Limited Palette

Margo MacDonald

Click here to get a printable .pdf copy of this article

I am a painter and tapestry artist so I have developed my palette as somewhat of a marriage of the two. Early on, I decided to work in both mediums with a restricted palette and to blend colors from those. This gives me a related family of colors in a pretty wide range. Most of the yarns I use come in a limited palette anyway so it’s a natural way for me to work. I use basically the same colors whether it’s paint or tapestry. Practice and experience are my guides. Knowing that my yarn palette is somewhat limited, I make my decisions after the image is ready.

Shimenawa for Puget Sound, 27" x 38"

I weave tapestry using two strands of Hifa Vevgarn (50% Spelsau, 50% wool) in my weft butterfly over an 8 epi cotton warp. This allows me to pick and choose whatever colors I need to make a blend. Sometimes it’s two strands of the same color, sometimes not. I will also overlap alternate rows of color (hatching) if I need a more gradual color change. Usually, the transition between colors is subtle enough that the eye doesn’t get hung up on the change.

I work both from photographs and images from other sources: drawings, collage, paintings. If I’m starting with one of the latter sources, I often use color theory to clarify my choices. Depending on what effect I want to have on the viewer, I might choose complementary colors to elicit intensity or analogous options to soothe. With the photographs, I rely on memory and the visual evidence in choosing color. I am aware in this case, however, of the impacts of the colors I select.

I list all the yarns that I plan to use, then scout through my shelves for close neighbors. I make the rest of the decisions at the loom as the piece progresses using the choices now on my table. I rarely go back to the shelf at this point. Blends happen while I’m weaving. Sometimes they work and sometimes they don’t. If that happens, I will unweave and try again.