Thursday, February 9, 2012

Take Your Hands Off the Color Wheel

I had a lot of offbeat ideas when I was a kid.

I thought dogs and cats were the same animal, only dogs were the males and cats were the females.

I somehow got it into my head that if you were Jewish you were also African-American -- and vice versa -- and I was mightily disappointed when I learned I was "only" Jewish.

And, I thought people died in the order in which they were born.

So when Debbie Bahr, who lived across the street from me throughout elementary school, bragged about being 6 while I was still 5, I told her that was fine because it meant she would die before I did.

A much more worldly child than I perceived myself to be, she quickly disabused me of the notion. And, just this once, she didn't use her fists to prove her point.

Debbie was the first person to show me how to outline the picture in a coloring book, which helped you to stay inside the lines and made your work look even more vibrant.

She also introduced me to the idea of a favorite color. Well, actually, she asked me what my favorite color was. I didn't know you could have a favorite. Weren't they all great, particularly the extra 48 that her box of crayons had, which my 16-pack didn't?

"I don't know. What's yours?" I said.

"Blue," she quickly announced.

Well, I kind of liked blue, too. But I came from a contrarian mother -- when it seemed that everyone brushed his or her teeth with Crest, we used Gleem, and our detergent choice was Cheer, not the prevailing Tide -- so I said what I thought was the opposite of blue: green.

The fact is, declaring green as my favorite color gave me a sense of ownership in it and, in short order, it actually did become the one I liked the best. With reddish hair and blueish eyes, I thought I looked well in it. It's the color of grass and leaves and money. And the Packers' uniforms! Whether it's bright M&M kelly (admit it -- the green ones taste the best) or a soft sage, I find green appealing.

I might have felt better about my first quilt if it had been green.

However, I had married a man who liked blue. And beige. With just a touch of brown. And because we were newlyweds and couldn't afford to decorate much anyway, those were the colors in our apartment.

The fabric stores weren't much help, either. Actually, it wasn't entirely their fault. Quilting was just starting its modern renaissance, so while there were still bolts and bolts of double knits and a mystery material called Qiana, there wasn't much in the way of the cottons and muslins my quilt class teacher instructed us to use.

For our first complete quilt project -- four huge blocks (honestly, they must have been 16" x 16"), each a different traditional pattern -- we were to select three colored fabrics and muslin. I chose this cloying little calico with gold and blue flowers in it. As its complement, I picked a dull gold solid and sort of Prussian blue solid.

Let's just say, this little quilt was so homely that the only thing I could do with it was send it to my sister as a gift, knowing her unconditional love for me would trump whatever creative disaster I was presenting her.

In the 30 years since, I've become pretty adept at choosing colors for my quilts. I think this is one area in my life where risk-taking isn't just acceptable, it's required. You don't want to be stuck with a bright red couch, do you? But you can put a little ruby cotton in that blue quilt, and it will make the piece sizzle. Decorators will tell you a can of paint is cheap, so splash that wall with fuchsia. Ok, but isn't it less back-breaking to add some sparkle with hot pink triangles strategically placed in a green and purple quilt?

When I set about making the LSU baby quilt, I gathered up all the purples and golds I had, then put half of them back. I wasn't crafting a checkerboard, so I knew I had to break out some complementary colors. Ahhh, this was the place to finally put that yellow/orange/pink dotted fabric that I bought because I needed more yellow and orange in my high-fiber diet. I'm particularly pleased with the way the orange adds gusto while the deep red is like a baritone in the choir, settling things down a bit. The unexpected blocks of pink batik add a nice kick, too.

So while my favorite color remains green, I know there are no "bad" colors. Only quilters who are afraid to use them.

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