I go through periods where I buy black/white prints in larger numbers. My recent shopping trip was no exception...
I also bought several gray prints. I separated the cleaner b/w prints from the gray prints into the two stacks you see above. (There's more on 'clarity' at the bottom of this post.)
I don't have a project in mind for them, but I know that I could make a quilt with just these neutral fabrics or I could add color to them.
I thought you might like to see how some of the other new fabrics could mash up with the b/w stack and the gray stack.
Here are the greens with the b/w stack...
...and the same greens with the gray stack.
The clarity of the greens shift subtlely depending on which stack they are paired with. With the cleaner b/w prints, the greens look a bit brighter to my eye. The grays make the greens look a little duller.
The same thing happens with the yellows and oranges...
I think that a lot of the problems quilters have with 'color' might begin with clarity issues. So many of us have both clear and gray colors in our stash. Some of them look nice together but other combinations look so bad that they make your teeth hurt.
The key to combining clear and gray colors comes from understanding how they work together. In general, gray colors recede and clear colors come forward. Combining the two can give your quilts more visual dimension. But, as you well know, you can't throw just any colors together and expect them to be wonderful.
Colors live on a sliding scale, from clear to gray. Colors at the far ends of this spectrum are harder to use together (imagine lime green with civil war pink—yuck). You will be more successful if you combine colors closer to each other on this sliding clarity scale.
So why do the colors (in the photos above) work with both the b/w prints and the gray prints? In these cases, the black/white and the grays are neutral foils for the colors. The cleanness, or grayness, of the neutral stacks have an effect on the clarity of the colors next to them.
Color, value, clarity—all are relative. Every color is effected by what it is next to. Context counts.
I hope that makes sense :-). I've been writing about this very thing in the color manuscript for two days!