The Color Wheel | Lessons

The Color Wheel

Choose your colors carefully to create awe-inspiring quilts!

For many quiltmakers, choosing colors for their quilt is the most challenging part of the process, and many of us look for ways to increase our color-choice success. One technique useful to many is selecting colors that relate as shown on a color wheel. Give this approach a try if you’re not already familiar with it. Your quilts may become even more exciting and awe inspiring!

What is a color wheel?

The color wheel is an illustration of the organization of the 12 pure colors used in pigments and dyes.

Red, yellow and blue are primary colors; you cannot create them by mixing any other colors together. These three are spaced equidistant around the color wheel.




By mixing equal amounts of two primaries, you get a secondary color. Secondary colors are orange, green and violet.




Mixing secondary colors with their neighboring primary colors gives us the tertiary colors of yellow orange, yellow green, blue green, blue violet, red violet and red orange.





How is this useful to quiltmakers?

Though we don’t actually “mix” colors, every time we compose a quilt we do combine them. Knowing how they relate can help to create the look we have in mind.

Color schemes fall into three basic categories.

The purpose for your quilt will help determine which category you use:

One color (monochromatic) quilts, usually combined with white or other neutrals, are simple and direct-and can be quite dramatic.





Three to five blending colors, which lie side by side on the color wheel (analogous), create a harmonious color scheme because they have at least one color in common.




Opposite colors, those that lie across from each other on the color wheel (complementary), create visual interest and excitement because they contrast. One is automatically from the warm side (red, yellow, orange) and one is from the cool side (violet, blue, green). Many successful color schemes include at least an accent of the complementary color.


As you study quilts in books and magazines or see them in person at quilt shows, notice how their colors work as related to the color wheel. If you find some much more appealing than others, you might try a similar color scheme in your next quilt!

Leave a Reply