Color theory 101: color theory for knitters

I'm thrilled to have Janine Bajus of Feral Knitter on the blog this week. Janine is an accomplished color work teacher and pattern designer—and she sells yummy Shetland yarn. Find her on her website or on Ravelry (username feralknitter). Continuing our studies in color theory, Janine shares how to use hue families and value sequences to choose yarns for your next Fair Isle project. (And never fear; she breaks it all down for you, step by step!)

Sasha has introduced the concepts of hue, value, and saturation. One of the pleasures of life is playing with color, and the more we learn about it the more fun we can have. That’s all well and good, but let’s ask the tough question: how can you choose colors that work together?

Well, color theory can help you answer this question, too! On the back of any color wheel you will find several suggestions about color families that work well together. These are called harmonies.

One simple combination is called a triad: three color families spaced equidistantly around the wheel. In this case it's blue-green, red-violet, and yellow-orange.

Or you can choose two color families that fall directly across the wheel from each other, like red and green, yellow and violet, or blue and orange; these are known as complements.

There are many more such harmonies that you can choose from with some confidence that your colors will not clash.

I had trouble using a color wheel at first—it seemed like I could never locate the color of the yarn I held in my hand on the wheel! I began to understand color relationships when I found the Ultimate 3-in-1 Color Tool, an expanded color wheel with 24 hue families. Each hue family is illustrated with the saturated form of the hue, plus its tints, shades, and tones—when I saw them all together like this it all made sense.

Something else is happening in the examples I’ve used, though—it’s not just about the hue families. Fair Isle knitting designs depend on value sequences as well as color: the values move from dark to light into the center point and then move back out to dark again (or, of course, the value movement could run from light to dark to light! So many choices…).

To pick a color combination, first choose the hue families you want to work with and then find several values within those families—this is where it is handy to know about tints and shades! Then arrange the colors by value so that they move from dark to light (or vice versa) in your pattern.

If you want to learn more about using color theory to create lovely designs, I recommend Color Play by Joen Wolfrom! I guarantee that learning more about how colors work together will add pleasure to your fiber life.

All photos © Janine Bajus.

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