older I do this more. I find I'm invisible to many people anyway, so I can wear what makes me happy.

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    1. definitely wear what makes you happy. Nothing else really matters!

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  10. It's funny - I had my colours done just last week. I really needed help because I have been stuck in black for years now. If I didn't wear black then I wore what was available to buy in my size (plus plus plus). Now that I have started sewing and buying material for myself I needed to find what works. I am not going to be totally strict but it does give me guidance for purchasing my neutrals and investment fabric for the wardrobe. I guess then if I purchase what matches the investment pieces I should be right - and yes - yesterday I could be see at spotlight waving around my colour fan. The most interesting thing I found is that my chart has a very dark charcoal on it and I thought it was black - but when placed against actual black strip the black was so stark in comparison.

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  11. Great topic and very well explain! I studied color for many years in fine art school and love every color BUT purple (don't know why)
    I think that our own skin has different undertones, some of us have more reds and some more yellows and greens. My skin has reds undertones (so does my hair) and I personally believe that when I color my hair in colors with a red base I look very palen and need extra help with makeup to look more alive. So I always go with cooler/ashy hightlights. The same happens with colors of clothes on my skin.
    Oh, and believe it or not chartreuse looks good on me (Or at least I think it does)

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    1. Florencia, thank you for commenting - if you studied color and you like my explanation, I am very pleased :)
      And I am glad you can wear chartreuse!!

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  12. You look great with your brights on against the black, and much better than in the pale striped blouse of your profile picture.
    I never agreed with the strict 4 season color system but there are definitely colors that don't work on me, and with my white hair it's even more obvious what doesn't work. I take it that you did the online color analysis. Is this the same system that Cennetta had done? I felt that it worked really well for her, and like you she was introduced to colors that she never wore before.

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    1. Interesting and I appreciate the feedback about the brights on black.
      No I did not do any actual analysis, I just did a lot of reading and eventually determined I am a "bright winter", but I will use colors from true winter, dark winter, or summers if they are balanced. I just bought a winter fan.
      I'll have to look through Cennetta's work. She has really taken it up a notch over the last year or so; impressive.

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  13. I really like color theory. When I was in undergrad (I went to art school and studied painting) one of our freshman classes was all on color - it had a great title "Phenomena of Color" and I think I hated it at the time, but now I wish I could go back and study all those little pieces of colored paper again! Now that I'm sewing I feel like I trust my gut a lot, and I think about what feels right when I wear it. I definitely don't think that color theory is a load of crap though - and I think even the simplest principles can be applied in sewing/dressing. I like creating outfits or garments by pairing compliments or analogous colors - like you did in your bright blue and green and black ensemble! It creates a really smart, pulled together look and the colors just WORK! I also think that everyone can wear every color - it just depends on the hue/shade/intensity etc... And creating outfits where you consciously work with "color theory" (e.g. wearing complimentary colors) expands what you might think is possible. And its just plain fun!

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  14. I use my seasonal colors heavily, although I think the secondary distinctions are less useful. With blue eyes, dark brown hair and ruddy skin - people are forever trying to put me in colors that look really horrible on me. (I have tried wearing the colors that truly do not work on me away from my face - if they're really not mine, they still throw everything off).

    Have you read Steph (3 hours past) recent blog series on color theory? She's got a nifty secondary breakdown of high-contrast vs. low-contrast colors, which fleshes out the original seasons nicely, IMO.

    I've put a ton of pins up for the different seasonal palettes because I think it makes more sense to see the colors in nature rather than on little pieces of paper. Colors are alive, they don't sit still very well. I think it's more helpful to "feel" your colors rather than match the little bits of paper, but you know. I have kind of an emotional affair going with color. ;)

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    1. thanks for letting me know about StephC's recent blog series, I can't believe I missed them!
      It sounds like something right up my alley.
      colors in nature inspire me often, too - I know what you mean about that.

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  15. I had my colors "done" back in the 80's and was told I was a "winter" (high contrast cool colors... well that may have worked back then, but as my natural hair color has greyed, there is much less contrast in my coloring. I rarely ever wear those jewel tones that I loved so much back then, they feel like too much overwhelming color nowadays.

    I think it was in The Triumph of Individual Style that I read about using your own coloring as a guide to what colors to wear... as an artist, that made a lot of sense to me, and as I have shifted my colors to the muted blues and browns of my eyes and hair, that feels better to me. (I probably could wear some of the soft cool reddish colors too) I love black, but it does not do me a lot of favors when I wear it, off black, or that color in-between brown and black are better.

    When I figured out the difference between high contrast and low contrast, and where I prefer to be on that continuum, my sewing became a lot easier in terms of choosing fabrics, and having a coordinated wardrobe

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    1. very interesting - makes a lot of sense. Thanks for posting.

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  16. I scored 100% (0) on the Munsell hue test! I don't quite believe that--do most people?

    I too had my colors done back in the 80's, and I cried for a week afterward (I'm not kidding.) I was told that I'm a summer, and I just hate wearing those colors. It all ties into self-image, and as a plus size, I've always felt that if I wear pastels I turn into a stereotypical fat lady and disappear, or that I'm weak and insipid. Whew, that's a big load to put on a color chip! The weird thing is, I don't think the colors themselves are insipid--just me in them.

    I regularly wear red and yellow (clear yellow, not mustard, which I really do look awful in) and teal and olive green and brown (dark, never medium or beige), and get complimented. Color stylists have told me that's because people are responding to the color rather than to me in the color. My reaction is: whatever. There are colors that I really look bad in, so I don't wear them. And that's fine for me.

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    1. go you! No, I don't think most people score 100% - it's a fine-tuned sense - like a musician with excellent intonation.

      I agree with you absolutely that you must wear those colors. It is rather mysterious.
      My whole motivation with the study of color is to find MORE colors I can wear and that I like to wear.
      For example, I always thought all yellows were off-limits for me until I came across clear yellows in small doses and find they are quite cheerful, and more importantly, I like them.

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  17. I got the Color Me Beautiful book in the 80s and quickly figured out I am a Winter. It seems to work for me. I look good in black and in saturated jewel tones in the cool range. I look terrible in brown, cream, yellow, orange, rust -- even though I wish I could wear those colors, they make me look sick. I don't believe in using your eye and hair color -- because if that worked, I could wear brown successfully, and I can't.

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    1. yes, I think when one's colors are so distinct, there is a clear difference between what works and what does not.

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  18. For colour I read Colour Me Happy, with Maria Killiam, she did the colour for our townhouse.http://www.mariakillam.com/
    She writes a lot about understanding colours.
    I am much happier when I am wearing a colour blocked wardrobe.

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  19. You just reminded me that I used a professional to help me select a color palette for my home. I had so many different surfaces, I was truly bewildered at how to tie it all together. She did an amazing job and I continue to enjoy the serenity it brought to my home. Thanks for the link!

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  20. Like Carolyn and others, I just go with what I like. I have paid close attention to when other people compliment me, though. Lately I was complimented often on a cobalt blue blouse I made. I hardly ever wear blue, but this particular shade garnered a lot of compliments so now I look for it! I'm usually complimented when I wear red, berry, or fuschia, so those colors are also part of my wardrobe. Strong clear colors seem to be the answer for me. Thanks for researching and bringing up the subject, it needed to be brought back to our attention.

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  21. LOL, I already knew I was red-green color blind, one of the .01% of females or some such percentage. But wow, I sure bombed that test! I'm going to have my daughter take it just for fun, since her color vision is just fine.

    I did have my colors done, mainly because I KNOW I can't see colors correctly. Because of that, I am a much more boring dresser than I would like to be, because I'm afraid of coming up with "unknow to me" ghastly combinations. I tend to stick with the little cards I received and do my best to match them to clothes I get, and stick with descriptions that sound like my colors "brilliant violet" etc, and steer far away from taupe, etc.

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    1. Sigh... DD did WAY better on the test than I did. Hard to describe... I watched her move the tiles, and to my eyes her results looked no different than mine, and yet obviously there were big differences in our results. And THAT is why I am afraid of color! LOL! Even though I love colors, at least what I see.

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  22. I love the colour analysis thing - I had my 'colours done' a while back, resulting in a wheel of approx 50 colours, 15 of which were the creme de la creme for moi. There were a whole stack of colours on there I'd never worn before... like fire engine red! I road tested these new colours with anything but trepidation - and was amazed at how my attitude changed towards the unchartered colours, and how many compliments I got with them too! I'm a bit of a sheep - so having someone tell me (no... make that 'paying someone to tell me'...) which colours were my best was fabulous, and I've totally taken it on board. I'm still drawn like a bee to honey when it comes to anything blue or green though. Everyone's got a colour they just 'own', it's just a matter of finding it and making it work with the rest of your wardrobe!
    By the way - Love that gorgeous handbag!! I bought the tan one and have never been so love with a handbag before in my life. And I have you to thank!

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    1. I am so happy you love that bag, because I love mine too. It just feels so good on my arm, my lap, in my hand. And when I need to haul a lot, it opens up to a pretty large tote. Empty it out and the top folds over again to make a nice satchel. LOVE this bag!!

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  23. Walking around with a color palette is such a great idea! Generally I'm drawn to colors I've favored for years. Lately I've been trying to expand my colors of choice & it's been a lot of fun. But I have no method to it- I just pick whatever captures me.

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  24. My mother tried to dress me in colours that SHE liked(I call them camo colours!!).When I finally started sewing for myself I seemed to find 'my' colours by instinct. When I too bought 'Colour me beautiful' I found that my hunches were basically right, except that I found out that I could wear black but not near my face.
    What I cannot explain is my magnetic attraction for PEACH, which makes me look positively ill!!! I have tried again and again to convince myself that I'd love 'this piece', but as always I make myself check in the shop mirror......
    Now I've expanded my 'group' to cool/deep/winter, I have even more colours to try. My VERY favourite colour combo is orange+cobalt blue, but at 60+, I think that one's a no-go these days.... :-[
    I also quote RED(clear) as my favourite colour, but on hot days, it's definitely my enemy. :-/
    Love talking colour......

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  25. I had terrible difficulty chosing flattering colours for myself a a young woman - and I now think this is because my mother looks wonderful in Winter colours and I look much better in warm colours. I was really confused by being drawn to all the colours my mother never dressed me in and hates! (Also my sister has cool colouring, although we both have (oops, that should be had )red hair). I am much more happy with my clothing by following a limited colour palette.
    Now I have to work hard not to dress my cool colouring daughter in my own warm palette ;). I also really enjoy wearing red, which I did not do when my hair was bright, so I think flattering colours can change with age.

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  26. I'm a color risk-taker. I sometimes go horribly wrong, and sometimes wonderfully right, and I embrace and accept it all. But I do find that "wrong" can take a sharp turn "right" depending on what other colors are introduced into the palette. I think I lack the creative organization to really focus in on what works.

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