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A Study in Color: Whites

Color has been a very large part of my whole career. As an artist it is important to have a sense of what colors are composed of, how light affects them, and how best to put them together. With this new blog series, I want to explore color and how to use it in perhaps ways you hadn’t thought of before. Perhaps you will begin to think about color a bit differently, or at least experiment with it in your own creative endeavors.

I want to start off are starting off with the basic, the beginning: white. White is technically a pigment (not a color per se) and most of us know that when white is combined with any color it makes that color lighter. We can’t dye anything white, but we can manipulate hues to create different variations of the pigment. This is how we get different shades of white.

When dyeing wool, I usually start with a natural white. That is it’s straight off the sheep and not bleached. My work reflects a certain time-worn quality to it so I always do some kind of coffee or walnut wash to it even if I am looking for something pretty white to use (usually for things like snow or part of a flower). It just takes the edge off the newness of the wool. From there you can experiment with varying shades of the coffee and walnut to create the look you want. These make a white tinged with anywhere from chocolate brown ones to brown-green tones.

I also use very light versions of certain dyes to add some depth to the white. This is for pieces where I want to create some depth or shading. The key is to go easy on the dye and keep it light. You want just a hint of color, not an actual color. So at times I have made whites with just a hint of yellow or blue, depending on what I need for the piece at hand.

You can even use the lightest of colors in place of a white. Snow often looks blue, a white house can take on certain colors depending on the time of day, or some white flowers have a hint of yellow to them. It really is up to the artist to determine what feeling they are trying to invoke. How dark or light should it feel? Does it need more contrast? Or are you going for a more subtle look?

In these pieces I stitched I focused on using just whites and a few neutrals to highlight how different whites can be, and to show you how amazing they can look altogether. So when it comes to incorporating white into your piece perhaps you’ll think differently about it. Take some chances and see what works for you. Share what you make using #rebekahlsmith so I can see what you create!

To make these "study in white" projects:

The two pockets were made by folding the outer and inner fabric (cut as a rectangle or a rectangle with a rounded end) in half and hand-stitching a linen or cotton binding to pull it together. The pocket with the flap is attached by a snap. The wool appliqué designs were taken from "Sewing in the Seed Time" featured in my second book, Seasons of Wool Appliqué Folk Art.

The pears and leaves were taken from my second book, Seasons of Wool Appliqué Folk Art, featured in the project "Autumn's Abundance" and stitched on an antique linen towel.

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