Kaffe Fassett has spent a lifetime experimenting. The septuagenarian is exuberant with colour in his embroidery, knitting and fabric designs. He's known for bold florals, fruits and vegetables, and geometric shapes — in sweaters, knitted coats and needlepoint. The author of 15 books, his latest, "Kaffe Fassett Quilts: Shots and Stripes" (STC Craft, 2013), goes minimal with vibrant swaths of colour — a simplicity that's a stretch for him.
A Londoner for 40 years who was born and raised in California, Fassett eschews conventional colour rules, although he subscribes to a few intuitively.
"I left art school the minute the colour wheel came out," he muses. "I thought that was the work of the devil."
When Fassett talks about harmony and "bounce," his language is as energetic as his artwork.
"Pick up one colour and stick it next to another and see if you get a bounce from it," says the textile artist. "Colours can either dampen each other or they can light each other up. It's just fantastic to see colour that is pulsating. It's just vibrating with life. Other times, the most wonderful colour is dropping dead because it's in the company of something that's killing it."
"I want to make the colours lush," Fassett continues. "I'm after the glow all the time."
During the quilting workshops he teaches in the United States and elsewhere, including online, he recommends using myriad shades of the same colour to create depth and harmony.
"Whenever possible, you have 10 shades of something rather than just one," says Fassett, who is inspired in part by faded, antique carpets.
For example, while knitters are usually told to adhere to a single dye lot when buying multiple yarn skeins for a project, Fassett recommends working with several dye lots.
"I never had dye-lot angst," he says. "Just the opposite. I loved when a colour ran out."
Also, stick to a colour theme but make it "pop" with little surprises of a different colour. That ensures a piece won't become muddy or drab from a colour theme's overuse. For example, if you're working in warm tones of red and orange, inject a little cool blue. This works in quilting and in other artistic media, such as painting.
"It can go very mushy if you don't have enough vivid differences," says Fassett.
In quilting and other textile arts, mix up the fabric patterns — use both large and small prints — to add interest.
"The main thing is to get out your colours and keep looking at them," says Fassett. "See which ones make each other happy, and which ones overshadow and dominate the scene and make things dull. Get it to the point of glowing."