Design a personal color palette

Design a personal color palette
Burdastyle 9-2010-122 in a blush ponte in my colors.

Hi all! I’m so excited to have written an article for Seamwork Magazine called Design a Personal Color Palette. It walks you through creating a color palette and using it as you plan and sew your garments. My hope is that it’ll give you some ideas regarding thinking about color as another element to make your handmade wardrobe better reflect you to the world. You can read the article here, but today I wanted to write about my own experiences with color.

I’ve always been sensitive to color. I organized all of my Crayolas fastidiously as a child in spectrum order. In 8th grade, I had a permanent hall pass so that I could go work in my art class in the mornings because, inevitably, I was always at work squinting, mixing, and remixing, and mixing again to get the perfect color. Once, my Mom bought me a bright royal blue dress and spread it out on my bed for when I got home.  Blinded by the neon intensity of the dress against my pastel comforter, I screamed, “It’s ALIVE!!!!!!!!!!!!” I felt bad that I disrespected my Mom’s well intentions, but I was glad that she never made me wear that one, too.

Color is what got me sewing clothes in the first place. Pregnant with my oldest son, I had a really hard time finding maternity clothes that weren’t in dark, heavy colors. Since everyone sincerely desires to feel oppressed and heavy in pregnancy, I started looking for another solution to my dilemma at the fabric store.  My first dress was too bright for me, but it was more cheerful, and I wore it into the ground that pregnancy.

Design a personal color palette
Butterick 5245, my first dress sewn in January 2009

I went through several color palettes in my clothes, trying to find what worked for me, but I wasn’t terribly successful on my own.  When I tried to take color classification tests, I got supremely confused by traditional tests (white vs. ivory, silver vs. gold, the color of your veins on your wrists).  For a while, I couldn’t decide if I was a warm spring, a light spring, or some sort of summer.

Design a personal color palette
this pink is pure cool, but the saturation level is closer to my own personal intensity
Design a personal color palette
This wine color is way too saturated for me, and too cool. My skin looks red and my hair looks brassy against it.

I did know that too much saturation of any given color resulted in me being swallowed up by the color.  I was glad to be sewing my own clothes, but I wasn’t super excited about anything I was making either.

One day a lady in my sewing group was talking about a woman who had done her color analysis.  I took note as she brought out this beautiful swatch deck that she carried in her purse and saw how well the colors blended with her skin and her hair and her eyes.  All of her colors, well, looked like her.  I took down the analyst’s information and decided to save up for a color analysis.

Design a personal color palette
My swatch deck

When I did go for my consultation, I learned that my coloring is slightly warm AND slightly cool–so neutral.  No wonder I had been confused by all of the self tests; I can wear white AND ivory, silver AND gold not either/or as I had been led to believe.  I also confirmed a lot of things that I had already intuitively figured out–like, I can’t at all wear red.  My “reds” actually have quite a bit of yellow mixed into them.  And black in all its forms…no, never unless I really want to look jaundiced and zombie like.  Actually, all of my colors have a certain amount of warmth in them, which is something that I also knew without being able to have words to describe what happened when I wore something too cool for me and felt sick as would periodically catch my yellowed appearance in the mirror.  Like a certain springy tie back dress I owned in college.  I liked that it was a pastel color, but the grayed lavender was too cool for me, and I always hated how I felt in it.

Design a personal color palette
sweater in my browns plus peach tee close to my skin tone

I walked away with a set of colors that blended perfectly with my own features and brought them out.  I slowly started building a set of colors in my garments working from my palette.  I was thrilled that all of my clothes started matching, and looked forward to being able to piece together outfits.  The orphan garments in my makes disappeared and my wardrobe became a lot more versatile really with little effort.

Design a personal color palette

At the time I started this 2 years ago, I was dealing with a lot of health challenges, and being able to wear colors that made me feel better mentally helped me quite a bit on the days that I couldn’t do much or go anywhere because I just felt so physically bad.

Design a personal color palette

The more I’ve worked with my colors and incorporated them into my sewing, the more I’ve come to love the process of making a garment.  I used to be overwhelmed in fabric stores by all of the choices, but now, I can easily and quickly run through a store and scan for fabrics in my color range, zeroing in on what works, and ignoring the rest.  When I haven’t been able to find anything in my colors, it’s pushed me to find unique solutions that let me use my colors.  I’d never have made jeans in non-denims without my color palette.  And I’ve had more fun using bleach, and dye, embroidery, texture, and applique to work in my colors than I think I would have just being able to find the perfect fabric at the perfect time.  I love being resourceful and making the best of what you have available to you.  Having a color palette has pushed me to the limits in this respect in the best possible way.

Have you ever had a color consultation or assembled a color palette for yourself?  Have you found it to be a helpful thing as you’ve planned your sewing projects?

Check out the current edition of Seamwork Magazine and my article, Design a Personal Color Palette!
Elizabeth Made This

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