Caroline Bawn offers her top tips on combining colours successfully in your knitting projects
Top tips on colour combining
EVEN IF you don’t think you are an artistic person, or believe you aren’t good at choosing the right colours, you can use colour theory to put the right shades together for your next project.
What is your favourite colour? It is usually an easy question to answer, and can often prompt happy thoughts as you visualise that colour and shade; perhaps as a favourite garment, a room colour, or even a bright parasol umbrella beside an aquamarine sea on a memorable holiday.
The Colour Wheel
The colour wheel is a visual representation of the colours in a prism, arranged in a circle, with the primary colours evenly spaced around. The colour wheel shows the primary colours (red, blue, yellow) the secondary colours (green, orange, violet) and tertiary colours (red-orange, yellow-orange, yellow-green, blue-green, blue-violet, red-violet) and their shades. It also shows complementary colours across the wheel, monochromatic colours within the same segment, and toning colours next to each other.
Co-ordination and harmony
Consider how your colour choices will coordinate with the colours of clothing you already own and wear. Do you want your finished item to blend in, or add a new ‘pop’ of colour to your wardrobe?
Monochromatic colour schemes are within one segment on the colour wheel, and are calm and relaxing. They can add interest to an otherwise plain garment, for example an ombre effect on a jumper. Monochrome colour schemes add an extra dimension and work well on a plain texture.
Complementary colours are on opposite sides of the wheel: for example, blue and orange, red and green, or purple and yellow. When complementary colours are used together, the combinations can be very exciting. Each makes the other look brighter - but you can get a bit of visual ‘jazzing’, especially with stripes, if you aren’t careful. If you don’t want that strong a look, then consider a split complementary colour scheme. Choose your main colour, then pick the two either side of its complementary colour on the colour wheel - for example, yellow with violet-red and violet-blue.
You may not want bold colour changes, so have a think about softer tones of complementary colours, or perhaps a hand-dyed variegated yarn which has several toning colours that do the work for you.
Contrast colours are those in different primary colour families, and contrasts often appear in nature. Think of
the deep blue sea and a red boat hull, or the rich brown earth and the green leaves and purple flowers of violets. These are all harmonious contrasts. How can this work for your yarn choices? Perhaps you have a favourite photo of beach huts against a blue sky - these colours would work well as the base for a picnic blanket. A bouquet of flowers could be the inspirational palette for a beautiful jumper, and fallen leaves around an old lichen-covered park bench can inspire colours for a chunky knit for man.
The extreme of contrast is clash! It might be a saturated dark blue with an orange or fuchsia pink. In some projects this colour clash can add personality and pizzazz, but it needs to be carefully planned with a lot more of one colour than the other. This is the ‘pop’ of colour idea; a thin stripe of navy blue in a fuchsia jumper, or orange buttons on a navy blue cardigan.
Think about how concentrated the colour is on the yarn. Is the colour deep, rich and strong, or muted, soft and tonal? How will the colour work for your project? Concentrated, saturated colours tend to be thought of as wintery, when daylight is reduced. Paler, softer colours tend to be more summery when daylight is stronger because colours appear more bleached out. Darker tones of colour tend to be dramatic, while lighter tones tend to be more delicate and relaxed.
Warm or cool?
Although you may really love a particular colour, does it suit your skin tone and colouring? Do you feel confident wearing it? Choose yarns for your project that suit you and your colouring. You will get so much more use out of your finished garment if it complements the existing clothes in your wardrobe, and you feel happy wearing it.
Do you prefer warm or cool colours? Are they closer to yellow (warm) or blue (cool) on the colour wheel? Red can be primary, warm or cool, depending on whether it goes towards blue or yellow on the wheel. In general, by putting warm tone or cool tone colours together, you will get a more cohesive, confident colour palette that feels balanced and blended.
From bright, bold mill-dyed colours, to hand-dyed yarns with interesting colour combinations and fibres, to naturally dyed yarns with softer tones, the choice offered to knitters is endless!
Plain colours work well with items that have lots of stitch texture, although stripes of colour can also work well with these types of pattern. Consider a yarn with a fleck of colour or a heathered/tweed yarn for added interest. Monochromatic colour schemes for an ombre effect can look stunning with a complex stitch pattern.
Multicoloured yarns and designs are better with plainer patterns, so that the beauty of the colour changes can be seen, and is not diffused in the stitch designs.
Variegated and hand-dyed yarns can be combined with mill-dyed yarns to add contrast to a plain garment. Imagine a dark blanket with a band of contrasting, variegated hand-dyed yarn around the edge… if you really aren’t sure, start with a neutral like cream, beige or grey, and add your favourite colour. See what happens. Does it need anything else, or is that enough? Think about whether the neutral and your favourite are coordinating, complementing, contrasting or clashing, and see if adding another colour will add or take away from the overall effect.
Whatever you choose, your project colour choice can be as unique as you are. You don’t have to make your project in the same colour as the pattern photographs. Go on, make a statement with your knitting!