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Designing with Color: Marsala

Today is the last day to enter the Pantone Quilt Challenge! If you were waiting for the last minute, it has arrived! 😀 The link up ends at 11pm pacific tonight and then we’ll move on to voting!


I had some people ask me about how I chose my color scheme for my Pantone Challenge quilt which is something I meant to put in the original post but forgot. So instead, I thought I’d take the opportunity to go into a bit more detail here.


When designing around a color I like to start by mentally describing the color. I have mentioned in my post about contrast that I like to use hue, saturation, and brightness to describe a color. Marsala is a red hue, medium saturation, and medium brightness. Things that are low to medium saturation start moving into the neutrals territory, so we’re looking at a reddish, lightish-darkish, almost neutral.

Given that very scientific description, I move on to thinking about how I want to feature the color. I know I want that color to stand out, so I need to create contrast. Since it falls in the middle of the saturation and brightness spectrum, I have two ways to go with each. I can play up the red or the neutral, and I can play up the brightness or the darkness.


To make a color appear more saturated, there are two general options: put it with things that are less saturated, or put it with the color’s complement. With the browns above, you can see that it really plays up the red tones of Marsala (the bottom fabric which is Kona Cocoa.)


However, I didn’t really want to make a brown quilt…


…and I didn’t want to do a grey + pantone color quilt since that’s what I did last year.


I could have gone with greens, but that would require less saturated greens to keep the Marsala color from looking washed out, and I just wasn’t feeling the combination.


So that left going with pushing Marsala towards brown. This meant I was open to use the more saturated tones I prefer, and I could play with monochromatic or analogous color schemes. I’m all about analogous, so that was a no brainer for me!


I went with a red to blue-violet analogous scheme, but could have gone the other way and done red to yellow. But I liked the purple and violet tones because they reminded me more of wine which was in line with the name Marsala.


As for light or dark, this was totally just an aesthetic choice. I liked the idea of using rich, wine-based hues to go with the Marsala name. I went with colors that were generally darker than Marsala, to make it appear lighter. (The above is the design I actually went with.)


I could have gone for lighter shades as well, and it would have been an entirely different feel to the quilt, but I don’t generally gravitate to pastels.


In reality, I was somewhat limited by what fabric colors are actually available. I ended up with pepper (the dark grey) being the highest contrast as it is the darkest color in the quilt, which wasn’t quite what I was hoping for, but I still like it overall.

So that’s an overview of my design process when designing around a specific color. Admittedly some of it is by feel (and by that I mean “have the poor quilt shop employee pull 35 different bolts of Kona and put them next to each other until I pick my favorite 6”) but I do try to make a conscious decision so I can evaluate it afterwards to decide how I would improve the process in the future.

How about you? How do you go about designing around a specific color?


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