A Complete Course in Dressmaking/Lesson 1/Combining colors


It is not just luck that colors look pretty together—neither is combining color a gift which some people are endowed with and some people are not.

When you come right down to the facts, it's a little problem that has to be learned just like the multiplication table, only in this case instead of learning that two times two makes four, you learn where the colors are placed in a color wheel and their relation to one another. See Fig. (26). To tell the truth, the rules are easier to remember than lots of the things we had to memorize back in the grades.

It's just as important for the person planning a dress to know these rules as it is for the artist planning a painting. Both are planning a composition in color. If you know the rules, you won't make a bad color composition. There won't be any jarring notes in your costume. You won't have that element of doubt as to whether you ought to add a certain color note.

The Color Wheel—For convenience sake, when an artist is studying color composition, the colors are placed on what is called a color wheel. See Fig. (26). The wheel is a circle divided into parts, and a color painted on each part or the name of it written there. There are rules regarding the placing of the colors on the wheel, and laws regarding the relation of one color to the other. Colors have certain definite effects on one another when placed close together or overlapped.

Sometimes only the primary colors of the spectrum, red, green and violet are placed on the wheel. However, for dress designing, it is more practical to include the in-between shade as in Fig. (26).

Fig. (26) Here is the little color wheel that will help you choose colors that go together.

The colors are placed on the wheel with what are called complementary colors opposite each other.

Complementary Colors.—A colored object shows a certain color by absorbing part of the light rays and reflecting part of the light rays. For instance, we know that light consists of the colors of the spectrum, red, green and violet. If an object is red, it absorbs the green and violet rays, and reflects only the red rays of light. Therefore, green blue which is a combination of green and violet is the complementary color to red or the shade which is absorbed by a red object.

That a red object really absorbs this shade has been proven by tests. Also the other complementary colors have been determined.

Learn the complementary colors:
Red—green blue.
Red yellow—blue.
Yellow—blue purple.
Yellow green—purple.
Green—purple red.

Make a color wheel for yourself, and place the complementary colors opposite each other.

Those opposite each other on the color wheel (complementary colors') can be combined—as blue and red yellow (orange). Of course you must remember this in making clothes—have one predominating color and just a touch of the other for trimming if they are direct opposites as in this case.

The second rule is that you can combine colors near together on the wheel as blue and blue green (turquoise).

The third rule is that you can use different degrees of the same shade together as navy blue and Copenhagen, or brown and tan.

The fourth rule is that you can use three colors together which are about an equal distance apart on the wheel as yellow green, blue and purple red. Here, too, have one color dominating and the other to supplement it. Probably such a combination would be used on the light tones of these colors. For instance, the bodice and drop skirt of a dance frock may be lavender, with overskirts of light yellowish green and blue tulle.

The fifth rule concerns black, gray and white. As black is a combination of all the colors in their full intensity, it can be used with any one of them. Gray is also a combination of all or several of the colors and can be combined with other shades. In gray material one color is apt to be in evidence. We have blue grays, pink grays, brown grays, etc. In combining gray with blue, use a bluish gray, not a pink gray. White is the absence of all color so it can be used with any shade.

These rules have to be followed most explicity where the colors are intense or vivid. Where colors are dark, that is, have black or the complementary color mixed with them, you can be more lax in combining them with other colors without striking a jarring note. The same thing holds true where light shades are used, more white being added to them. The whole rainbow of pastel shades can be used together in perfect harmony.

Caution must be exercised in using colors in their full intensity, as scarlet, emerald green, electric blue, etc. A child or a savage revels in violent and garish colors, while refined people instinctively choose the subdued tones. Large amounts of violently contrasting color are never beautiful.

It is well to remember that reds and yellows are affected more by artificial light than the violet and blue shades. Often, red or yellow will seem to change its shade under an electric or gas light.

Here are a few examples of the applications of the different rules:

1st: You know that blue and scarlet are complementary colors.

The correct combining of these two shades might be expressed in a dark navy blue serge or twill dress. Suppose the dress had a deep V opening in the front, narrow revers, and a small collar. If the revers and collar were piped with a very narrow strip of scarlet (not more than a cord) and then a sheer batiste or net over-collar and vest added, so far as the color was concerned, the dress would be perfect.

However, if instead of the piping you used a broad band of red goods, the effect would be garish. It is never wise to use complementary colors both in their most brilliant shades unless they combine to form the smallest motif on the dress, as bright blue and red interwoven with dark blue embroidery on a dark blue dress.

2nd: One often sees the application of rule 2 concerning the combination of colors near together on the wheel. Just in the way of an example, we might consider the fuchsia colors which are purple and a purple red (cerise). This can be beautifully worked out in an evening cape, using purple velvet for the outside of the cape and then cerise silk veiled with purple chiffon for the lining.

3rd: You have probably applied time and time again the third rule—using different degrees of the same color. A brown linen dress embroidered in tan wool yarn is a pleasing example of this rule. There is only one danger in applying the rule. Make sure that your two shades of blue or red or green aren't mixed with different colors, as a yellow green and blue green. If the dark shade is yellow green, and the light shade a blue green, they won't look well together. On the other hand, a dark blue green and a light blue green will harmonize perfectly.

4th: Three colors about an equal distance apart on the wheel will harmonize, too. Of course, they ought not be used in three areas of equal proportion. An example of a correct combination of this kind is a dark blue chiffon dress beaded in a paisley design with purplish red, yellow and black beads.

5th: Black, gray or white can be introduced into any color scheme. The becomingness of a white collar on any dress is a proof of this. You have probably noticed, too, that an edge of black braid seems in keeping with a green, a blue, a red, or a purple dress.

Colors darken as they have more black added to them, and lighten as they have more white added. If sufficient black is added to darken the colors considerably, any of the colors can be used together, as the black neutralizes them. The same is true if white is added until colors are a pastel shade. All the colors of the spectrum in pastel shades are in perfect harmony.