ColourRIOT Guest Post: The Sandwich Theory of Colour Selection

colour RIOT

ColourRIOT Guest Blog Series

I am super thrilled to welcome the lovely Kate Atherley, also known as WiseHilda, to my blog. Kate is the tech editing genius behind Knitty (she’s the Lead Technical Editor), the author of two very excellent knitting books, and one of the best knitting teachers I’ve ever had the pleasure of learning from. Also, she has a sweet rescue hound, which earns her bonus points in my book!


I’ve been loving this series about Colour Theory on AnnieBee’s blog, and I’m happy to be part of it.

What this comes down to is choosing colours for projects that use multiple colours. If a project uses a single colour, it’s easy – hey, do I like this particular red that is offered in this particular yarn? If so, great, if no, find another yarn or another colour. Easy!

Where it gets scary for me is when a project requires more than one colour.  And I know I’m not alone. No matter how much I read about colour theory, and how many books and online tools I consult, I still feel a little overwhelmed. Overwhelmed, specifically, by choice. There are quite literally no limits to the numbers of colours you can create – that’s scary enough! – but then there are infinite ways to put them together…

It’s like going to a sandwich shop and being told that you can put anything in the world on your sandwich. It’s paralyzing. If you give me 5 choices – roast beef with horseradish, turkey with avocado, ham and cheddar cheese, tuna salad, or roasted veg and goat cheese – it’s easy!

But if you tell me that I can choose from any meat or fish you’ve ever eaten (beef, chicken, ham, turkey, veal, pork, bacon, tuna, salmon, whitefish…. ) prepared in any number of ways (roasted, smoked, slow-cooked BBQ style, fried, as a “salad”, …. ), any cheese (cheddar -white or yellow, how old; gouda – smoked or regular, mozzarella, parmesan or romano, cow’s or sheep’s or goat’s milk…) and with any vegetable toppings (iceberg lettuce, romaine lettuce, Boston lettuce, spinach, radicchio, arugula, …. and then there’s tomatoes – plum, “regular”, cherry, “heirloom”… and peppers – red or green, raw or roasted… olives – green, black or a mix, spicy, with or without pits. Mustard – dijon (grainy or regular), hot, mild, honey…  And we haven’t even talked about bread choices….

It’s enough to make a girl run away screaming.

I mean, sure, if you’re a trained chef, you’ll know that some combos work better than others. You wouldn’t want hot mustard on a tuna salad – the flavours would fight to obliterate each other. You’d know that strong cheeses need strong flavours to stand up to them; delicate vegetables need delicate meats, and that iceberg lettuce has crunch but no flavour, and romaine has flavour but no crunch.

So yeah, if you’re knowledgeable about colour, you’ll feel entirely confident choosing a particular shade of green that will compliment perfectly that particular shade of blue that you’re going to use in that particular arrangement.

Now, it’s not the biggest disaster in the world if you don’t get it “right” – I mean, you still get lunch (or a finished knitting project) out of it – and it’s not like you’re going to create something actually poisonous, but you’re risking a slightly less satisfying lunch than it might have been… or a slightly less attractive project than you might have had.

And really, don’t you want to make sure your lunch is absolutely as delicious as it could be?

So: do what you do in a restaurant – let the experts choose! Enlist the help of a colour chef – whether it’s the designer him/herself (just use the colours from the pattern), an artistically inclined friend, or the staff in your local yarn shop. Or “borrow” a colour scheme from something else – a photograph, another item of clothing or outfit you adore, the flowers in your garden. Look through home decorating magazines for inspiration – they’re all about colour combinations.

And just like in a restaurant, do still let your own preferences rule – if you adore strong cheese, or bright reds, and the sandwich/colour scheme you’re being offered doesn’t have what you want, look for another. Equally, if you’re not turned on by shades of green or olives, and the colour scheme or entire sandwich is based around those elements, then you’re not going to like it. 

Don’t let anyone tell you to use something you outright won’t like. Just because someone else likes it, doesn’t mean you will or should.

However, just as with food, sometimes straying a little bit out of your comfort area can add some spice and excitement. I don’t like the flavour dill when it dominates, but my local Grilled Cheese sandwich shop does a sandwich from a dill-flavoured havarti with basil pesto and sundried tomatoes and it works fabulously well. If you love six out of the seven elements of a colour scheme, chances are you’ll love the overall effect, even if the seventh is something you wouldn’t dream of choosing on its own.

But also remember, ultimately, this is YOUR sandwich. If you like something a little out of the ordinary, and it makes you happy (crunchy peanut butter on a toasted pumpernickel bagel, or a leopard print worked in shades of orange, for example), then follow your bliss. After all, you are going to spend longer working on your project than eating lunch, so you should love the colours you choose.


1 Comment

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One response to “ColourRIOT Guest Post: The Sandwich Theory of Colour Selection

  1. This is excellent advice, and I’m happy to say that I inadvertently followed it last time I was at Shall We Knit?

    I have this crazy idea that I want to knit a colour affection shawl (like everyone, it seems) but the colours I have chosen are a bit…out there, shall we say?

    I had a skein of Indigodragonfly’s “What the Hay?” which is a warm and very saturated yellow, and a skein of Misti Alpaca “Reggaeton” which is a variegated with short lengths of colour that reads as an almost-rainbow colourway.

    The problem was, I couldn’t find a third colour/yarn combination that worked without clashing. I was going to use red but the one in the Misti Alpaca was red-orange and didn’t work with any of the solids I liked. Koigu 1050 looked neat but being a very saturated peacock blue colour would fry the eyeballs off your face in combination with the other two.

    After muddling about the shop with my two skeins for a while it was Karen to the rescue! She suggested a dark blue, and we tried all the ones in the room. I liked another Indigodragonfly colourway “Kathleen Turner Overdrive” which is a blue so dark it’s nearly black.

    I suspect most people would be horrified by how these colours work together but for me it’s perfect.