The Mystery of a Muted Palette

Everything old is new again.

Years ago, when my hair was just getting a few silvery streaks, fashion went into a grey phase so the grey jacket and shirts I wore made my look all of a piece. Living in England I’d come to terms with all things grey. The stone walls, morning mists and concrete of new buildings going up at a rate of knots conjured up a grey world getting greyer.

I began to knit more and more garments in neutral tones with small dabs of color and include grey colorways with my jewel reds and blues of my early patchwork designs. Unfortunately, my first fans were more attracted to my bright palette and couldn’t relate to me as a neutral boy, and these fabrics sold poorly.

Still, I find myself more and more drawn to a subtle, you might say English, palette, and once again am giving grey a go. And taste among quilters may have changed with the times. My latest collection of prints for the Kaffe Collective includes many driftwood tones by designer Brandon Mably, and I, myself, have colored several of Phillip Jacobs’s prints in soft greys. I love the effect of these new prints. In my recent book, “Simple Shapes, Spectacular Quilts” (STC 2010), I did a patchwork inspired by the marble floor of St. Marks Cathedral in Venice, Italy, using a similar muted palette. The fabric choices needed to have a soft contrast,
so the quilt is a mix of darks with rich medium tones and lights with a slight warming effect on the cool silveriness. This collection of neutral hues looked sharp when photographed on a gothic monument in a London cemetery.

If you look at the history of home décor you’ll find grey firmly rooted there. Think of the old Victorian wallpapers, large landscapes done in many shades of grey. What a mysterious air they lent to a room, and still do!

I can’t help noticing that fashion has, once again, entered a neutral greyish phase, with young trendsetters wearing what might have been thought of as old fogey, nonthreatening
neutrals. Let’s see if the quilt world follows suit to find beauty in subtlety.

New fabrics from the Kaffe Collective I include hues of driftwoods and greys. Shown from left: Scallops, Lacy, and Begonia Columns by Philip Jacobs (colored by Kaffe) and Shingles by Brandon Mably.

In “Metallic Frames,” Kaffe frames these grey and driftwood palette prints with muted shot cottons to create a subtly colored yet beautifully modern quilt.

Ahead of his time: One of Kaffe’s early knit designs, done in neutrals with small hints of color, hints at the current trend of subtle palettes.