Basic Color Theory for Feltmakers


Courtesy of UX Planet

When I took up painting, I needed to know really quickly how to blend colors and know which colors went well together.  So, I did what I always do.  I researched and studied and bought books and practiced.  Almost every art book has a chapter on color theory and color mixing.  Although you can make all the colors from the basic primary colors, which are yellow, red and blue, there are warm and cool versions of those colors.  Therefore, when painting, you would most likely have six primaries (a warm and cool version) plus black and white.  Adding white changes the hues by making them lighter and less harsh.  Adding black deepens the colors.  If you mix all primaries together, you will get brown.  You can also make a black with with all three colors, but you really need to play around with the proportions.  You can do the same thing when working with dyes, but you can’t use white.  As I only started dyeing, I am still learning the dilution proportions for dye to water and I still end up rinsing the dye out of my silk for probably longer than I need to.  Here I only used three colors to get all of these different colors. I had magenta, turquoise and yellow.  The turquoise and magenta actually made a lovely purple. I would add another piece of silk when I saw a color change in the water to get a lighter shade.  Adding water to a dye bath is like adding white paint.


The color wheel above is a basic wheel for showing what happens when you blend the primaries with each other to produce secondary colors, and then blending the secondary color with a primary to make the tertiary colors.  If you look closely, you can then see the complementary colors that are opposite the primary, i.e. green (secondary) opposite red, and so on.  When you blend complementary colors together, you get a nice neutral or brown as it contains all three primary colors.  If you add white, you get a lovely neutral or grayish color, so if you need to make a gray, use your complements instead of black and white as it will tone with the rest of your painting.  Also, complements make each other stand out, like red and green you see at Christmas or blue and orange and yellow and purple.

81bCO7rcrOL._AC_SL1500_Courtesy of Amazon

Although you can paint and blend colors with wool, it is more of an optical illusion.  So if you blend yellow and red fiber, you will get an orange, but when you look closely, you will still be able to see the individual colors of the fibers.  You can also blend fibers by layering.  It is not a true color, but if done well, it will do the trick.  Surprisingly, there are a large amount of people who do felting and do not know anything about blending colors or color theory, even though they work with a myriad of colors.  I always suggest using a color wheel as the one above as it contains more information on the different colors and  color combinations.

Since I started wet felting, I am more inclined to use analogous colors in my work.  Analogous colors are usually three to four colors that sit next to each other on the color wheel and are mostly of the same shade.  You can also take three colors and one that pops or two and two, i.e. yellow-green and green with blue-green and blue as those 4 sit next to each other.  Analogous colors are also the most harmonious and relaxing.  You will find that when you look at paint ideas for homes, the colors tend to be various shades of the same color, especially in open plan houses as the colors need to be able to flow.  It depends on what mood you are after.  The same goes for clothes.  Many people like to play safe with their clothes and will coordinate everything, even their accessories.  Sometimes people like to be safe with their clothes and be a bit bolder with the accessories.  This is where a color wheel comes in really handy.  Adding the perfect pop of color can add wonders to a piece.

I like ocean colors and will use several shades of blue or blue-greens.  If I want that soothing ocean vibe, I might only add white as an accent.


If I want to be bold, I might add a bit of coral or orange.  I personally like coral as it is a little bit more subdued than a bright orange. In the photo below I used blues with green and added a coral starfish brooch for pop.


Green will go with pretty much everything as it is in nature, but bright green with some dark purple or pink is quite striking as there is a lot of yellow in the green, which is the complement of purple. Here is a sample tapestry piece I made below.


And a hat and scarf set.


The great thing about using wool is that your colors won’t get muddied or dull, unless you layer them on top of each other and have migration, and if that is your intention.  You don’t even have to use the complement, just use a shade close to the complement and see what happens.  It is good to make small samples to see what works well together and to look at the work of others for inspiration.


I don’t usually work with orange or yellow, but I had some nice fabric I wanted to use and got together a bunch of colors to see what would go together and to use up my wool.  I ended up with these below.


The blue button in the brooch picks out the blue threads from the sari silk and is the complement of orange.  I really love this set even though I haven’t worn anything close to these colors since the 70’s!

I’ve also said before that browns go with everything, the same with neutrals and I proved that with my placemat and coaster sets.  Here I have analogous colors, some with a pop.


You can even use all of the primaries (and secondaries) together.

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So, go through your stash, and using the color wheel, put together colors on your table to see what will work together, you will be amazed!

4 thoughts on “Basic Color Theory for Feltmakers

  1. Really interesting post and some good examples of colour schemes in your work Arlene. You took me back to the colour studies I did several years ago using the colour wheel. I like working with Bergschaf fibre and you can get some wonderful results using this when the different coloured fibres migrate through and blend with each other.

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    1. Thanks Karen, it’s just basic stuff that people don’t know about and it tends to be based around color choices. I am surprised how many people that make clothes or scarves don’t know anything about colors and what colors go with each other. The batts are really good for blending and I discovered how to minimize migration by making sure the decoration side is on the inside when doing all of the rolling and fulling. Sometimes you want migration. Working with wool is sometimes like working with pastels and we need to create blends with optical illusions. It is also a nice way of making a color that you don’t have in your stash or if you are low on a color you need. The post was inspired by questions from people on mixing dyes and on some Facebook groups. 🙂

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  2. We do love your orange/yellow hat and warmer and the pink/multi ensemble pictured is so vibrant and pretty.

    The colour wheel is very helpful.

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