One Sunday after church, when I was a child, my family was invited to dinner at Rokeby, a guesthouse run by Methodist missionaries near my school in India. They served a trifle for dessert. When I curled up my nose, another guest urged me to try it. It might become your favorite dessert, he said. Not an adventurous eater at age ten, I was skeptical of the texture. No, thank you, I said (as politely as I could) and silently wished for a slice of plain cake.
I’ve thought about this man’s urging many times over the years, although I suspect I was annoyed at him at the time. He wasn’t telling me I had to eat a whole serving. A bite would have been sufficient.
What I didn’t understand at the time, was that he was encouraging me to be open to surprise.
His words come back to me as I find myself unexpectedly experimenting with the color orange.
Shortly after writing that I tend to avoid bright orange in my weaving, I had a request for some orange towels. My customer Sally chose that very same bright color I’d dismissed. And not as an accent color. Almost half the warp and weft threads were to be bright orange.
Over the years I’ve befriended pumpkin and rust, but this in-your-face road-construction orange was definitely not in my comfort zone. With its bright look-at-me qualities, I wasn’t sure how to integrate it with other colors to create a pleasing design. To have it blend with other hues or to take advantage of the brightness.
I was nervous as I made the warp of bright orange, orange-yellow and some brick-red accents.
For me, the warp is a bigger commitment than the weft. With the weft, I can have a playful “what if” attitude and weave a couple of inches in a sample at the beginning of a new project. If I like the results, I can weave a towel or napkin with that color. If I don’t, it’s no big deal.
The warp is a different story. It takes a lot of time to set up the loom, so I make the warp as long as possible. These vertical threads become a framework. While it’s possible to change these threads – and I’ve created more than a few messes doing just that – I want to have a certain degree of confidence that my design will work.
Just as I said no thanks to the trifle at Rokeby, I could have told Sally No, thanks. I don’t do bright orange. But I enjoy weaving custom orders and welcome the opportunity to lean into someone else’s color choices, even if they make me nervous.
I took a deep breath and started winding the warp.
Wow, I thought as I took the sample from the dryer and examined it, I rather like these colors. I quickly got to work weaving.
Intrigued by this orange-red combination, I wove more and included it in the sample for that project. I liked the results so much that I not only wove three towels with the orange, but they became my favorite towels. I even kept one. When I see it hanging on the oven door, it exudes warmth and is a lovely reminder of this unexpected discovery.
Bright orange has not become my favorite color, but it has been creeping into my towels and napkins – an accent stripe in a blue-green Siesta towel; one of five colors in the Fiesta towels and napkins; a combination of oranges for the Daylily collection.
I’ve moved beyond the rudimentary understanding that yellow + red = orange and it’s a secondary color that sits opposite blue on the color wheel. I’m discovering what combinations I do and don’t like, how the orange interacts with other colors, when it feels too bright, and when that brightness is exactly what I want.
I’m grateful to Sally for pushing me out of my comfort zone. Without her request, the bright orange likely would remain an untouched tube of cotton on my shelf. Instead it’s become a new color in my palette.
Next on the list – fuchsia. And trifle.
My invitation to you: I’d love to hear about a time you tried something outside your comfort zone and been pleasantly surprised.
Photo credit: Lynne Graves
P.S. This weekend — November 12 & 13 — I’ll be a guest at the Arts & Industry Open Studios in Florence and would love to see you there.