December 18, 2015

Complementary Colors

Last month I touched base on analogous colors . Today I'm looking at complementary colors. This isn't a technical color post but rather my observation of complementary colors in my world.

Complementary colors are any two colors that fall directly opposite of each other on the color wheel. The most basic complementary color pairs are red and green, orange and blue, and yellow and purple. Shift a step on the wheel and you get combinations like lime green and red-violet, aqua and red-orange, yellow-orange and indigo. Complementary colors naturally create contrast because they oppose each other on the color wheel. This can be used quite effectively to create very dynamic color compositions in graphics and quilts.

Tis the perfect season for spotting complementary colors since red and green play such a dominant role in Christmas decor. I love decorating with red and green for Christmas.

Of course red and green aren't just seen during the holidays. This dynamic combination occurs year round if you look for it. All types of reds. All types of greens.

Here's a little red and green from my stash . . .

The complementary colors of blue and orange are abundant here in Colorado since they happen to be the Denver Bronco colors (our NFL football team for those of you outside the USA). It's actually a bit overwhelming to walk into a store and be confronted with this much bright, bright orange.

Nature always comes through with beautiful color combinations . . .

I also found a fair share of blue and orange combinations in my stash . . .

Purple and yellow seemed to be the hardest to find examples of. This combination occurs in nature but it's winter here so the flowers are sleeping. I did have these photos from the Botanical Gardens.

And I found these graphic purple and yellow mugs in Anthropologie . . .

I've always wanted to make a quilt with this fabric group . . .

Or how about this nice complementary purple and yellow bee block I made for Cindy . . . 

Using equal amounts of complementary colors can be overwhelming. When both colors occur in the same amounts they compete with one another. One great way to use complementary colors is to vary the amounts. Use one color as the dominant hue and add just a pop of the opposite color. This technique is often used in interior design by using an accent color to punch up the space. I like this use of complimentary colors because it really calls attention to the smallest detail and can be very dynamic. These leaves are a perfect example . . . rather than noticing the green leaves, you really see the red veins.

You can also vary the level of contrast between complementary colors by playing with value. For example, pairing a strong pure hue with a lighter value of it's complement can soften the contrast. The soft pink flowers bring the level of contrast down a notch in this image.

What I learned while looking for complimentary colors is that I don't use them very often. I usually lean toward analogous color schemes. But complementary colors make dynamic quilts so you can bet I'll be exploring this combination more in 2016. I already have one in mind with some great Amy Butler fabrics I've been collecting.

Here are two quilts I made using complementary combinations. This yellow Kaffe quilt with purple accents made from my Cascade pattern . . .

And of course the best example so far would be my latest finish. The Drunkard's Path QAL Christmas quilt . . .  love this one and am so happy to have it hanging on the wall for the holidays.

How about you?
Can you find complimentary colors in your home or your wardrobe?
Do you use complimentary colors in your quilts?
Why not make a quilt with complementary colors in 2016?

I'll leave you with Opal seen here modeling some complementary colors when we first got her three years ago this month . . .

As with my single color stories, my intention here is to look for these color combinations in my own personal world. To see the colors around me in my house, my environment and my experiences. For that reason I've chosen to use my own photos rather than rely on the abundance of beautiful photos and color schemes available through sites like Pinterest and Design Seeds. These sites are wonderful places for inspiration on color but I want my series to be personal . . . representative of the color I see around me. 

You can see all my other color stories under the Color Inspiration tab at the top of my blog. If you'd like to see additional beautiful color images, you can follow my Pinterest color boards here. I've also added a board on complementary colors here. Do check it out. There are some fabulous photos.



  1. Lovely post Anne. I feel a purple and yellow quilt coming on!

  2. I love how you explain things Anne! Were you a teacher in a previous life? I have used the turquoise/orange combination in my Feathers quilt, which you so kindly contributed to! You have now given me something else to think about as I plan for 2016.... maybe purple and yellow?

  3. Your color posts are my most favorites of any posts, anywhere! I also loved seeing my block. On my agenda for 2016 is to get that quilt completed.

  4. I am amazed at how beautiful these photos are, thank you.

  5. This might be my favorite color post yet. I'm glad to see you found plenty of leaves to fit a complementary scheme LOL! You have such an eye for seeing color and design anywhere you look. <3

  6. What a beautiful post, Anne! Literally. It's quite lovely! Your gift for seeing color extends into your photography too. I'd love to see your Christmas-decorated home. I bet it's gorgeous. Enjoy your last-minute Christmas preparations. Blessings!

  7. Your nature photos are terrific. Coleus is such a marvelous plant. Loved seeing the Chihully pieces. The series is very informative. Keep up the good work!


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