Color Theory for Knitters: or, What Color is White?

White PeacockThe day before I left for Mansfield and the Fairisle workshop at Noah’s Landing, I promised an interesting little exercise for you. When choosing patterns to knit, many knitters are a little intimidated at the thought of substituting colors. I don’t know that this is an issue for the majority of the knitters who gravitate toward my designs, but I know it is something I hear discussed at knitting shows, shops and gatherings of knitters.

This is an exercise that I learned when I was doing China Painting (I belonged to International Porcelain Artists and Teachers at one time), I learned this during a workshop on painting white roses. This is useful in any media however, so I encourage you to try it.

Punch a hole in the middle of an index card, and place that card with the hole over a photograph (whether it is in book, magazine, or digital print, it matters not). If you wish, you can use the picture I used at the workshop. Click on the peacock at left and it will show in a new browser window at about the same size. Click on it again, and a larger image will come up at a resolution you can print (I would not recommend printing it much larger than a regular size print, however, as the resolution is not high enough to go much larger). When you are done, close the window and you will be back on this blog. Sorry, I don’t know why you have to go through both steps to get the larger image.

Slide the card around and see the colors that you did not notice before doing this. What this forces your eye to see is not what the left side of your brain is telling you that you are looking at, but the colors that are actually there. It also isolates the colors from the surrounding colors, making them easier to see when you are not used to looking at colors without labels.

This is particularly fascinating when you are dealing with a white object, like a white rose or a white peacock. You may find some interesting color combinations when doing this, ones that you might not have thought of. In the case of the white peacock photograph, I found blue green, green blue, yellow, yellow green, olive. This is all in the bird. The fact that these colors are all present is in part due to reflected light and color from other objects: the sky, sunshine, foliage. Some are due to how color looks in light (sunlight) and shade. And some are due to the color (hue) of the object (the white peacock).

In knitting, the different colors we use in Fairisle work will affect each other too. Some will look more vibrant, some more dull, some will look lighter or darker. A lot depends on whether they share any of the same color in them (for example, blue green, blue, and red violet all have the color blue in them). If you don’t like the colors you have chosen in a colorway, try changing one of the colors you don’t like by picking one that shares a common color in the colorway. Or try picking a color that is the complement of one of the major colors. In dealing with light, all colors together make white. When dealing with yarn and pigments, however, all colors together are a different story because of the reflected color from the others present. Think about those colors you have chosen and how they relate to each other.

Remember the eye follows the greatest contrast. Areas with the least contrast will tend to blend visually, which can be used to great effect.

Peace and Knitting, JoLene

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