"Through a Glass, Darkly: An American Memory" detail
On this gloomy damp grey January day I am in need of color! The bright reds are put away after Christmas and softer fresh light colors are around me. Spots of intense blue and lovely yellow really brighten the house and my mood. Color is one of those things for quilters that is very important indeed.
Years ago in 2004 I wrote an article for Quilter's Newsletter Magazine that was part of their series on quilt artists and their take on color and how they used it. At that time I had a lecture titled "Mud, Wonderful Mud!" as well as a class that helped others see drab, dull, muddy shades as vital to a true color balance in many quilts and other art.
In the photo below of a quilting sample done on one of Caryl Bryer Fallert's Benartex fabrics the blue stands out, the surrounding "mud" colors are rich and warm and let the blue steal the show.
I always spoke about these mud colors with tongue-in-cheek as I know for many color is something you don't joke about; favorite colors as well as the ugly colors are absolute. Lines are not crossed. I know quilters who will not allow purple in the house, much less in a quilt.
However, I do believe we can always expand our horizons and perhaps a little "mud" is just what you need for 2017. Forget Avocado Green and Harvest Gold from the 70's; we had an avalanche of those colors in every aspect of our lives, and this really created an aversion to any color resembling these two prime suspects.
But it is a new year, warm lovely colors are perfect in our work, and you might surprise yourself by the result of their inclusion. Below is the article, judiciously edites/updated here and there, and some photos that will help illustrate my points for the use of mud.....
Color as I See It
by Diane Gaudynski
The azure blue sky, the white marble courthouse with a sea of steps leading down to the sunny street. A beautiful woman in purple running down the steps. Handsome leading man waiting for her at the bottom, arms filled with luscious red roses, dressed in his well-fitted military uniform of deep bronze khaki. Hollywood pulled out all the stops to insure everyone would zero in on the important parts of this scene, punctuated with bright color to draw the eye. However, as I watched, I thought to myself, "what gorgeous khaki in his uniform!"
"Sixteen Baskets of Mud" 1997
I gave in and let myself use army green for the border and lots of mud from my extensive collection for the baskets. Bright "pretty" colors were saved for the top triangles in the baskets. This little quilt set the mud wheels in motion.....and another variation, below, made for a piecing class.
Color and quilting are the two items in a quilt that are immediate and nonnegotiable. Designs may be open to interpretation, patterns come and go, but the color of a quilt is its hallmark.
We refer to our quilts by their color: my red quilt, the blue and yellow one I made last year. Quilting provides the three-dimensional texture that makes a design seem new and fresh, but it is color that supports the quilting, showcases it, and shouts, "Look at me!"
Above, some of my quilts in an exhibit in 2010 at the National Quilt Museum, Paducah, KY
When asked what color I am using in a quilt, I invariably describe it with a word from nature or food: goldenrod rather than yellow/gold; cappuccino rather than tan. Colors that might be overlooked or termed "uglies" have always provided me that delicious, necessary backdrop for the more universally acceptable hues such as red, blue, and purple. The ugly colors that I refer to as "mud" give my quilts their particular signature.
"October Morning" 1999
A liberal use of rich and warm mud browns, which I described as "chocolate," as well as dark olives and russet colors for the pieced blocks are striking against a cool serene lilac background in this traditional Delectable Mountains quilt.
My natural tendency toward messiness has led me to interesting color discoveries. Once I stepped on a piece of gold fabric after it spilled out of an overturned bin and I left a dusty footprint on it. That gave me the idea of including it with other colors already chosen. Another time, seeing two pieces of fabric unintentionally next to each other in a drawer, looking wonderful together, gave me an idea for a two-color quilt.
A tidy quilter may have simply re-sorted them and not had the opportunity of seeing an unusual color combination. Be open to the unexpected. Throw fabric around, see where it lands, and discover how strange combinations can look terrific. Look at scraps thrown haphazardly in the wastebasket for inspiration!
I tend to pick the "off" shades of color. Rather than a pure hue, I look for the slightly skewed version of it--dusty purple instead of clear purple, dark teal instead of turquoise, chartreuse or army green instead of grass green. These colors give a quilt character and let the brighter colors stand out.
Dark green border and gold, brown plaid, and chartreuse set off the turquoise and bright reds in the fabrics in this 45" square wall quilt. Detail, below.
Although my quilts reflect my love of subdued tones, I also like to include the bright zing of an indigo bunting or the brilliant red of a cardinal. Here in the Midwest, real-life color can be a sea of murky tones interspersed with bright spots of intensity. Brights look more important when surrounded by murk and gloom. The cardinal can be seen from a distance in the brown and grey branches and dead grass here in winter.
One of my first award-winning quilts caused a sensation in 1996 because the background was light khaki. The local newspaper wrote that the "award winner" used fabric the color of men's pants, of all things, in her winning quilt. The next year the the paper touted me in an interview as "the mud lady."
Other quilts have come and gone, but all have a bit of dull color included.
"Red Square" Detail
I like to give the eye a resting place, provide a warm feeling natural to fiber art, and let the brighter, pure colors come forward, using these "mud" neutrals as a counterweight. Everything from soft gold, cashew, and khaki to the deep browns and greens work for me, providing the necessary mortar of neutrality to hold a quilt design together.
So much time and effort goes into making a quilt; one of the rewards is admiring our fabric choices as we work. It's an added pleasure having others tell you how much they love them too.
"Shadows of Umbria" detail; machine quilting in mud is delicious!