Swatching Fair Isle: Tips for placing color

Last time I wrote, I was contemplating a colorwork design with nine colors of Brown Sheep Nature Spun Sport. Whenever I start planning a colorwork pattern, the hardest and most fulfilling step is planning the color placement and repeat.

This swatch shows my first run. In my experience, the color arrangement and motif is never right the first time. Or the next three times, possibly. You have to swatch a lot. If your reaction to a swatch, upon leaving it for an hour then walking back into the room to regard it from a few feet away, is not "I love it", then you have to keep swatching. If you have to squint your eyes to make yourself believe it looks good, it's not right yet.

So this swatch is definitely not right yet. I wanted a soft subtle perimeter to transition into a hard, contrasting, almost simple center motif. I think that 1) the motif is not really right and 2) to make the eye believe that the dark brown and the light brown are the same element (ie, they're both foreground colors of the same motif), then that transition shouldn't occur so close to the teal-white background transition. You can see at the top of the swatch I tried carrying the dark brown over into the teal more, which helps but is not exactly graceful. I will keep playing. This is the fun stuff!

This process is exactly how I approached color in Road to Golden and the Bandelier Socks. Obviously, I like strong color and stark contrast in my Fair Isle. But these traits can work alongside subtle transitions. That's the key with designing colorwork with this many colors–subtle transition with deliberate and well-placed contrast.

Some tips:

  • symmetry out from a midline is always pleasing to the eye (the motif/color should be mirror-image up and down from center row)
  • the more colors you're working with, the more rows high your motif can be
  • only use each background color for 2-4 rows to create subtlety and avoid obvious striping
  • don't change background and foreground colors on the same row; stagger the changes by 1-3 rows
  • be open to strange color combos; two colors in the ball may not look great together but can harmonize unexpectedly when knitted

And have fun! ~Lisa


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