Sandi’s Adventure in Color

Color. Color is my enemy. I think of myself as someone who could NEVER design a Fair Isle anything, simply because of the colors. And from the comments, apparently I am not alone…color is a daunting prospect for many knitters. But that's not very Fearless Knitter of us, is it? Should we be afraid of a little thing like color? Nope. But the truth is…I am afraid of color. Petrified, in fact.

I mentioned this to a friend at work, and she laughed and said, "You just need the right tools, that's all." (Like a new brain? What?) She handed me a book and commanded me to Read It. The book is our book, Color Works, by Deb Menz, and at first I was scared, because it has words like Hue and Saturation and Hexad Harmonies in it. But then I realized…there are SWATCHES all throughout the book. (Well, OK–photos of swatches. But still.) Lovely, lovely swatches, each one illustrating what Deb is talking about. I counted. There are nearly 300 swatches–and I am an extremely visual learner. Whoo! So I went through the book, and studied the swatches…and guess what. I started to Get It. I totally get the whole Hue thing now. I understand Value. Saturation seems a bit clearer to me. Hexad Harmonies, well…not so much. (I mean, Rome wasn't built in a day, you know.)

All right, so the book is really pretty…but what about when you are faced with Actual Yarn? That's the question I ended up asking, because all those swatches were lovely, but I am clearly not Deb Menz. So I devised a little color exercise for myself…

Sandi's Yarn Color Wheel

I am, of course, packing up the entire house for our move to Canada. Just when I am positive that I have packed up my entire stash, I unearth yet one more random odd ball of yarn from some dark corner (or the linen closet). I thought, what if I used these random yarn balls, and the swatches in Deb's book, to try and figure out some of this color stuff for myself? I wasn't ready to do a whole Fair Isle thing, but I figured even I could lay those balls out in a semblance of a color wheel.

So check it out! My first color wheel. So now you ask: "And what did you learn, Dorothy?" First: I have no yellows of any sort. There is an entire pie slice of the color wheel (an entire hue family, if you will) missing from my yarns. This limits the color combinations I can create. Second: Most of the yarn colors have the same "value"–when I turn the photo into a black and white version, as in the second photo, there's a lot of dark greys in there. This means that it will be difficult to do a proper Fair Isle design, as Fair Isles depend a lot on differing values to provide contrast and visual interest. Third: While I do have differing levels of saturation (brightness/dullness), the yarns here tend to be more shaded (have more black in them) than tinted (more white). Fourth: There are a lot of complex colors here–colors which are a mix, a combination of three or more primary/secondary colors. Fifth and finally: I have a lot of analogous colors (colors next to each other on the wheel) in the red-to-blue section of the wheel, but not much else.

Look at that. Right there, I've learned five times as much as I knew before I made my little partial color wheel. I understand hue, value, saturation, complex colors and analogous colors. Whoo! Go me. (And go Deb!)

All right, so it's not exactly a Fair Isle sweater, but it's a start. Could I do a Fair Isle design with these colors, and only these colors? Well…sure. It would be a very dark design, with little or no visual contrast, so you wouldn't be able to see it from very far away. But a subtle, rather modern interpretation of a Fair Isle design? Yes. (Would I be laughed out of the Fair Isles for it? Also: Yes.)

Stay tuned, because in a future post, I will show you a Fair Isle swatch I'll make out of the colors in my yarn color wheel, using Deb's swatches as a guide.

Editor's Picks

Color Works, by Deb Menz is a superb guide to color basics and beyond. Along with the 300 swatches I mentioned above, Deb provides numerous examples using yarns, fabrics, beads, and anything else she can lay her hands on! The back of the book even has pull-out color tools you can use to plan your own projects. Purchase the book online.

Color Style, by Pam Allen and Ann Budd, is coming out in October–but you can pre-order it now! I haven't seen the book yet, but I have every other book in the Style series and love every one of them–so I'm looking forward to this one very much. The Designer Notebook at the back, with its promised tips and tricks for colorwork, is going to be worth its weight in gold, methinks. And then there's the amazing Peace and Love Gloves by Veronik Avery…wow. Check out the preview and pre-order online.

Of course you can buy our books online, but don't forget to give your local yarn shop some love–and your business!

Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily. I'm almost done with the front panel of the Camisa, worked in String of Pearls yarn from Muench (prettypretty not to mention sparklysparkly!). I really hope I can wear this for you before I leave for Canada, but packing is stealing my knitting time. (25 days and counting now till we move into our house in Canada!)

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