This blog post is something new! I’m giving you a short course in color mixing in handweaving. If you find this mini-course helpful, check out the online courses it’s drawn from – Color Courage for Weavers – Basics and Color Courage for Weavers – Workshop.
For those who prefer text, here’s a slightly less detailed text/image form, also drawn from Color Courage for Weavers, and a downloadable transcript of the video.
Understanding color mixing in weaving
All colors can be thought of as mixtures of the three primary colors – magenta, yellow, and cyan (turquoise). Mixing any two of the three primaries gives you an equally saturated color that falls somewhere between those two primaries on the color wheel.
Mixing all three primaries, in equal proportions, should (in theory) produce gray. In practice, because there is no such thing as a perfect primary color, mixing all three primaries usually produces a low-saturation color that is close to gray, but not necessarily neutral gray. You might get brown, blue-gray, greenish-gray, or some other low-saturation color. However, it is very true that mixing colors that contain all three primaries will produce a much duller color.
Weaving bright colors into brightly-colored cloth
A common problem for weavers is picking out bright, beautiful yarns with the intent of creating equally brilliantly colored fabric, then getting mud. If you are trying to weave two highly saturated colors into a highly-saturated cloth, you have two choices. You can pick colors that contain the same two primaries – that fall between the same two primaries on the color wheel – and mix them together in any weave structure you like. Or, you can pick any colors you like, and choose a weave structure that keeps warp and weft colors as separate as possible – using warp-dominant areas next to weft-dominant areas. (Twill blocks are one example, as are summer and winter blocks.) (Read more about how to do this in my blog post “Are your bright colors weaving into mud? Here’s how to fix that.”)
Weave structure and color mixing
Weave structure controls two things in color mixing. It controls the proportions in which the colors are mixed, and it controls the placement of the mixes. So, for example, a 1/3 twill shows 25% warp and 75% weft on the front face of the fabric, 2/2 twill shows a 50-50 blend, and 3/1 twill shows 75% warp and 25% weft.
A weaver designing a project might choose weave structures for different parts of the project to place different blends of warp and weft in different places, creating the design. For example, this double weave place mat has some areas of interlacement that produce pure white, some that produce pure green, and other areas that produce a mix of white and green.
Some useful tools for color mixing
If you are considering using two yarns and want to get an idea for how they will blend, an online color mixer will give you a rough idea for how the colors might blend. I often use the www3schools color mixer to see how colors will blend in different proportions.
If you have found this blog post helpful, check out my Color Courage for Weavers online courses!