This section is from the book "Scientific Sewing And Garment Cutting", by Antoinette Van Hoesen Wakeman. Also available from Amazon: Scientific Sewing And Garment Cutting: For Use In Schools And In The Home.
Color is an important subject. The author will only attempt to present a few facts in regard to it, which are expressly relevant to the topics treated in this manual.
Beauty in the outer world is of two kinds, harmony of form, and harmony of color. These qualities when combined enhance each other and should always be associated. A perfectly formed garment is far from beautiful if the colors are discordant. The most perfect coloring cannot render a badly proportioned garment attractive. Therefore, although the child may be able, through the system set forth in this book, to cut and make perfectly fitting clothing, if harmony of color is disregarded, her work will be seriously defective. More than this, a study of color is one of the best means for cultivating the perceptive faculties.
Starting with the three primary colors, yellow, red, and blue, the relative value of each should be explained. Yellow makes a quicker impression on the eye than either of the other primary colors. Red is the most perfect color, because it has an equal relation to light and shade. Blue is the most nearly related to shade, and is much slower in reaching the eye than either red or yellow.
The secondary colors, orange, green, and purple, are formed from the primary colors. Orange, which is particularly strong and aggressive, is formed from red and yellow, the two strongest of the primary colors. Green is formed of yellow, which is most closely allied to light, and blue, which is the nearest to shadow, of the three primary colors. It is the most neutral and the softest of the three secondary colors, and, of all decided tints, is the most agreeable to the eye. It is a demonstration of infinite wisdom that the vegetable world is clothed in green; since it counteracts the intense reflection of the sun's rays, and refreshes the eye by its soft and soothing influence. Purple is a union of blue and red, and is a rich and somber color. It was greatly valued by the Romans. A border of purple on their white garments denoted rank. Purple was Caesar's color. It was made from the Tyrian shellfish, and was really a very ugly hue as compared to the beautiful, rich purple of the present day; but a little touch of it signified so much to the Roman that he valued it highly, and the shellfish of which it was made became an important commercial commodity.
With advanced classes it is desirable to explain the solar or prismatic spectrum, and how its discovery by Sir Isaac Newton established the scientific theory of color. He made the discovery by making an opening, a third of an inch in diameter, in the window shutter of a darkened room, behind which he placed a prism so that a ray of the sun's light might enter and leave it at equal angles. In this way it was found that the ray of light was refracted in an oblong form, and was composed of seven different colors of great brilliancy, - violet, indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, and red. These colors, when imperceptibly blended together, form what is known as white light.
In arranging color harmony, the first step is to fix on some particular tone or key. If, for instance, a cool green, or gray, or blue which as we have seen is the most quiet and shadowy of the primary colors, is to prevail, the general tone of all the colors must be cool and subdued. If, on the other hand red, orange, brown, yellow, or a warm tint of green be used as the key or prevailing color, the tone of all the colors used with it must be warm. Having decided upon the scheme of color, whether brilliant or subdued, warm or cool, light or dark, let it be remembered that all the beauty of nature's coloring arises from contrast, and that there can be no pleasing combination of tints without variety. Still, the contrasts must not be violent, neither must variety include those combinations which are at variance with the general color scheme or keynote.
In arranging a variety of tints in such a way as to present a pleasing and harmonious whole, there are certain strong colors which must always be used with discretion. This is true of red, which is so positive and obtrusive that it must be very carefully managed and toned. The same is true of yellow, which is much more beautiful in small quantities than in masses. Black, which is the absence of the three primary colors, must also be used with discrimination. It can be used in large quantities only in cool and somber schemes of color. There is really nothing in the whole chromatic series of color more difficult to manage successfully than black and its contrasting hue white. In using black, it should be surrounded and mellowed by deep hues, while white should be introduced by a gradation of the lightest tints; this, in each instance, prevents a harsh and unpleasant effect. It should be borne in mind that white and black are not colors, but modifiers of color. White stands at the beginning and black at the end of the chromatic scale of colors, but neither the one nor the other is of it.
Some idea of the primary colors should be given the pupils while they are at work upon the first model. If some of the models are done in yellow, others in red, and still others in blue, it will be easy for the teacher to impress upon the children which are the primary colors. In the second model, the three secondary colors may be combined. If it is not possible to get these colors in Saxony yarn, as sometimes happens, the pupils should be taught what the primary and secondary colors are, and should bring to the classroom examples of as many of these colors as possible. Flowers should be brought in their season, that the different color mixtures in them may be studied. It is also desirable to discuss colors in the different fabrics of their clothes, and in such bits of finely colored silk or ribbon as it may be possible to show them.
To lead the children to think about color, and to be interested in its various relations of contrast and harmony as found in nature, is to put them in the way of arriving at correct conclusions. To enable the teacher to do this is all that has been attempted in this brief outline of first principles. While it would be futile, in this connection, to give the rules which govern the numerous differentiations of color, the following includes certain principles which are simple and basic. By uniting two primary colors, the nature of both is altered, and a compound color is the result. As there are but three primary colors in the scale, the two which are united form a contrast to the remaining primary color. Therefore, to reduce the intensity of a primary color, mix with it a certain portion of the color produced by the union of the other two primaries. A simple or primary color thus modified retains, to a certain extent, its nature and characteristic qualities, although subdued and modified sufficiently to render it more capable of harmony with other colors. Illustrations of the results of these combinations may be found in the feathers of birds, in the tints of the human face, eyes, and hair, and in the vegetable kingdom.