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Picking the Perfect Colors for your Next Knitting Project

Over the last year, I learned many new colorwork techniques. It’s been so much fun to experiment with stranded colorwork, mosaic, intarsia, and double knitting! One thing that all colorwork has in common is choosing the colors. I love this part! To me, it feels like I’m painting with yarn, but for some knitters, it can be a daunting task. If you find picking colors for your colorwork projects overwhelming perhaps this post will help make it a little easier.

Twelve skeins or balls of yarn arranged in a circle to represent the colors on a color wheel with two triangle inside.

Color Wheel Basics

First, a little lesson on the color wheel. It really helps to know how colors or hues work together. The primary colors are yellow, red, and blue. These are indicated in the above picture with a solid triangle. Secondary colors are created by combining two primary colors. The secondary colors are orange, violet, and green. These are indicated in the above picture with a dotted triangle. Tertiary colors are created by combining a secondary color and the primary color next to it. The tertiary colors are yellow-orange, red-orange, red-violet, blue-violet, blue-green, and yellow-green. In the above picture, these are the colors that do not have any triangles pointing at them. Of course, there are many tints, shades, or tones within each of these hues, but we will be focusing on the twelve colors that make up the color wheel. Once you understand these basic concepts they can be applied to all tints, shades, or tones.

Color Schemes

As artist Marc Chaggall said, "All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites." Color schemes can range from subtle to bold, with a wide range of options in between. Using color theory allows you to choose just the right combination of colors for your next colorwork project.

Four yarns in shades of blue indicating monotone colors.

Monotone Colors

A monotone color scheme is one where a single hue is made lighter or darker. This adds subtle contrast and uniformity.

Blue, blue-green, green, green-yellow, and yellow yarn indicaitng analogous colors.

Analogous Colors

Analogous colors are two to six colors that are next to each on the color wheel. The color scheme is still rather subtle but begins to expand to other hues adding another dimension.

Blue and orange yarn indicating complimentary colors.

Complimentary Colors

Complimentary colors are colors that fall opposite each other on the color wheel. These are bold color schemes that make a statement.

Blue-green, red-orange, and yellow yarn indicating triad colors.

Triad Colors

Triad colors are any three colors that make a triangle on the color wheel. These are bold but well-balanced color schemes.

Artist Marc Chaggall stated, “All colors are the friends of their neighbors and the lovers of their opposites.”

Light vs Dark Colors

Another thought to consider when picking colors for your knitting project is to have a balance between light and dark colors. The darkness or lightness of a color is known as its value. Having colors that are close in value, such as all dark colors or all light colors, can make a pattern indistinct. One tip I learned from Tin Can Knits is to take a picture of the intended yarn with a phone camera and then make it black and white. You will quickly see the color’s value and if there is a good balance between light and dark colors.

Looking for a way to try out all of your new color knowledge? Try knitting Evergreen or keep an eye out for new colorwork patterns being released this fall and winter.

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