Colour confident stitching: how to create beautiful colour palettes

Barbe, Karen London,

Pimpernel Press, 2017 ISBN: 978 1 9102 5865 1 127 pages 

 If you are not confident about your ability to choose your own colours for an embroidery project, this book may help. It has been written specifically for embroiderers, although the concepts could be transferred to other art forms. As the author notes, some people (not me!) seem to have an innate talent for selecting great colour schemes. She reassures us that it is a skill which we can all learn. Karen encourages experiment and play. Playing with colours, and a great workshop I once did with Joan Osborne, has given me greater confidence.  The first part of the book guides readers through the more traditional ways of coming to grips with how colour works using various colour theory concepts – the colour wheel, schemes, values, hues and saturation. It’s always helpful to revise! Karen demonstrates how to build colour palettes using this theory. She goes into the meanings of various colours, albeit through a western cultural lens. Colour temperatures are explained, for example the warmth of orange and coolness of blue. Once again using colour theory, Karen explains how to put together colour ‘cards’. When Joan demonstrated this in her workshop, I am sure she used popsicle sticks instead of card. Use whatever works for you. Conveniently for most of us, Karen uses DMC stranded cotton to model this. Light, vivid, muted and dark colours, and how to recognise which is which is also explained. 

 The second part of the book explains how we all ‘feel’ colours. Karen outlines imaginative, interesting exercises which build confidence in developing this skill, although, in fact, we all do it subconsciously. Do you know how to ‘capture’ colours? It is an interesting concept and one new to me but the way it is explained makes it less daunting and rather fun. A checklist is provided for creating our own colour palette, this time using our individual colour sensitivity rather than colour theory. Karen has created nine different palettes to demonstrate just how it is done. 

 The last – and for me least interesting – section has five projects which demonstrate how to create colour palettes, then stitch the projects using what has been learned so far. With each project, Karen tells why the particular colours and stitches have been selected and how they relate to the design. She encourages confidence about our own colour choices, which are always personal, and related to how and what we see. There is an excellent index. 

 This book is very different to my ‘go to’ book about colour, which is Trish Burr’s ‘Colour confidence in embroidery’. For me, that will remain my ‘go to’ book but Karen Barbe’s book is certainly a useful adjunct to it, especially the second section. Adventurous embroiderers will find it a very useful reference book.

Erica Marsden