Did you know that the color wheel you learned about in school is not the only one? Most of us were taught that the primary colors are red, yellow and blue (RYB). We mixed those to make the secondary colors of green, orange and purple, and went on from there. But that’s just a starting place!
There are other color wheels for specific purposes, but RYB and the CMYK model (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and blacK, used for printing) are the most useful for dyeing fiber.
Before we move on, here’s how I am using a few terms:
Hue – the color name. It’s how we generally refer to colors – red, blue, yellow, green…
Saturation – intensity or purity of a color. Any color can be interestingly desaturated by mixing with its complement.
Value – refers to the lightness or darkness of a color. For example, reds range from a light value of pale pink to a dark value of deep maroon.
(Note the HSV color wheel in the image above.)
Complementary colors – direct opposites on the color wheel (pick a wheel, any wheel!)
These attracting opposites can bring out the best in each other, but not without some conflict. Equally bright complementaries tend to butt heads and make us a little dizzy.
But tweak the saturation or value, and they sing! Think about a flower arrangement of dark purple and butter yellow, or a bright blue-green tweedy yarn with little pops of deep pumpkin orange.
Skilled dyers use overdyeing or ‘glazing’ with complementaries of different values and saturations to create subtle and complex multicolor yarns.
Any time you see a pleasing color combination, spend a few moments trying to figure out its secret. You might not think smoky purple and bright orange would go together, but stop and really look at the next breathtaking sunset, and see how many colors you can identify.
Mixing dyes of complementary colors is a great exercise in color progression, and these pictures illustrate one way to create gradients that move from one side of the color wheel to the other by way of desaturated or muted colors with a rich neutral in the middle.
Mixing dyes gives you the same result as when you mixed watercolors as a child; the pigments create a single blended color, and you can’t see the original colors any more.
Another way of making new colors is optical blending. Carding together two different colors of fiber creates the appearance of a third in-between color – and this is a perfect example of optical blending.
Heathered yarns are another optical blend, often using several variations of a single hue which give a richness and depth that can’t be matched by yarns dyed a single shade of approximately the same color.
Pointillist paintings make use of the same principle, but on a scale of larger dots instead of individual fibers. It's easier to see the differently-colored dots, and you have to step farther away to see the image clearly.
Spinners can make use of optical blending in other ways, too – but we’ll get to those later.
I don’t claim to be an expert on color, so if you’d like to do some exploring, check out the links on my Resources page.
Finally, a few fiber prep terms that I will be using in following posts:
Fluffing – gently pulling a dyed braid crosswise to open compressed fibers
Pre-drafting – gently pulling roving or top lengthwise
Stripping or splitting – dividing lengthwise; narrower strips = shorter color runs
Deconstructing – breaking a braid apart in sections to rearrange colors, or to break up into very small chunks of color
Now that we have some color basics covered, we’ll get down to actual spinning in the next few posts!