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Color Play: Expanded & Updated • Over 100 New Quilts • Transparency, Luminosity, Depth & More

Color Play: Expanded & Updated • Over 100 New Quilts • Transparency, Luminosity, Depth & More

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Color Play: Expanded & Updated • Over 100 New Quilts • Transparency, Luminosity, Depth & More

442 pages
1 hour
Aug 1, 2014


Joen Wolfrom's classic guide to creating with color has been completely updated to make it even easier to enhance your creative work with the beauty of well-chosen colors. Joen covers it all, from color combining basics to how to use nature's tricks to create an illusion of depth, reflections, shadows, and highlights. Learn the emotional and physical effects of colors and much more—all richly illustrated with photos of nature and of 100 beautiful quilts. This must-have reference shows tints, shades, and tones for all 24 colors in the Ives Color Wheel, plus five different color schemes for each color.
Aug 1, 2014

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Color Play - Joen Wolfrom



This book is dedicated to

JOSEPH, who loves orange fully and without hesitation;

FRANKIE, who thinks pink is the only color in the world;

MICAH, who loves the warm sky blues that match his eyes;


JACK, who loves all greens and wears them with panache.


Many thanks go to all who have contributed to the making of Color Play, Second Edition. Special thanks goes to my editor, Liz Aneloski, whose many attributes include patience and foresight. I would not have written this book without Liz. Also, I am indebted to the many hands and minds at C&T who have been committed to making this a beautiful book in all ways. Thanks to you all. I love your enthusiasm, your care, and your individual talents.

Also, I am so grateful to be part of a sharing community of talented artists/quilters who have so willingly offered to have their work in this book. Their sharing allows me to use wonderful artwork to illustrate the many concepts discussed in this book. Thank you! I am both indebted to you and in awe of your talents:

B. J. Adams

Ludmila Aristova

Mai-Britt Axelsen

Joanne Baeth

Linda Beach

Pam Berry

Lies Bos-Varkevisser

Elizabeth (Liz) Broussard

Reta Budd

Melinda Bula

Betty Busby

Lenore Crawford

Linda Crouch-McCreadie

Joan Dyer

Chris Eichner

Ronna Erickson

Caryl Bryer Fallert-Gentry

Ann Feitelson

Kay D. Haerland

Kris Hall

Robin M. Haller

Gloria Hansen

Mary Hoover

Lin Hsin-Chen

Larisa Krantz Key

Karen Kielmeyer

Rita Young Kilstrom

Terry Kramzar

Sue Krause

Liz Kuny

Ellin Larimer

Gloria Loughman

Nancy Sterett Martin

Kim McLean

Kathy McNeil

Elaine Meyers

Sue Michalka

Thelma Moyer

Cat Nix

Barbara Persing

Christine Porter

Judith Reilly

Jane Rixon

Ann Sanderson

Lin Schiffner

Norma Schlager

Stacey Sharman

Karen Sistek

Val Smith

Shelley Swanland

Timna Tarr

Judy Mercer Tescher

Kate Themel

Annette Valtl

Molly Waddell

Rachel Wetzler

Kent Williams

Pamela Zave

To you—I thank you for your continued support of my color-related endeavors. It’s been an amazing experience for me. Many thanks for choosing Color Play, Second Edition to guide you in your personal color quest. Enjoy learning, experimenting, and creating. Happy coloring!


Silk Indian Orange Peel, Stacey Sharman, 63˝ × 63˝, 2008, Berkeley, California

Stacey created her exquisite orange peel quilt from a wide array of tie silks. You can see a wonderful play of light with value changes throughout this quilt. Stacy’s design is filled with the illusion of transparency, as one circle appears to overlap another. Foundation paper–pieced, this quilt uses a pattern from the book Karen K. Stone Quilts by Karen K. Stone.

More Than a Memory, Kathy McNeil, 62˝ × 52˝, 2012, Tulalip, Washington

Although fall is in the air, most of the colors in this beautiful scene are from the tone scale, as they reflect what often surrounds us in nature. Using this scale softens the hues and works well with both a realistic scene and a memory. The interspersed shaded hues are rich and dark. In the background is a hint of the sun’s light flowing through. Its luminous glow is made from slightly toned hues that are more pure than the colors that surround it. Kathy’s beautiful mixture of fabrics for the featured tree’s trunk is wonderful.

Cosmic Feathers #1, Caryl Bryer Fallert, 30˝ × 30˝, 2013, Paducah, Kentucky/Port Townsend, Washington

Caryl, a renowned colorist, sets into motion a swirl of harmonious colors in this design. Our eyes are attracted first to the strongly colored hues that have the least amount of grayness in their coloring. These hues move our eyes in a curving motion throughout the design. The softest, most toned colors recede as the strongest, clearest colors advance toward us. Caryl uses a wide range of analogous colors in Cosmic Feathers #1.

Waiting Out Winter, Linda Beach, 47˝ × 47˝, 2011, Estes Park, Colorado

Linda visually paints a picture in fabric of the quiet tones that evoke wintry memories of snow-drifted landscapes. Amid the winter scene is an eloquent tree that refuses to be part of the muted winter. It’s dressed in colorful hues from trunk to branch tips. Although bright, they are still part of the tone scale—but subtly toned. The contrast between the spirited tree and the wintry elements is superb.

Mass Maples, Timna Tarr, 74˝ × 80˝, 2013, South Hadley, Massachusetts

Timna has presented us with a mass of maple leaves in celebration of Massachusetts’s glorious fall season. The interplay of leaves and background make this an amazing quilt. Many beautiful shades with their rich, dark hues attract our attention in this predominantly tone-scale design. Timna creates subtle luster through her use of value. Color temperature enhances the illusion of depth and creates a sense of movement.

The Bells of Moscow, Ludmila Aristova, 11˝ × 11˝, 2012, Brooklyn, New York

Evocative and symbolic with its blend of colors and shapes, The Bells of Moscow brings us a poignant vision of Moscow with its ancient Russian architecture, including beautiful white marble buildings and churches adorned with blue or gold onion-shaped domes topped with symbolic stars. This scene is created almost exclusively in the tone scale. By using blues with more purity in their coloring than the rest of the scene, Ludmila focuses on the set of five blue domes. Because of this coloring, our eyes move directly to these beautiful domes. Ludmila has made the other architectural features take on lesser roles by using colorings that are more toned than the blues.

Bygone Days, Reta Budd, 23˝ × 18˝, 2002, Beachville, Ontario, Canada

Bygone Days creates a nostalgic mood with its beautiful toned hues. The tree that catches our eyes has the least amount of grayness in its coloring. Thus it comes forward visually. The sky has only a hint of blue in its makeup. The reds in this scene do not catch our attention, as their visual strength has been diluted with versions of red tones and shades. Depth is created primarily through overlapping. Reta’s use of fabric and her attention to detail make this a remarkable work of art.

Leaving, Ann Feitelson, 74˝ × 43˝, 2009, Montague, Massachusetts

This mourning quilt, made by Ann in her mother’s memory, is filled with beauty and emotion. The change of values, moving from light to dark, is evocative. Ann uses a split-complementary color plan with a beautiful range of greens enriching its complementary purples. The purple’s range extends slightly to colors on each side of it: red-violet and fuchsia. The brightest greens and clearest lavenders enhance the beauty of this quilt.

Sunrise, Ludmila Aristova, 14˝ × 14˝, 2006, Brooklyn, New York

With innovative sewing techniques and superb fabric selection, Ludmila created a great New York City landscape. She used overlapping to create the illusion of depth. The buildings are made in a wide value range with a variety of toned fabrics. The hues in the uplifting sky are particularly beautiful with the tan, beige, and brown buildings.

Light-Emitting Fabrics, Kent Williams, 59˝ × 82˝, 2008, Madison, Wisconsin

Light-Emitting Fabrics is a stellar example of the versatility and power of value in a design. Kent used high, medium, and low values in a variety of colors to create wonderfully lustrous columns. Each column enhances our interest, as it varies slightly from the others in color and value. The darkest hues appear as shadows, while the lightest ones appear to be emitted light.

Catena, Timna Tarr, 67˝ × 62˝, 2011, South Hadley, Massachusetts

Gathering a wide variety of fabrics in a full range of values, Timna created an innovative twenty-first-century design using a historical, traditional quilt block. Through careful fabric placement and good value change, she incorporated the illusions of luminosity, transparency, and depth into her design.

Natural Wonders, Kathy McNeil, 60˝ × 63˝, 2010, Tulalip, Washington

Natural Wonders is a breathtaking seascape that draws us into its captivating scene. The colors of the water are tantalizingly true. Looking through the stone waterway to the mountain beyond is so beautifully done with atmospheric perspective. The illusion of depth for everything else is created primarily through overlapping. The large stones create amazing depth through overlapping. Vegetation and objects nestled here and there look realistically placed. Kathy’s attention to nature’s use of color, value, and texture makes this scene stunningly realistic.

Mariner’s Compass, Linda Crouch-McCreadie, 68˝ × 68˝, 2012, Jonesborough, Tennessee

Mariner’s Compass pairs the high contrasts of black and white with light-, medium-, and dark-value colors to create a dramatic impact. The batik star points that extend past and into the concentric circles promote the illusion of depth as shapes overlap. Judy Niemeyer of Quiltworx designed this dynamic foundation-pieced pattern.

Teapot, Kate Themel, 17˝ × 36˝, 2008, Cheshire, Connecticut

Created in a primary triadic color plan, Teapot is filled with wonderful illusions. The teapot’s warm hues separate it from its multicolored background. The teapot’s highlights and shadows hint of light falling onto the scene. Even the steam appears real, as it mistily flows above the teapot.


Color is magical. It offers the power to communicate visually. It can create a sense of drama or peacefulness. It can evoke feelings of happiness, excitement, fragility, calmness—almost anything. Knowing how color works gives you the ability to create beautiful, imaginative designs with the colors you love.

Color Play, Second Edition is filled with color information, ideas, and visual enticements to help you create the designs you envision. In addition, it includes clues on how to create nature’s most captivating color illusions, such as depth, luminosity, luster, transparency, highlights, shadows, and reflections. This book has been completely rewritten and reorganized to make it a workable, handy reference. Here is a list of the most important items you will find in this book:


Historical facts and essential need-to-know basic color information


The five most beautiful color plans and their important color partners


The inner workings of value and different value-play strategies


The most important traits, characteristics, emotional reactions, and physical effects of each of the major color families


A color reference for each of the 24 colors and their natural color partners


The how-to steps to create depth, luminosity, luster, transparency, highlights, shadows, reflections, and other important landscape illusions

Springtime in the Valley, Joen Wolfrom, 192˝ × 54˝, 1986, Fox Island, Washington

Dawn starts with the luminous glow from the sun before it peeks over the Cascade Mountains in Springtime in the Valley. The luminosity is created using clear, soft, buttery yellow hues that have been surrounded by toned apricots in the sky and powdered blue hues in the mountain range. Atmospheric perspective creates the illusion of depth.

Solving the Mysteries of Color

Living nearly three centuries apart, two geniuses made discoveries that give us a color foundation that affects every facet of color theory. First, Sir Isaac Newton discovered that he could curve the rainbow’s prismatic colors into a circle to make the colors flow from one to another unendingly. Then, Herbert Ives discovered that a small group of colors could be blended to create

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