Changing Your Clothes

Shopping, Sewing, Upcycling, Repairing: Make the most of your clothes!


Color, Theoretically Speaking

Yes, folks, as promised, here’s a fun little color theory crash course, cleverly disguised as a book review of sorts. What book, you ask? Why, it’s “Color”, by Betty Edwards (the acclaimed author of “The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain”). Okay, this seems like a pretty generic title for such a massive subject, so it’s subtitled “A Course in Mastering the Art of Mixing Colors”. Yes. That’s so much better.

Color by Betty Edwards

“Color” by Betty Edwards. Yes, the subtitle suggests that this book is geared towards art students, but stay with me— it does connect to your clothes! Click on the picture to see this book on

To back up for just a minute, last month, I started hand-dyeing and painting yarns for the first time, which I started writing about in this recent post (lots more to come on that in future posts). And a funny thing happened almost immediately: I realized how little I actually know about color! Sure, I’ve been producing a line of color-sequencing yarns* based on my own color concepts for over 10 years, and focusing on color-palette creation more recently, but when it came to actually mixing dyes in an attempt to create unique colors, it took me maybe 5 minutes to figure out that I needed more information. That’s when I found this book.

“Color” is written primarily for artists, yes, so most of the exercises are relative to painting. However, there is so much information about color itself that I found the book not only incredibly helpful in terms of basic color theory, but that it also greatly increases my awareness of, and appreciation for, the use of color in actual artwork. But for purposes of this post, I’m focusing on the color theory. I hope you’ll find it as beneficial as I have!

I did promise this would be a crash course, not a treatise, so I’ll make this as brief as possible, starting with a classic color wheel:

Color wheel

Color wheel. Isn’t it pretty? Courtesy of Click the wheel to see it on their website.

You’re most likely already familiar with the color concepts presented on the wheel: Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary colors. Personally, I thought I had a handle on this, but some specific details gave me new insights. For example, I was aware that each secondary color (green, orange, violet) is a combination of 2 of the 3 primary colors (red, blue, yellow), but I didn’t know that the tertiary colors  (the hyphenated ones) are each a combination of a primary and a secondary color. And for dye-mixing purposes, believe me, this is quite a revelation, as you’ll see.

Tip: When I was just looking around for a good color wheel image, I was startled (and somewhat confused) by the enormous range of wheel styles. My advice is to stick with the basic 12-color wheel; it’s really all you need.

Now that we’ve absorbed the color wheel concepts, let’s move on to the 3 main attributes of a given color: hue, value, and intensity.

Just for fun, let’s use Pantone’s 2014 Color of the Year, Radiant Orchid, as our example:

Radiant Orchid

Radiant Orchid. Can you name its hue, value, and intensity? (I couldn’t, before reading Betty’s book.) Click on the picture to find this fab flash drive at Pantone.

  1. Hue refers to the color family your color belongs to; to determine this, find the color on the wheel that you think is closest to Radiant Orchid. I’m thinking Red-Violet.
  2. Value refers to the relative lightness or darkness of a color: white is at one end of this scale, black at the other. Radiant Orchid looks like it’s slightly on the medium-dark side.
  3. Intensity (also known as saturation or brightness) refers to a scale that goes from bright to dull. A fluorescent color, for example, would definitely be at the bright end, while a smoky shade would be closer to the dull end. Our Radiant Orchid looks like it belongs on the brighter (but not brightest) end.

Tip: If you have worked in Photoshop or another photo-editing application, you’re probably familiar with the term “desaturation”; if an image is completely desaturated, there’s no color at all— it’s greyscale. So you can think of colors on the dull end of the intensity scale as having grey added to them, replacing color. In dyeing, as with mixing paints, adding a bit of the complementary color—the one exactly opposite on the color wheel—also dulls the intensity, but without changing the original hue.

So Radiant Orchid can also be described as medium-dark, medium-bright red-violet. Ta-dah!

Okay. I realize this is still just theory. How does it apply to my dyeing projects? Well, since I’m determined to mix my own colors from primary dye colors (as opposed to using pre-mixed “fashion” colors), this is of tremendous help to me in planning which primaries to mix together. For Radiant Orchid, I’ll no doubt have to experiment to get an exact match, but I’d say that starting with red and blue, with a higher proportion of red (to make the hue red-violet), in a solution that’s not very diluted (so the value stays medium-dark), and possibly with a touch of yellow-green (red-violet’s complement) to slightly dull the intensity.

And what about dyeing your clothes? Well, assuming you’re starting with something other than a pure white garment, technically what you’ll be doing is over-dyeing, that is, adding color to an existing color, as I did with my jeans in one of my early dyeing projects on CYC. So if you’re starting with light-blue denim, which is already on the dull side of the intensity scale, you may want to dye it with a bright shade, which will take on some of the qualities of the original denim color (fiber dyes are essentially transparent); if you used, for instance, a bright shade of green dye, your results will most likely be an interesting blue-green hybrid, but your jeans will probably not be as bright as the dye color itself.

Honestly, now that I’ve learned about color hue, value, and intensity, I feel so much better prepared for my dyeing experiments; instead of just throwing colors together and waiting to see what happens, I have a solid basis with which to predict the results. This (I assume) will not only save me time (less experimenting), but also money, for the dyes and the undyed yarns I’m starting with.

I’ll leave you with this liberating thought: you don’t have to ever dye anything to apply these basic color theory principles to your wardrobe! Simply going into your closet and really looking at the colors that have collected there will give you new insights into the colors you prefer. Dark, light, bright, smoky, neutral, happy? Try to think of words that sum up your colors— then remember them when you’re shopping, dyeing, or otherwise changing your clothes.

*You can find my color-sequencing yarns in the Scraplet Skeins section of my Knittique Etsy shop. (Be sure to look at the color cards to see the entire color sequences in each skein.) And while you’re there, take a look my first hand-painted skeins, in the New! Hand-painted Yarns section.

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Stay On Top of Spring 2014 Fashion

So funny, but also a great idea– I know I tend to put the same pieces together, rather than mixing them in new ways. Wardrobe Bingo should help us get out of any fashion ruts we may have inadvertently wandered into!

What We Wear

A revised version of bingo helps you plan your outfits!

Transitioning to a new season is always tough, especially for people who live and breathe fashion. New seasons mean new trends to keep up with, new items of clothing to invest in, and new outfits to plan; It can get pretty overwhelming. Luckily, has come up with a little game of Wardrobe Bingo to help with all that hard work.

It might seem like bingo has no place in the fashion world, being the drab, boring game that senior citizens play in stuffy bingo halls, but the game seems to have sprouted a sense of fashion in recent years. Not only have the most fashionable people of the world started to take up the game (case in point Kate Moss and Catherine Zeta-Jones, unashamed lovers of bingo), but the game itself has started blooming into a colorful experience.



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Resolution 2014: My New Dye-It Regime

After my unplanned and extended blogging sabbatical, I’m back (!), with a fabulous new project: Dyeing! Yes, you’re right, I’ve written about dyeing my jeans, among other things, but at the risk of using Famous Last Words… this time it’s different.

Aside: Ironically, following my last post (In Re-Covery: The Great Pillow Makeover!), I spent the next several weeks slowly recovering from a serious illness. For a while, I couldn’t even read, let alone write, but when I could, I started studying about the dyeing process, which progressed rapidly into actual experiments, to the extent that I now resemble not so much a color enthusiast as a mad scientist. Think Pantone inadvertently wanders into Dr. Frankenstein’s laboratory. End of aside.

Hand-painted skeins

Two of my recently-produced skeins, hand-painted at the same time, with exactly the same colors and heat-processing. The one in front is 100% nylon, and the larger one in back is a mohair/wool/nylon blend*. You can immediately see how differently the fibers absorb the dye; the shininess of the smaller skein also affects the way the colors are perceived, versus the softer, slightly matte effect of the mohair blend. Is it any wonder that I’m so fascinated? (Click on the photo to see these skeins, and lots more, in my Etsy shop.)

How, you ask, is it different? Primarily because now, instead of simply dumping a box of dye into the sink and throwing my hapless jeans into it along with a cavalier, come-what-may attitude, I’ve actually taken some time to learn about the dyeing process. (Great concept, right?) And I think it’s about time I pass what I’m learning on to you, particularly because, as long as I’ve worked with fibers, fabrics, yarns, and colors, most of what I will be sharing with you here is, quite surprisingly, new information to me.

Going back to the beginning of my learning process (less than 4 weeks ago!), the first revelation was about the different types of dyes, and what each type is used for, thus:

  1. Acid dyes
  2. Fiber-reactive dyes
  3. Natural dyes
  4. Union dyes

Note: There are other dye types out there, such as a specialized formula that’s used for leather and other skins, but for now, I’m just going to focus on these 4, since they’re the most widely available for the casual user, and also the most commonly used for fibers, fabrics, clothing, and accessories.

Here are brief summaries what I’ve learned about these four dye types:

  1. Acid dyes. Contrary to what this term conjures up (nightmare visions of caustic chemicals burning skin off my hands, but maybe that’s just me), these dyes do not actually contain acid; acid, usually in the form of either vinegar or citric acid, is added during the dyeing process, which causes the pigment (color) to bond with the fiber. (Also contrary to the implied harshness: when I’ve tested my dye mixtures with pH test strips, I’ve found that they are not any more acidic than your average vinaigrette. Which we eat.) Acid dyes are used to dye protein fibers (animal fibers: wool, alpaca, silk, mohair, angora, camel hair, etc.) and somewhat surprisingly, nylon.
  2. Fiber-reactive dyes. Unlike acid dyes, these dyes require alkalinity to bond pigment to fiber; soda ash is commonly added to the dye bath to accomplish this part of the process. Fiber-reactive dyes are used for plant-based fibers (cotton, linen, rayon, bamboo, etc.).
  3. Natural dyes. Despite the rather benign association we have with the word “natural”, what I’ve read about using natural dyes is that, while the material used for the color (flowers, roots, etc.) may not be harmful in itself, the dyeing process requires use of mordants, which are the fixatives that bond the color to the fiber— and many commonly-used mordants have been taken off the market because of unacceptable toxicity levels. Natural dyes can be used with a wide variety of animal-based and plant-based fibers; the mordants required will vary depending on the fiber.
  4. Union dyes. Rit dyes, along with others commonly found in craft stores these days, are usually union dyes; the term refers to the dye formula containing both acid and fiber-reactive pigments, so you can successfully dye either animal-based or plant-based fibers (or both at the same time); however, if you’re dyeing, say, cotton jeans, the fiber-reactive part of a union dye is the only part that will bond with the cotton fiber, leaving a lot of leftover dye.

Please understand that I’m not trying to encourage or discourage using any of the above types of dyes; I’m simply pointing out that, in order to make an informed decision about what type is appropriate, it’s good to know not only the uses for each, but also the advantages and disadvantages of each. I could probably fill a year’s worth of blog posts just exploring these areas in more depth, relative to all of these four dye types, but for now, I’m going to concentrate on acid dyes***, since that’s what I’ve been using up to this point.

Next time, I’ll plunge into the exciting world o’ color, with maybe a little basic color theory, more about the acid-dye process, and a lot of pretty pictures. Oh, speaking of which, here’s a look at the results of my very first day of dyeing, including lots of mini-skeins, and a few full-size ones:

My first color tests!

My first color tests! I’m so glad I decided to start with Superwash wool** mini-skeins (10 yards each) to test the dye colors, including with various levels of dilution. And yes, that is my bathtub. (The full-size skeins, all 100% wool, are now available in my Etsy shop. The red color is called Cardinal; the blue-green ones are Pacific. Click on the photo to see them, along with lots more!)

Coming up on CYC: Because this has become an ongoing research project, you can expect many more posts on the general topic of dyeing here at Changing Your Clothes (and you can also find these posts and much more on my color-centric blog, a Musing). I do think this subject is relevant to CYC, since dyeing is one of the simplest ways to change your clothes. And it certainly can’t hurt to learn more about how your clothes (and the yarns, fabrics, etc., thereof) are produced.

Also, I think I should tell you that the aforementioned future CYC dyeing-related posts will most likely be heavy on the puns. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

*This lovely mohair/wool/nylon yarn is available (undyed) at Dharma Trading Company. (The link will take you to the listings of all their undyed yarns; this mohair is Yarn #6 Toaga. As of 2/13/14, it says it is temporarily sold out.)

**The Superwash wool yarn I’m using for my mini-skeins is also available (undyed) at Dharma Trading Company. (The link will take you to the listings of all their undyed yarns; this wool is Yarn #39 Kona Worsted.)

***The acid dyes I’m using are also from Dharma Trading Company, their own brand of dyes; their extensive selection also includes other brands. (The link will take you to the page for Dharma’s acid dyes.)