The Essential Guide to Color Knitting Techniques: Multicolor Yarns, Plain and Textured Stripes, Entrelac and Double Knitting, Stranding and Intarsia, Mosaic and Shadow Knitting, 150 Color Patterns

The Essential Guide to Color Knitting Techniques: Multicolor Yarns, Plain and Textured Stripes, Entrelac and Double Knitting, Stranding and Intarsia, Mosaic and Shadow Knitting, 150 Color Patterns

by Margaret Radcliffe


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781612126623
Publisher: Storey Books
Publication date: 07/28/2015
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 266,129
Product dimensions: 8.50(w) x 10.70(h) x 0.60(d)

About the Author

Margaret Radcliffe is the author of The Essential Guide to Color Knitting Techniques, The Knowledgeable Knitter, and the bestsellers The Knitting Answer Book and Circular Knitting Workshop. She regularly teaches throughout the country about everything from beginner’s basics to knitting design. She is particularly interested in promoting creativity and independence in all knitters and maintains the website

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Everyone perceives color a bit differently, and our responses to certain colors or groups of colors are a matter of personal preference as well as psychology and perception. Some people love bright colors, some are attracted to pastels, some adore grays and blacks, and others are happiest when a wide variety of colors are combined. Color can make us feel excited, calm, happy, or wretched. Lighting also affects the way we perceive colors. Incandescent, fluorescent, and halogen bulbs make colors look more yellow, purple, or blue than they really are. Colors even look different in daylight depending on the time of day and whether it's cloudy or sunny. The important thing to realize about using color in knitting is that there are no right or wrong combinations; there are just color groupings, or colorways, that have different effects.

Describing Color

Because people see and respond to color in such different ways, color can be extremely difficult to describe. This is not a color theory book, but we do need to be able to talk about color, so, for discussion purposes, I'm going to define three characteristics of color:

* Hue describes the color itself, like red, green, or blue.

* Value describes how dark or light the color is.

* Saturation describes how much of the pure hue is included in the color.

If you're like me, you understand what hue is with no problem. Value also makes sense, but it's difficult to determine value just by looking at an individual color. Saturation? This is where my eyes used to glaze over in formal discussions of color theory. But don't worry: the examples below will give you a working understanding of all three of these concepts, especially as they relate to yarn and knitting.

Discovering Hues

Hue is what we think of most often as color. When you ask: "What color is it?" and the answer is "Red," red is the hue. Hues are divided up into groups called primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Color wheels make it easy to understand the relationships between colors.

Primary colors. Red, yellow, and blue are the standard primary colors. They are called primary because they are the first colors, the ones mixed together to make all other colors.

Secondary colors. You get secondary colors when you mix any of the primaries equally with another primary. Orange is made of red and yellow, green of yellow and blue, and purple (or violet) of blue and red.

Tertiary colors. Mix any primary color with a secondary color next to it to create a tertiary color. There are, of course, almost infinite gradations in hue between the hues. For example, this swatch shows gradations between blue-green and blue.

Analogous colors. Any group of three colors next to each other in the 12-color wheel are known as analogous colors. For example, orange, yellow-orange, and yellow are analogous colors. Any group of three neighboring colors, such as this one, can be used together to good effect.


You've probably heard colors referred to as warm or cool. This is just another way to group hues. Blues, greens, and mixtures of these are cool colors. Yellows, oranges, and reds are warm.

Context affects color temperature. Yellow-green and red-violet, mixtures of warm and cool colors, can appear either warm or cool, depending on context. For example, study the three twists of yarn above: Cover the blue twist at the top and notice that the purple in the middle seems cooler than the reddish purple at the bottom. Now cover the yarn at the bottom and note that the middle purple seems warm compared with the blue at the top. In a design, cool colors tend to recede, while warm colors seem to come forward toward the viewer.

Complementary colors. Colors that are directly across from each other on the color wheel are known as complementary colors. The arrow indicates the complementary colors red and green. Note that the tertiary colors on either side of each of these are also complements: red-violet is the complement of yellow-green, and red-orange is the complement of blue-green.

Context affects hue. Because of the way the human eye works, each color seems to impose its complement on any colors adjacent to it. For example, if you place green next to gray, it makes the gray look redder. On the other hand, if you place red next to gray, the gray looks greener. Blue yarn (B) twisted with yellow or orange still looks blue (C), but when twisted with turquoise it looks purple (A). Red-violet (E) looks burgundy when twisted with olive (F), but when twisted with violet it looks brown (D). This shift is far more noticeable in some lights (under a halogen lamp for example) than others, and it is why colors look one hue by themselves but may look completely different when combined with other colors.

Complementaries energize one another. When you use complementary colors together, they enhance each other: when green and red are next to each other, the red looks redder and the green looks greener. If the areas of each color are large, this effect may not be so noticeable, but if they are small, the colors really pop.

Complementaries provide accents. You can use this property to good effect — if you want a particular color to be more noticeable, include a bit of its complement. Compare the different parts of the swatch above. Where dark purple is used on the lighter purple background at the bottom the design is called monochrome, because it uses just one hue. It looks fine as is, but the colors become more exciting where a highlight of yellow, the complement of purple, was added. Depending on the yellow, it emphasizes either the dark or the light purple. Choose your color based on your personal preference and on the yarns you have available.

All of the hues I've used as examples so far are made by blending just two primaries together. The analogous colors yellow, yellow-orange, and orange, for instance, are made up of just yellow and red. You can, of course, create other colors not adjacent on the color wheel. When you do this, all three primary colors are included in the mix, which causes the resulting hue to be duller or muddier.


Color Harmonies

Besides helping us identify temperature, complements, and analogous colors, the 12-color wheel allows us to easily identify color harmonies, which are simply relationships between hues. They define groups of colors that work well together. There are seven color harmonies:

SPLIT COMPLEMENTARY. A hue, plus one hue on either side of its complement

DOUBLE-SPLIT COMPLEMENTARY. A hue, plus two hues on either side of its complement

TRIAD. Three hues equidistant on the wheel (Primaries are the most obvious example.)

DOUBLE TRIAD. Two trios of hues equidistant on the wheel

TETRAD. Two pairs of complements that form a rectangle on the wheel

SQUARE TETRAD. Two pairs of complements that form a square on the wheel

HEXAD. Three pairs of complements equidistant on the wheel (Note that there are only two possible hexads; all the primary and secondary colors make up one hexad and all the tertiary colors make up the second.)

Whether you are choosing colors from scratch or you already have one color of yarn and want to choose others to go with it, the color harmonies provide you with balanced groups that you know work together. If you can't find a specific hue, look for something in its general neighborhood. For example, if you can't locate a particular blue, try other blues to see if they work for you. Use the harmonies described here as a starting point when you don't already know what you want. If you need to select additional colors, experiment to see what works best.

Discovering Value

Value is perhaps the hardest color attribute to identify visually, but it simply refers to the amount of contrast between colors. If you look at a black and white picture of the color wheel, you can see that there is very little contrast between the reds and purples but a great deal between yellow and its neighbors.

Using value to define pattern. Value is important because it affects how subtle or how intelligible a pattern will be. A Fair Isle pattern in yellow on a blue background is far more noticeable than a pattern in purple on the same blue background. You can make both patterns intelligible, however, by using a paler blue for the background or by changing the foreground to a lighter purple. Remember that contrast is important: If you want colors to stand out, they should be darker or lighter than the colors around them. For a more subtle effect, choose colors that have a similar value.

Using background color to change relative value. Relative values of colors used together can make them appear lighter or darker. Blue, green, red, and yellow are each shown on progressively darker backgrounds (A). All the colors appear darker than the white background, and all appear lighter than black, but the amount of contrast varies depending on the value of the gray background. The relative values of these colors are far more apparent in dim light or in a black and white photo (B), where blue, green, and red merge with the middle gray, and yellow vanishes into the light-gray background.


It can be difficult to tell the relative values of balls of yarn just by looking at them, because we tend to notice the hues first. Luckily, there are several ways to test the relative values:

* Twist together strands of the yarns you want to use. View them at an arm's length in dim light and see if the yarns blend together or if the two strands are still clearly defined. You may be able to get the same effect by holding them at an arm's length and squinting.

* If you have a computer and a scanner or digital camera, make color and grayscale images of the yarns to help determine their values. Here, the grayscale photo shows that yellow is the lightest in value, green and red are both medium (the green is slightly lighter), blue is very dark, and purple is darkest.

Discovering Color Saturation

Saturation refers to the amount of pure hue that a color contains. For example, primary red is 100 percent saturated. Pink is just red mixed with white, so it's a less saturated version of red, called a tint. Hues can be mixed with any other color, but when they are mixed with white, gray, or black, they are known as tints, tones, or shades, respectively. Each of the swatches below is green at one end and white, gray, or black at the other; in between, the stripes contain varying mixtures of both. You can achieve many variations even if you restrict yourself to just one hue — green.

TINT. Mixing a hue with white results in a tint.

TONE. Mixing a color with gray produces a tone.

SHADE. Mixing a hue with black produces a shade.

Saturation influences the value of a color, so it affects the amount of contrast. A color gets lighter when you mix it with white. When you mix it with black, it gets darker. But, if the gray you mix with a color has the same value the color had to begin with, its value stays the same, no matter how much gray you add.

Putting Color to Work

If you don't spin or dye your own yarn, you can't completely control the hue, value, and saturation. However, you can collect colors at your local yarn store and at shows, as well as purchasing over the Internet and through catalogs. Unfortunately, it's very difficult to choose colors on the Internet or from a catalog. This might be a good excuse for purchasing a skein or ball of every possible color in every yarn you can find, so that you have a wide palette to experiment with. Or you may find it more practical to collect yarn sample cards for lines of yarn that come in many colors.

Experimenting with Colorways

If you're an intrepid adventurer who prefers to leave yourself open to serendipity and thrives on experimentation, pick some colors and start playing with them. Keep concepts of complementary relationships, value, and saturation in mind as you experiment. Vary the amount of each color you use until you get an effect you like.

If you prefer to exercise more control over your results and spend less time experimenting, you can put the color wheel and your knowledge of color harmonies to work. If you've got an idea for a project but no yarn, start from scratch with the color wheel and pick a color harmony you like, then look for yarn to match it. You'll probably face situations where you've already got one or two colors and you want to add to your palette, especially if the two don't look great together by themselves. You can use color harmonies to help select additional colors. See Do the Twist, below, for examples.


Use paint samples from paint or hardware stores or a large collection of colored pencils, crayons, or markers to document the colors you've selected. Refer to your reference collection of yarn sample cards to get an idea of what's available in the marketplace, then sally forth to your yarn shop to gather just the right materials for your project.



STARTING WITH GOLD AND SALMON. Let's say you've got orange and salmon (A), which don't really inspire you, but you need to use the yarn. First, match them as closely as possible to the 12-color wheel. Gold matches best with yellow-orange and salmon with redorange. Now let's look at the possibilities. You can add orange, which falls between them, to make a group of analogous colors (B).

Twisting the yarns together helps you to see how the colors look when intimately combined, as well as to get a sense of their relative values. The orange and salmon in (A) are very close in value as well as in hue, so they tend to blend together. The gold in (B) is darker and stands out just a bit from the other two colors. It could effectively be used as a foreground against a salmon and orange background, or vice versa. If the salmon and orange are used alone, they tend to blend, and any color patterns will be difficult to see.

Add blue. You could add blue to make a split complementary color harmony. In this case, the gold and salmon are closer in value and hue, so they seem to blend while the blue stands out (C). Substitute a lighter tint of blue for a completely different effect (D).

Use both blues. This gives you a wide range of values to work with: light (light blue), medium (gold and salmon), and dark (dark blue) (E).

Add more colors. If you want to work with more colors, adding yellow and red as well as blue will give you a double-split complementary harmony. Once again, you end up with a range of values: yellow is light; salmon, and gold fall into the middle; and red and blue are dark (F).

For more complexity. If you have a selection of shades, tints, or tones, you can substitute lighter and darker versions of a color to achieve more variation in value, or you can include all the variations available. Adding light blue, apricot (which is a tint of gold), and pink (a tint of salmon) helps to provide more balance. There are now three light colors (blue, apricot, and yellow), two medium colors (gold and salmon), and two dark colors (red and blue). The extra strand of blue also helps balance the warm/cool color mix (G).

For greater simplicity. If including so many different yarns makes this colorway too busy for your taste, you can simplify it by sticking to shades of the two original colors and adding a single blue, a return to the split-complementary harmony. Dark blue makes a brighter combo, emphasizing the contrasts because of its dark value (H). Light blue creates a more pastel effect, with less contrast (I).

STARTING WITH GREEN AND BLUE. Using just these two colors makes a striking statement (J).

Adding analogous colors. What if you want something a bit more subtle? Since blue and green are close to each other on the color wheel, you can add blue-green to make a group of analogous colors (K). Don't be afraid to add any color that falls within the analogous group: they all go together beautifully (L).

Adding a complement. As a highlight, you can always add a bit of one of the complements to these colors from the opposite side of the wheel (M).

DEALING WITH CLASHES. Sometimes you'll have two colors close to each other in the color wheel that don't look good together on their own; instead, they seem to clash. Red, red-violet, and violet are analogous colors, but they don't always cooperate when in close proximity (N). One solution to this problem is to add as many shades, tints, tones, and blends of these colors as you can (O). Where two or three colors just look wrong, combining many variations looks much more acceptable.


Excerpted from "The Essential Guide to Color Knitting Techniques"
by .
Copyright © 2008 Margaret Radcliffe.
Excerpted by permission of Storey Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

An Invitation: Going Beyond Knits and Purls

1 Color Basics
2 Stripes
3 Pattern Stitches
4 Multicolor Yarns
5 Stranded Knitting
6 Intarsia
7 Other Techniques
8 Finishing Touches
9 Design Workshop

Glossary of Techniques
Using Charts
Garment-Sizing Guidelines
Abbreviations and Symbols




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