Tuesday, 23 October 2012

Understanding Value

Today's post is the first of our series of informative posts on value as part of Value Added QAL. I will do my best to start us off nice and easy with the basics of understanding the value aspect of colour.

Value Added

Value simply put is the relative lightness or darkness of colour, measured by the amount of white, grey and black the colour contains.
Value can be used in many ways in your quilt design, from simply making certain pattern repeats pop to creating mind blowing optical illusions and anything in between.

Contrasting values make a pattern appear to have depth as dark colours recede from they eye first where light colours appear to remain on the foreground. When using colours with minimal value differences the pattern will appear to be a lot flatter, this can be used for example to create a blended effect.

When we look at difference in value it's usually easiest to distinguish within one colour group as colour value is always relative. To demonstrate this I picked a shade of green, lets call it 'grass green' and placed it in a box surrounded by a different shade of green.

First, next to the lighter 'bamboo green' the grass green shows up as darker in value.

But when put next to a dark 'hunter green' the grass green is lighter in value.

Easy enough right!

Most of our quilts however are made up of different colours and prints and that is where distinguishing value differences can become less obvious.

There are a few different ways to determine value. One is to squint when looking at your fabric choices. Squinting dims out the colours which makes it easier to distinguish light and dark. Remember darker colours disappear first from sight, lighter colours remain visible the longest. So when you slowly close your eyes whilst looking at your fabrics whichever one is the lightest will be the last one you'll still be able to see.

There are also monochromatic value finders on the market which are usually a piece of red plastic or glass. When placed over a fabric swatch the value finder transforms all colour into different shades of red which allows you to see the difference in value.

These tricks come in handy when deciding between two or three fabric swatches but when you are planning a quilt and pulled half your stash out for audition you will need something better than squinting and quicker than examining swatches with a value finder. This is where the camera trick will come in handy.

Start by arranging your fabrics as you think they should be light to dark and take a picture. If your camera has the option to take a black and white photo you can save yourself a step. No worries if you can't take a black and white photo it's a quick edit in any of the free photo editing sites available online. I like to use PicMonkey for quick editing jobs it's easy to use, simply upload your photo click the 'effects' tab scroll down, click 'black and white' and save to your computer.

I didn't quite get it right here but that's the point really, just arrange and rearrange until you find the right order.

Without the distraction of colour you can more clearly see the differences in light and dark. It becomes a lot easier to determine which fabrics to use next to each other in your block design to make that one shape really pop or which ones will blend nicely into the background.

Short recap:
  • Value is the relative lightness - darkness of colour.
  • Dark colour recedes from the eye first, light colour remains visible the longest
  • Distinguishing value differences is easiest within one colour group
  • Distinguishing differences in value is easiest when you dim out the colour either by squinting, using a value finder or taking a black and white photo.

Do stop by Amy at Badskirt tomorrow for her post on value leading the eye. She really knows her stuff and will take us that step further in understanding value and how to apply this to our fabric stash!

We will be talking value all week, here's a reminder of our schedule:
Wednesday 24th - Leading the Eye -with Amy @ Badskirt
Thursday 25th - Value Patterns  -with Rachel @ Stitched in Color
Friday 26th - Value Dynamics -with Jolene Blue @ Elephant Stitches

If you have any questions or thoughts you would like to add, come chat with us in our Flickr group here we'd love to hear from you!

x Leila


  1. What a great post! I'm so excited about this QAL, and that was a perfect way to start :o)

  2. Great post. Very informative.

  3. Wow, Leila, you're a great teacher! That was a very clear post which gave us a good idea what value means and how to determine value in a group of fabrics. Who knew??!!? Certainly not me, and this is a subject I'm interested in. Thanks for starting this QAL!

  4. I learned something new today. Yay. Great post.

  5. Great post, I learned some new things too, thanks. Can't wait to freak out the staff in my local fabric shop by walking through the store squinting at everything.

  6. A real informative post.... I've learned something new, thanks.

  7. Great post!! It must be something Jolene said about things that you do with out knowing why, but I have always squinted when looking at my quilt arrangement to see if I spread out the darker colours more evenly. Now I know there is method to my madness!!! Thanks!

  8. Excellent, I must admit to being a squinter!

  9. This reminds me of being in art school again! It's so good to get refresher topics like this! Thanks for such an informative post!

  10. I use my iPhone app instagram....take the photo then change to black and white. Gives you instant feedback.

  11. Thank you very much for sharing the tips!!

  12. I am really looking forward to this blog series.

  13. I am really looking forward to this blog series.

  14. I am really looking forward to this blog series.

  15. Great article! You missed out another potential way of checking the value, which is only available to some of us: take off your glasses. It turns out that there are occasional unexpected benefits to being thoroughly short-sighted, eh.


Your comments make my day :-)