Believe it or not, this is probably the longest and most painstaking part of the design process for me. It's also incredibly fun.
When I create a new design, I generally have a good idea of what colours I want to have in it. However, with all of the different threads out there, purple, blue and green could end up being many different things!! Especially with my ever expanding collection of colour samples (which can never be large enough!).
Which comes first, fabric or floss? It really depends. I've done both and had both work well for me.
When it comes to fabric, while I love my neutrals, I also find that sometimes there is just that perfect fabric colour that gives a piece that little bit extra. So this is usually decided by whether the design will be mainly solid or variegated colours. When I'm using a lot of variegated threads, I tend to go for a more neutral fabric, either solid or very close to solid, so it won't over power the colour changes in the threads. If I'm going with softer variegation or solid threads, the fabric can be a bit more bold without interfering with the design. Sometimes the fabric colour determines the floss colour, sometimes it's the other way around. And sometimes, a colour of thread or fabric will inspire me to create a design with it.
When choosing threads, usually there will be one or two focus colours in the piece. Areas of the design that I want to stand out. These are the colours I choose first. Though I definitely have favourite colours, I don't like re-using colours over and over in subsequent designs simply because of my experimental nature. I like to play and have fun with colour. First and foremost, the main colours have to be harmonious with one another. When you work with a lot of variegated threads, the easiest way to do this is to start with one colour that you really like for the design, then look for colours which contain some of the same components that this first one has. I'll use Celtic Wings as an example. The main butterflies had to be a colour that would grab attention, and be bright and bold for spring/summer. Blackberry was a lovely choice, for although my first instinct was to make the butterflies purple, blackberry also had a lovely blue and a pink in it which made it a wonderful colour to match others to. My second colour was the dragonflies. I chose Zaffre Cobalt because one of it's components was shared with Blackberry, and the two were really lovely together. When it came to the pink, I looked for a colour which shared the same pink as Blackberry, and I found it in Examplar Crushed Berry. These three have a wonderful feel together, and each had enough boldness to highlight the main design elements.
Next, I had to choose a green. I wanted subtle variegation in this colour, and I wanted it to be a bit lighter than the main elements for two reasons. One, anything darker would have competed to much with the centrepiece, and two, I wanted this to be a bright and springy design, and my main elements, while bright, were also pretty dramatic. Unfortunately at the time of creating this piece, Vikki didn't have anything in that shade of green. While she had some lovely greens, most were either too dark, too light or too brown. So I went to my trusty tag set, and pored over the greens. Vetch greens have always been one of my favourites, they're a great balance of yellow and blue, leaning towards neither end, and they're bright not neon bright. So it was decided and Vikki graciously invented a new green for me.
The other elements had to accent but not overpower. The red had to be a pretty true red for ladybugs, but I wanted a more blue-red so that the red and pink wouldn't clash. So I went with something a bit darker than my original plan, and though it wasn't quite a ladybug red, artistic license prevails. The yellow for the small butterflies I wanted to be a fairly true yellow, not orange, not brownish. The colours in the design are pretty "true" primary and secondary shades, so I wanted the same of the yellow. The black was pretty easy. :)
This is pretty much the same process I use for all of my designs. Once I get narrowed down to a few different palettes, I will test stitch each one on my chosen fabric, because sometimes stitching will show a colour a bit differently than it looks in skein form, especially when you're not using plain white fabric. This will tell me which is going to work best over all.
I state something on all of my designs, and I do think that it's worth mentioning here - the nature of these styles of design is such that they lend themselves to creativity - I always urge stitchers to pick colours that they will enjoy stitching them with. That might be my model colours or it might be something totally different!