Colour Theory: More tips, tricks, and widgets

That last post on colour theory was a long one, but believe it or not, I still have more to say. But if the last post was a planned-out chapter, this post is more like a notebook full of sticky notes and scribbles. There’s just so much out there, and so many things I wanted to say or point you to, that didn’t fit into that original post!


More Colour Theory Resources:

  • has a really nice step-by-step tutorial on colour theory. It includes things that I didn’t even try to get into, such as proportion, intensity, and dominance. The site is put together by an architect interested in colour, not by a crafter per se, but the basics are the basics, whatever realm you choose to apply them in!
  • also has a good basic tutorial on colour theory. Plus, they have a resources section (the site actually exists to sell colour scheme design software) that includes colour wheels showing tints (hue plus white) and shades (hue plus black) — both of which show variations in value — and tones (hue plus grey) which shows variations in saturation.
  • Okay, so it’s not an online tool, but I was reminded again at Kate Atherley‘s talk at my local Guild that Deb Menz’s book Color Works: The crafter’s guide to color is a great thing to have on hand. It’s specifically textile-centred, and has lots of great reference photos.
    • One tip that Kate mentioned from Deb’s book is to think of hue as the last name or surname of a colour. “Blue” is the family name, and “Light Blue,” “Grey Blue,” “Greeny Blue,” and “Navy Blue” (all references to value and saturation) identify the individual members of that family. Brilliant, and adorable!
  • This one IS online but it’s not really a colour theory tool; it’s just a neat way to see colour as (some) other people see it. This site lets you upload an image of your own and then runs it through a colour-blindness simulator — you can select which type of colour-blindness you want to see.


Thinking about Colour:

One aspect of colour that most basic colour theory tutorials don’t explore is what happens when you mix a colour with its complement.

Guess what? Try mixing up some paints or colouring with markers, one shade over top of the other. Red + green = brown. Blue + orange = brown. Purple + yellow = brown.

In other words, you can tone down the intensity of a hue, and make it into something more subtle, by adding a bit of its complement. I will be the first to admit that I don’t know what the technical term for this is — it’s related to saturation but it’s about brown-ness, not grey-ness.

In some ways this is literally about muddiness, but I don’t like thinking about these modified colours as muddy — subtle and rich are much more positive terms for what amounts (in colour, anyway) to the same thing.

Here, take a look at this blanket (a group project we made for a friend) in shades of purple.

Uptownknitmob blanket for Gina

Gina’s blanket

This is a monochromatic colour scheme (all purples, though accented with a touch of black), but it’s not just about picking colours from the purple section of the basic colour wheel. Yes, there are blue-purples and red-purples here; there are different values of purples (light and dark) here too. But for me, what transforms this from super-sweet grape-popsicle little-girl’s-room twee territory and makes it into an adult, sophisticated afghan, is the addition of the browner purples scattered throughout.

These ones here:

colour theory - brown-ness?

The browner squares take this from being girlish to grown-up, to me.

While I’m talking about blankets here (these tend to be one of my favourite ways to play with colour variation, in case that wasn’t obvious by now), I’ve shown this blanket that I made for my sister and her husband before:

Stained glass afghan - seaming complete

The whole rainbow in one afghan — or is it?

Gillian is all about the rainbows. (Look at her blog title.) But even she is aware that sometimes using a straight-up rainbow can skew either gay-pride or overly-childish. She picked up a tip, somewhere, many years ago, that suggested using all the colours of the rainbow except for one to make a colour scheme look intentional, pulled together, and grown up. I tried that out with this blanket. If you look carefully, there are shades of orangey-yellow, and shades of greeny-yellow, but there is no true yellow in this blanket. There are also lots of slightly-muddied colours — again, I think they help make this almost-rainbow more sophisticated.


Knit-Specific Tools:

Two more goodies specific to colour and knitting, before I sign off for today:

  • Did you know that Halcyon Yarn actually has a tool that lets you search for yarn by colour? And not just “red yarns” — other sites, like KnitPicks, may let you “browse by yarn colour” — but with an actual colour selector, and comparing up to five colours at a time. AND you can set filters to display only certain yarn weights and certain fibres. Set your parameters, then click on “Get Matches” in the yellow bar at the top, and prepare to be amazed. You can also upload a photo, and select colours from that, which is a great way to cheat and find awesome colour schemes. You can drag and drop the search result thumbnails into a sandbox area to play around with them, and you can even save your resulting collages to share them or file them away.
    Admittedly, the actual yarn search and the design of the widget leave a little bit to be desired. The search loads a column of thumbnails of results under each colour selected, but I wish that the results were organized in a chart with yarn line on one axis and colour on the other — the way it comes up now, there’s no at-a-glance way to see if there are options matching all of your search colours in any one yarn line, because each column is a separate search. Still, it’s a really neat tool to play with!
  • The lovely Laylock recently published free, downloadable PDFs of charting paper for knit stitches. I’m not just talking about row-versus-stitch-proportional knitters’ graph paper (though that’s a valuable tool in and of itself!). What she has done is to create a page of blank knit stitches that you can print out (at either of two sizes, in either of two orientations) and colour in to your heart’s content.
    Although Laylock uses her paper for playing with traditional Fair-Isle designs, I think it’s especially useful if you’re designing a more representational pattern.
    When I was working on my Chawton Mittens design, one of the challenges in getting the cameos right was avoiding giving Jane a big witchy wart on her nose! The thing is, a knit stitch is a V shape, made up of two diagonal lines, coming together at the bottom. Any curve in your image that follows those two diagonals will look nice and smooth. But the tops of the V stick out, so a curve that goes ‘against the grain’ of the diagonals looks jagged. If the tip of the cameo’s nose was only one stitch high, the interior diagonal (the one adjacent to the rest of the face) looked like a nice smooth line from the bridge of the nose, and the other diagonal (the one extending out into the background) looked like a spiky growth on the nose. With lots of trial and error, I figured out that making the tip of the nose two stitches high helped to minimize this, but having the V-shaped charting paper instead of the usual rectangular grid probably would have gotten me there a whole lot faster!
Chawton Mittens

Chawton Mittens — after many iterations of noses!


Okay, I think that’s exhausted my clever-colour-stuff bookmark folder for now. Phew! Thanks for sticking with me through this scattered AND lengthy post!



Filed under Tutorials

2 responses to “Colour Theory: More tips, tricks, and widgets

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