Most of us don’t really think about color, or what color is or how it’s made, and yet our entire day is filled with too many shades to count or record. In Victoria Finlay’s 2002 book, Color: A Natural History of the Palette, she writes, “the first challenge in writing about colors is that they don’t really exist. Or rather they do exist, but only because our minds create them as an interpretation of vibrations that are happening around us.”

This leaves quite a bit of objective opinion about color, much of it based on what we are physiologically able to absorb and interpret. The human eye perceives color in different ways, often depending on how light affects the color we are observing. We’ve all witnessed the changing shades of green in the trees or greys and reds on the buildings around us from dawn to dusk as the temperature and quality of light shifts throughout the day. Each person sees color in different ways, notices subtle differences, and has a biased personal interpretation of color. Isn’t one of the first things we learn to answer about ourselves as children, what’s your favorite color?


As we get older, and if we are lucky enough to have any sort of art history training in school, we learn that colors carry meaning and those meanings are largely culture based. In Michelangelo’s 16th Century Italy, ultramarine blue was reserved for the Virgin Mary’s robe. Three centuries later, Picasso painted through a Blue Period, a series of mostly monochromatic paintings in blue hues, beautiful and elegant, but also a bit somber. Today, the color blue is the most frequently chosen hue for use in corporate business logos, as it represents loyalty, trust, and understanding (like the classic blue business suit). Modern Americans also commonly associate blue with depression and sadness, or deeply soulful music born in the Mississippi Delta. At Alabama Chanin, we’ve favored Indigo, a rich shade of blue manufactured by hand, in many of our designs and natural dye fabrics.

There are so many great books on color, covering topics of color theory in design and art to the making of pigments and historical significance of specific colors. A few favorites that come to mind: Amy Butler Greenfield’s A Perfect Red: Empire, Espionage, and the Quest for the Color of Desire, The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques by Ralph Mayer, Blue, The History of a Color by Michel Pastoureau, Interaction of Color by Josef Albers (the highly influential Bauhaus color theorist and teacher), The Elements of Color by Johannes Itten, and the Pantone Solid Chips tome of Pantone colors, which we use in the studio for reference when developing new fabric dyes.

Studies suggesting color has an influence over the way we feel tell us that red increases physical energy and green represents life and newness. Color can serve as a symbol of communication, specifically in website design and branding projects, or in one’s personal life, as Julia Robert’s character, Shelby Eatenton Latcherie, in Steel Magnolias drawls, “pink is my signature color.”


We will be thinking about color first this week as we post about new products, a DIY, and, yes, food.


4 comments on “COLOR

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  1. Laura

    Yes, as you say, if you don’t have training in art, you probably don’t think much about color. I remember when I studied interior design (for one year) a color theory professor told me that my color samples were much too saturated to be used to paint walls, and that I had ruined my group’s project. He also told me I would perhaps be better off in the fine arts department, which is where I went! I guess I like color too much.

    Pastoureau’s book on the color blue is one of my favorites. He has also written other books on color: Black, The History of a Color, The Colors of Our Memories, along with some others whose English titles I don’t know.

  2. Lisa P.

    I love that book by Victoria Finlay! I recommend to so many people. Color is so fascinating. Can’t wait to read more of your thoughts on it. After moving to the north for college and then staying, I discovered that I needed color to get through the winter, and now I find it makes me very happy to wear colorful outfits.

  3. Kennedy

    May I recommend a useful book on color, ColorWorks by Deb Menz, subtitled the Crafters Guide to Color. Each of her lessons on color are illustrated by samples of embroidery, beadwork, paper collage, and fabric surface design. This book has helped me a lot. I have made several Alabama Chanin patterns up and have never been quite pleased with the results and decided it was my lack of color skills that was failing me. The color combinations from Alabam Chanin are subtle, beautiful and effective. They are not easy to duplicate! There are many color options — surface fabric, second layer fabric, fabric paint color, embroidery thread color, and bead color. Getting them to all work together takes a real eye for color. I am holding off on making more garments while I absorb the lessons in Deb’s book and practice on smaller projects. Playing with color is great fun and I am seeing that it is a skill that can be learned.