I’ve had a lot of questions lately about color choices for hand embroidery, specifically when it comes to working designs like the Spring Variety designs in the ready-to-stitch towel set we looked at a couple weeks ago. (Incidentally, those and several other design sets on the ready-to-stitch towels are back in stock right now, if you’ve been waiting.)
Basically, the questions all boil down to this notion: how do I know what color to stitch where on an embroidery design?
This can apply to any embroidery design – we all face that color-making decision every time we stitch, if we’re not following someone else’s pre-determined color scheme.
And while this may seem like a very basic question, it’s a very good question. But it’s difficult to answer because there’s no set formula, despite theories of color, color wheels, design advice, and so forth.
Let’s chat about it a bit…
Above, you can see some typical “spring” colors that I usually lean towards when I’m looking for spring-ish colors for casual embroidery projects.
I love the combination of green, purples, and yellows. To me, they speak of spring. I see them as bright and happy.
And the colors above are also a go-to palette when I’m thinking “spring” – especially the bright pinks, greens, and yellows.
Maybe I want to heat the color selection up a bit. I’ll throw in some reds, corals, oranges, and orangey-yellows.
If I’m in the mood for them, I’ll pull in some blues. And – oh yes! – if it’s a garden-type scene, I’ll throw in browns and tans, and maybe some darker and duller greens to give some variety.
Pick What You Like
What it all boils down to, though, is that I pick the colors I like.
And that’s what you should do, too. Pick colors you like… because if you don’t, when you’re stitching, you’re not going to have nearly as much fun! In fact, if you pick colors you generally don’t like, you might even have a hard time carrying through and finishing your embroidery.
When it comes to combinations of colors in any given design, if it’s a garden-related scene (which is what prompted these questions), then pretty much anything goes! What colors do you not see in nature, after all?
And unless you intend to recreate an accurate image of a scene in nature, you don’t have to abide by specific colors for specific things: that butterfly does not have to be the living image of a blue swallowtail; those hollyhocks don’t have to be the natural color of hollyhocks (if you don’t want them to be); and that purple thing? Is it a dandelion puff? Why is it purple? Well, why not – if you want it to be purple!
This is where little kids have it easy! They naturally tend to pick colors they like when they are coloring, drawing, or crafting. Usually, children only pick colors they don’t like when their emotional state is off-kilter – they are either sad, angry, or maybe just being contrary. But if they’re happily crafting to please themselves and they aren’t being over-directed, generally the colors children pick are colors that they like – and there’s no hesitation in picking them, even if it means coloring the princess’s face blue.
The older we get, the more constrained we are (understandably) by our own experiences and even by convention. Still, to have that real joy with your stitching, make sure you pick colors that you like.
Right now, some of us might be stitching with limited palettes due to a lack of thread and the inability to get out and get some more. You might not have a wide range of colors and shades on hand – so here’s a little trick!
Whenever you’re working with two or three strands of floss in the needle at once (which is what I recommend for the stitching on the towel sets), you can combine more than one color of thread in your needle, to increase your color palette and to add a bit of color depth and variety to the finished design.
In the photo above, for example, mixing a brown and green together reduces the vivacity of the green and adds a woodsy look to the embroidered element.
If you only have a dark shade and a light shade of color, but you want a medium shade in that color, combine a strand of dark and light in the needle and you’ll get a lighter version of the dark (or a darker version of the light, depending on how you want to look at it).
It Also Depends…
The freedom of color choice also depends a lot on the type of embroidery you’re doing and the purpose of the finished embroidery.
If you’re embroidering as a commission, or if you’re stitching something for display, or if you’re creating a piece for a special heirloom gift, you mostly likely would be more circumspect in choosing colors.
My rule of thumb is that, the more “casual” the embroidery, the more I can mess around with color to please myself. And that’s probably why I like the ready-to-stitch towels so much!
And on that note, I have a slew of stitching to do today, so I can show you some finishes next week!
I hope you have a colorful weekend, and that you’re finding joy and relaxation with your needle and thread!