When I shared my Pyukkleen cowl with you last week, I mentioned I’d do a separate post on choosing colours cos it was a PROCESS. So here I am, about to give you terrible advice for choosing colours when I have zero understanding of colour theory.
The first step in choosing colours was picking a colour scheme. Being an uncreative clod, I stalked projects on Ravelry until I found a colourway I liked. Unsurprisingly, it was a 70s-inspired project bursting with chocolate browns, pumpkins, yellows, blues and vivid oranges that spoke to me. Full credit to NikkiFB on Ravelry for this idea – as much as I love the finished colourway, I could never have chosen the individual colours without her helpful notes.
My next step was to find similar colours in one yarn range. I scoped out Knit Picks and Jamieson’s of Shetland yarns until I settled on Knit Picks Wool of the Andes, primarily for its colour choice but also its affordability. I then gathered images of colours I liked, and saved them to a Preview (PDF) file so I could rearrange them into different colour schemes.
It might seem like I’d passed the most difficult part, having chosen a colour scheme and now just getting to play with colours. But for me at least, the challenge in choosing colours for colourwork is not only finding colours that look good together, but that will work well when knitted together.
Some colours may look fabulous arranged in a little basket, but when you knit them up you might find that the pattern disappears into a muddy mess. This is usually because the colours do not have enough contrast, ie, they are too similar in value. This is fine if you want to create a very subdued pattern, but as I wished the nought/cross and peerie motifs to be discernible against the background, I had to ensure the colours would be distinct from each other.
Ysolda wrote a helpful blog post on this topic, showing how she arranged the 6 colours into 2 lots: 3 foreground and 3 background, arranged by saturation so the most intense colours are at the centre of the cowl. This colour arrangement, dark background and light foreground, least to most saturated, are C3-C6-C1, C4-C5-C2. I simplified matters by switching C6 & C2 on the chart, so the background and foreground colours were split numerically, C1-3 & 4-6.
So, I had to choose 2 lots of colours which were similar to each other but distinct from the other group (foreground & background). Not only this, but some sections (namely, the first small motif) called for background colours to be worked as both the foreground and background in the motif, so 2 of the background colours had to be sufficiently distinct from each other too. Clear as mud?
The trick to determining contrast, as I’m sure you’ve guessed by now, is to view your yarn choice in black and white.* You can see above that I moved images of potential yarn colours around, then viewed my choice in black and white to ensure the values of the background (top) and foreground (middle) rows were different enough to create a colourwork pattern. (The bottom row has other potential yarns.)
As the yarn was so cheap, I ordered a few options for colours so I could determine the final colour scheme in person. When they arrived, I could immediately tell that one of my blues (Winter Night) was too dark, so I put that aside and started to photograph possible colour combinations. For the background colours, I wanted a dark brown, orangey/rust brown and aqua or deep blue. For the foreground, golden yellow, mid orange and pumpkin or deeper orange.
What I struggled with most was the foreground colours. The yellows were fairly light compared to the vibrant orange and deeper pumpkin, and I wanted them to be reasonably similar in tone so the motifs would appear as one cohesive pattern. The only way to find out if they would work was to knit up a swatch, so I did!
Then it was just a matter of moving around motifs to choose my final colour placement.
And finally, I had my colour scheme (bottom right)! If you want to know the specifics, my chosen colours were:
C1: Calypso Heather (aqua blue)
C2: Amber Heather (autumn brown)
C3: Chocolate (dark brown)
C4: Golden Heather (yellow)
C5: Pumpkin (deeper orange/brown)
C6: Orange (vivid orange!)
Keeping in mind that I switched C2 & C6 in the pattern. I also mixed up the colours in the small motifs, as there was more scope for variation with just two colours.
I learnt a lot from this project, namely, that I hate choosing colours and would rather leave it to the designer! Hate is probably the wrong word: I found it stressful to have such creative control. You can be crafty and uncreative, and I’d really rather focus on the technical skill of knitting and leave the colour choice to the pros.
Luckily, most of Ysolda’s colour schemes really suit me (see Saudade, Strokkur, Solas, Ljós, I have a red Elska kit on hand, and I’m desperate to knit a Mareel!), so I’m happy to buy kits from her shop or recreate the pattern colourways in my choice of yarn.
*I did this using the accessibility settings on my Mac. You can also desaturate an image using an image editor.