web analytics

Color Clinic – Complementary, my Dear Watson

As I mentioned last week, I thought I’d try starting up a somewhat regular write-in blog post called Color Clinic. Send me your general questions about color or even something more specific about a project you’re working on, and I’ll answer it here on the blog! You can email me questions (anne@play-crafts.com) or post them in the comment section.

This week’s question is from J.T. who asks:

What is the proportion to use for complementary colors (50-50 never works) and why?



Awesome question! As a quick reminder, complementary colors are colors that are opposite sides of the color wheel. If you want to know more, I’ve written quite a bit about them here.

Because complementary colors are as far apart as possible on the color wheel, that means that they are by nature, very high contrast. Because of this, the mixture you want to use depends on how much contrast you want in your quilt. I’ve seen some beautiful examples of 50/50 mixes, but it does end up with a very high-contrast quilt. That high contrast with an equal mixture means that there’s nowhere for a viewer’s eye to rest if the colors are sprinkled throughout, which gives the quilt a lot of energy. And for some people that energy is more than what they want.


Like all things in design there is no one right answer, so I can’t answer what the “right” mixture is. Instead, think of the complementary colors as a tool in your design toolbox that you bust out when you want to play with high contrast. The first step is deciding which color you want to be your base color. This is the color that will be used in higher proportion. Then, if you think about the complement of your base color as an accent color, you can use the contrast to lead the viewers eye where you want it to go. Use very little of it, and it will be the main thing the viewer sees. Use a bit more and it will lead the eye around a bit more which will add more energy to the quilt.


Here’s the same design shown with three mixes of complementary colors: 50/50, 70/30, and 90/10. You can see from these that the less pink used (my accent color), the more it actually draws your attention. Which one you prefer is totally subjective, and which one you should use completely depends on your desired design. With that said, looking at other quilts and designs that use complementary colors and getting a feel of what appeals to you the most will be really beneficial in knowing where you want to take your future designs.

I hope that helps, and J.T. – I look forward to seeing your future quilts using complementary colors!


I love comments, and respond to each one!

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

22 thoughts on “Color Clinic – Complementary, my Dear Watson”