Color is tricky to classify. What is teal? Is it green-blue or blue-green? Brick red is “red” but how far into the yellow range is it?
When you’re researching needlework color can be the hardest thing to capture. Sure, you’re going to take a ton of photos but the lighting in research rooms is variable at best and so many museums keep their lighting low to protect the textiles on display that no color shows up clearly.
Even if you supplement your photos with descriptions, words are imprecise about color at best and memory is never a reliable resource. But if you’re trying to recreate any pieces or train your eye to understand a set of colors used by people in a place and time (aka, their “aesthetic”), you will need an accurate understanding of color.
One of our favorite tools to identify and track color is a Pantone fan deck. You don’t have to guess when you use Pantone to match colors when doing research (and, no, we don't have a paid sponsorship!). Pantone is a recognized industry standard for color calibration.
Matching an element on an embroidered piece (such as this 16th century men’s cap) and keeping track of the number helps to identify colors accurately, even if the photo doesn’t capture the color match.
But the best situation is when we get to turn a textile over and see the original color of the embroidery that has not been exposed to light and has been less susceptible to light degradation.
It’s a good idea, if your intention is to make a study of color, to invest in a Pantone color deck. It’ll become your best friend.