Saturday, December 27, 2014

Tetrachromats: A Genetic Anomaly You Want to Inherit

Cartwheels by Liza Prior Lucy

Have you heard of the recent research into color vision and genetics that indicates some people see more color than others?

Haze Kilim by Liza Prior Lucy

I have always believed people could see a different range of color. I know women who can see fifty shades of green in a field of wheat. They have a sureness about color, an understanding, that goes way beyond mine.

Cosmic Star by Jane Sassaman

Most people have genes for three color receptors; tetrachromats have four. These tetrachromats are always female and they make up 12% of the population (both men and women? or just women?)

From Piece O'Cake's Quilts with a Spin
 (Becky Goldsmith & Linda Jenkins)

Aunt Millie's Garden from Piece O'Cake 
(Becky Goldsmith & Linda Jenkins)

Leafing Large by Laura Wasilowsky

Chicken by Ruth McDowell

A figure bandied about is that tetrachromats see 100x the color of trichomats---the majority of the population with the usual three receptors.

Prickly Pear by Ruth McDowell

Marquee Diamonds by Kathy Doughty

In Vino Veritas by Beth Markel

 The receptors are the cones.

That's the extent of my genetics and physiology knowledge.
Rods and cones.
Rods see black and white; cones see color.

Maria Schell, Dance Party at Tamara's House
Not only am I surrounded by probable tetrachromats in my business
of quilt and fabric design...

Log Cabin by Sujata Shah

But many of my friends seem to have a skill that is way beyond what I see.

Sujata Shah, Spider Web

Without a genetic test it's not possible to determine just who's a 4 and who's a 3.

Bobbi Finley, Alfie Dreams

But I have my suspicions.
Log Cabin by Carol Gilham Jones

I would imagine many of you are tetrachromats, as are bumblebees and zebra finches.

Nancy Crow, Color Improvisations

I first read about this in an article in December's Vogue (always a reliable science source) but here are some other links:




  1. I don't know how many colors i can see, but I do notice subtle shades that others say, they all look white to me, lol.


  2. Intriguing! And the quilt examples are fabulous...no matter if I am a 3 or 4! Love them.

  3. What fabulous information. I've always been sure males see colors differently from females, or at least have very different color preferences. I'll investigate further.

  4. Love this post. Informative and interesting. Recently, I have been drawn to the bright and colorful quilts that are well balanced such as you've featured. Actually, two of the quilts are on my hope-to-do bucket list. Thanks for bringing this color concept to light.

  5. I definitely do not have this gene. But certainly gives a perspective to the makers of these amazing glorious quilts.

  6. How cool Barbara! LOL You just explained a whole lot about why our family never agrees on what color things are.

  7. There are so many ways to tell interesting things about and around quilts, you are a master in it!
    Here I also want to thank you also about your help in so many ways for talented quilters : I read your introduction in Sujata Shah's wonderful book, you have an eye for knowing who is really talented!
    Happy colorful 2015 Barbara!

  8. This makes a lot of sense! Colors are a wonderful gift and such a pleasure. I feel happier when I'm sorting and choosing colors and patterns to make another quilting project. When teaching a quilting class I delight in the liberation and pleasure the students discover in the course and in the brighter palettes.

  9. This is fascinating! Never heard of tetrachromats before. Great collection of colorful quilts in this post too.