Weavers love the pure colors of the rainbow: yellow, orange, red, violet, blue and green. Balancing two or more of these vibrant hues in woven cloth can be a challenge, however, and some people shy away from using them altogether. Designing color-and-weave cloth provides an opportunity to practice using pure hues successfully in an unusual way.
Margaret Windeknecht defines color-and-weave as "a pattern effect produced by combining a standard weave structure with a dark/light color sequence in both warp and weft." This effect creates rich and complex-looking fabrics that bear little resemblance to their actual weave structures. Using pure hues in a color-and-weave sequence can be very exciting, but it helps to have a method of determining the proper proportions for balancing these colors.
I combine color-and-weave and pure hues using Johannes Itten's Contrast of Extension, (also known as the Contrast of Proportion.) This is one of the seven types of contrasts that the Swiss expressionist painter describes as a means for illustrating how colors relate to one another.
This theory is described in his book, The Elements of Color, as a proportional relationship between the area and visual weight of two or more hues. Itten explains, "It is the contrast between much and little, or great and small." Itten uses Goethe's system of light values as a basis for defining the relative visual weight of different colors.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, by comparing pure hues to a neutral-gray background, developed a numerical ranking to describe the strength or intensity of each hue as experienced by the human eye.
Goethe's light values are as follows:
|yellow||9 (the strongest hue)|
|violet||3 (the weakest hue)|
Using these starting values, the ratios for complementary pairs (colors opposite each other on the twelve-hue color wheel) are:
|yellow : violet||9 : 3|
|orange: blue||8 : 4|
|red : green||6 : 6|
To achieve a harmonious composition, one in which the colors appear balanced to the eye, invert the ratios. For example, since yellow is considered to be three times as strong as violet, it should occupy only one-third as much area as violet.
Hue values then become:
|Hue||Weight for a Balanced Composition|
Now color-and-weave designs can be developed using these pure hues for the dark/light threading and treadling sequences. All of the following examples are treadled as-drawn-in, meaning the treadling sequence follows the order of the threading sequence.
In the following examples, we will work with four-shaft 2/2 twills and symmetrical color placement.
In the cloth below, a violet : yellow (9:3) ratio was applied to a 12-thread repeat in both the threading and treadling. Note how different the reverse is from the face of the cloth.
In the example below, a ratio of 6 red : 4 orange is applied to a 10–thread repeat. In other words, in each ten-thread repeat, six of the threads are red, and four of them are orange. You can see how applying Itten's theory of color balancing has resulted in a pleasing pattern.
The complementary colors red and green have the same numerical value. Strictly following Itten's color proportions would lead you to use equal amounts of red and green in a design, but this can lead to quite unexpected results.
Colors are interlaced in woven cloth, as compared to fields of color lying adjacent to each other in a painting. Weaving red and green together in equal amounts, both in warp and weft, can create a visually jarring textile, the woven nightmare we all wish to avoid. The colors either will appear to shimmer, or the piece will seem muddied, particularly if you are weaving with fine threads.
This is one case where Itten's proportions may not successfully apply to weaving. If you want to use equal amounts of red and green, I suggest sampling first.
Red and green, however, combine well with other colors, as shown in the two samples below.
6 green: 8 blue in a 14-thread repeat.
6 red: 8 blue in the same 14-thread repeat.
If you are willing to weave with three shuttles, you can be more adventurous and use ratios that include three colors.
9 violet : 4 orange : 3 yellow applied to a 16–thread repeat.
9 violet : 6 green : 3 yellow applied to an 18–thread repeat hues
Try your hand at designing pure hue color-and-weave drafts. You'll find that a four-shaft loom can produce an endless variety of balanced, interesting, and sometimes bizarre designs.
- The Elements of Color by Johannes Itten. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold Co., 1970.
- "What is Color-and-Weave?", by Margaret Windeknecht. Weaver's, Issue 20, pp 50 – 53.
Barbara Walker is an HGA master weaver and fiber artist. She loves teaching workshops in weaving and ply-splitting, and creates a learning atmosphere of gentle encouragement and good humor, with novel approaches to design. You can see some of her work on the gallery pages of her website. Barbara’s home studio overlooks the Willamette Valley in Salem, Oregon.