The Value of Value
I learned just how important the value in needlepoint color can be the hard way. I had planned an elaborate sampler, featuring two color families of Persian wool (raspberry and French blue). Each block in the sampler was going to feature two different colors in many different patterns.
But as I stitched the colors which looked so lovely in skeins, looked, well, dull.
I wondered why.
The source of the problem was that I was combining two thread colors with the same value, rendering the color combination washed out.
What Is Value
Value is the amount of black or white in a color, in other words, how light or dark a particular color is. Colors that have white added to them are tints, colors with black added to them are shades and colors with gray added to them are tones (which can be light or dark).
Value has absolutely nothing to do with the actual color (red, yellow, etc.) of a thread, but only with how dark or light it is.
How to Determine Value
A simple tool artists use for determining value is a value scale. Ten shades of grey, ranging from white to black are printed on a piece of paper (usually pasted onto cardboard). Holes are punched in each shade. You put the color you want to match behind the holes until you find the one which it matches most closely — this is the thread’s shade.
Another easy possibility is to make a black and white photocopy of your thread selection, this removes the color and lets you tell the values of the threads you have chosen.
A delightful tool for checking on values is to use the Ruby Beholder from That Patchwork Place. A thick piece of red plastic, put this over two or more threads. The color “washes out” and you see only the values. If you don’t have one of these any transparent red film will work.
Value and Needlepoint Color
Almost all needlepoint color needs some contrast in value to work. Think of monochromatic Bargello, it gets its beauty from the many values of a single color. Even single color needlepoint is more interesting because of the changes in value in the piece.
Color can sometimes mask similarities in value, but a transparent red filter (like the Ruby Beholder) reveals the problem. When viewed through the red filter, colors with the same value look the same. When a needlepoint color that makes a subtle combination with another color, it might as well be single color or thread when you look at values. This could make a needlepoint using these colors seem dull.
If you have a pair of complementary colors, go for a value contrast as well. While this combination is more lively, using it in large areas or with one thread as the background and one as the accent will not look good.
Only when you use a variety of values do you get exciting needlepoint color. If a color looks dull, change it for another one with a different value.
Checking Your Needlepoint for Value
If you are stitching and find that your needlepoint looks less interesting than the threads did on their own, check the values. Maybe make a black and white photocopy. If you see too much of one value, change some of the threads to lighter or darker colors — you’ll be surprised at the difference.
I didn’t know this aspect of needlepoint color when I first noticed the problem and abandoned the project. Now I could do it right.