Choosing Colours – the technical way

I love knitting with self-striping yarn as it automatically gives the end project colour and depth. I’ve noticed that when I want to work with one-coloured yarn, but with a contrasting colour, I tend to become a little unsure. And perhaps stick with well-known favourites. This puzzled me a bit as usually people comment on my use of colour.  So I decided to do a little research on this. And it all became rather complicated. Perhaps this is why patterns requiring stripes or alternate use of colour so very rarely tell you what colour to use. Either you play safe and copy the colours from the photo of the pattern or you’re out on your own!

I was a little startled to discover that colours are not just light/dark, pastel or strong. They actually have three dimensions (!), hue, value and saturation.

Colour Wheel

So, hue. That’s the colour. Say, blue. Looking at the colour wheel above, you can see blue is next to violet and blue/green and opposite orange. Using the colour wheel tells you that hues opposite each other will provide a nice contrast, or compliment, whereas colours next to or near each other are more likely to blend into each other, or be analogous. So far so good.

Then there’s value. This refers to whether the colours are dark or light i.e. whether they are closer to black (low value) or white (high value).

And finally there is saturation. This is the hardest to pinpoint as it is perhaps the most subjective. Saturation is the measure of intensity of colours. The highest saturations are the pure, primary colours. The lower the saturation, the closer the colour is to grey. Very interesting to experiment with this using paints.

The idea of understanding colours in a slightly technical way is that you can make conscious decisions about  your colour choices which is no bad thing. After all, if you’re hoping to create a calming blanket but you have chosen colours which jump around the colour wheel, you will know that you will have a jazzy creation instead.

I wasn’t allowed to play with my son’s paints but I did a little experimenting with yarn instead.



cool colour schemeAutumnal
brown and yellow

berry colour schemeSome colours make each other “pop” – watch the brown next to the orange in the Warm photo and contrast it in the Neutral photo. Same yarn, same light.

Have fun and experiment!

About monsteryarns

I am a yarn enthusiast and knitter.
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2 Responses to Choosing Colours – the technical way

  1. Pearl says:

    Excellent post! I always seem to have trouble choosing a yarn to use as a backgound with a self-striping when working stranded knitting. It seems counter-intuitive to choose a background in a color that doesn’t appear in the striping yarn, yet if I don’t, most of my color work gets lost in the background. This will definitely help!

    • monsteryarns says:

      It’s odd as before I started looking into colour science, I thought I was quite knowledgeable. The more I look the the more I realise that I’m an ignoramus….

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