Christmas and Complimentary Colors

Marcy Petrini


Since the day after Thanksgiving, our neighborhood has started to twinkle with Christmas lights and decorations. I love lights of any kind, but my favorite Christmas embellishments are textiles. I made several over time, and every time I weave with red and green I have to remember that they are complimentary colors: some kind of “trick” has to be used so they don’t dull each other (sometimes you read that they grey out, but to my eyes is more brown than grey).

If you look at printed textiles for Christmas using true red and green – or any other true complimentary color pair – you notice that the colors don’t become muddied. That’s because in printing, there are relatively large areas of each color. The muddying of the complimentary colors occurs when there is mixing, as in warp and weft interactions. To avoid dull combinations, I like to use one or more of three techniques that I have found work well: 1) change the intensity or saturation of one of the complimentary colors; 2) use a tertiary color as a substitute for one of primaries; 3) add a third color.

For the first technique, we can use a tone (adding black) or a shade (adding grey) of one of the two complimentary colors, for example, a dark green with true red, or a dark red with true green. A tint can be used just as effectively, that is, a lighter color obtained by adding white, for example pink instead of red with true green. Better yet, use a mixture of all of them. The piece below, a plaited twill for a Christmas tree skirt, uses a variety of greens for the warp.


This fabric also uses the second method, substituting the tertiary of one of the two complimentary colors; for red, the tertiary is red-orange, obtained by mixing the primary red with the secondary orange (which in turn is obtained by mixing two primaries: red and yellow give us orange). The weft of the tree skirt is red-orange.

The fabric below shows the third method. To the red and green I added silver, which has the benefit of having some sparkle. This undulating twill was used for a Christmas wreath sash, using a red warp, and a weft of green with a silver thread.


Now take the complimentary blue and orange and see what you can do to make them sparkle!


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