How to: Pick a colour scheme 🌈

Since I started knitting, I have incorporated a lot of colour into my wardrobe. A few years ago, most of my clothes were black. At the shop I worked in, we could only wear old stock if it was black. As a constantly skint student, I made the most of this rule and made sure that most – if not all – of my purchases were black. Whilst there’s a lot to be said for a monochromatic wardrobe, it just isn’t for me… Especially when there are so many amazing yarn colours out there! However, it can sometimes feel a bit overwhelming when you’re trying to pick a colour scheme for a project.

To try and make the process a bit more approachable, here are my top 5 tips for picking a colour scheme for any given project – whether it includes multi-stranded colour work, like my Colourburst Sweater or Piedmont Mittens – or simple stripes, like the WAK Laguna Sweater or the Aros Sweater by Petite Knit. Let’s get into it!

Tip 1: Plan ahead

I’ve written elsewhere on my blog about the benefits of planning ahead with your knits. In truth, knitting is the only part of my life that actually is organised… But that’s another story! When it comes to choosing a colour scheme, it’s all the more important.

So it shouldn’t be surprising that my first tip is to think ahead about how your choice of colours will affect your project. What yarn will you use? What colours are available? Are they all in stock? How do the brand’s photos compare with what you’ve seen in person or on Instagram? (We’ve all been disappointed by yarn deliveries so this one is extra important!)

When I was designing my Colourburst Sweater, I ended up ordering a LOT of yarn that just didn’t end up working for the colour scheme I had in mind. If I had planned ahead a little bit better, I would have saved myself a fair bit of cash. I like all the yarns I ended up with, but definitely should have been more organised in my approach to yarn shopping.

Tip 2: Define limits

This is another very ‘on brand’ tip. In the second year of my BA, one of my tutors explained the concept of ‘creativity within limits’ to me. The course was about working around a patchy source base (the joys of being a medievalist!), but I think it’s a helpful way of thinking about various problems, including this one. It works a little something like this…

Once you’ve decided on your yarn and have some idea of what colours are available, you can start to play around with different possible combinations by analysing the range of colours available to you. Are there lots of pastel shades, or are there more bold colours? Does the range lean warm or cool on the colour wheel? Is there a particular colour that speaks to you? Questions like these can help you to narrow down the options and make you consider what you want your finished project to look like.

Let’s say, for example, that you want to work with a warm colour scheme. I’m going to talk in very simple terms here to best illustrate my point. You can therefore exclude greys, blues, purples (including some pinks) and greens from the list. You’re left with a range of warm tones that might include browns, reds, oranges and yellows. All of these will work nicely together to create a smooth transition between colours that will all look harmonious together. If you’re new to working with multiple colours, this is pretty fool-proof.

Tip 3: Mix and match

The simple warm colour scheme that I just mentioned would definitely look pretty, but it’s a bit monochromatic for my liking. You might be able to create more interesting colour schemes by mixing and matching warm and cool tones. Doing this generates a high degree of contrast that makes projects extra eye-catching and unique. Both Aros Sweater and my Colourburst Sweaters are examples of this in action.

Let’s talk through my thinking for the Aros Sweater. For this project, I combined an ice-y aquamarine with a warm, dark pink shade. These are good examples of cool and warm tones respectively. Mixing them up was very visually impactful, but might have been a bit much by themselves. Using some neutral shades, like the off-white and beige, blended the two more extreme colours. The dark turquoise, meanwhile, grounded the colour scheme and brought some balance to the piece.

It’s well worth taking a look at a colour wheel and seeing what combinations work for you.

Tip 4: If it ain’t broke…

Some colour scheme just work. It might be because of some complex colour theory, or it might be because an iconic brand uses a particular combination of shades and it feels familiar to you. If there’s an established palette that you like, try and emulate it!

My Colourburst Sweater is a good example of this. I’ve made one-and-a-half of these sweaters (the first one is still a WIP!), with dramatically different colours. The first iteration of the design is based around very warm shades that I associate with autumn. I used We Are Knitter’s Petite Wool, which has a lot of good options within this colour family (when they’re in stock, that is!). The main shade is Cinnamon, which is rich, warm, and slightly muted. This muted tone is really important, as it ties the whole piece together. Next, I brought in Ochre and Olive. Both of these are muted and, again, strike a really nice balance between warm and cool. The shade Natural brings balance and lifts the colour scheme, stopping it from becoming too heavy or dull.

The second Colourburst Sweater is totally different. I used the Meriwool, which has a more limited shade range and – in my experience – worse photography on the WAK site. When I finally decided upon a colour scheme, I realised that it looked oddly familiar… Because it’s very similar to the Green Bay Packers logo! 🤦‍♀️ My addition to the combo was the aquamarine shade, which sets the other two colours off nicely. There’s a good mix of warm and cool tones across the colour spectrum. It’s a really cheering set of colours and LOVE wearing this piece.

Tip 5: Coolor Colours

This tip requires you to be a little bit tech savvy, but it’s well worth the effort. This is kind of my ultimate ‘hack’ for picking a colour scheme, but it doesn’t always work well if the yarn you want to use only comes in a limited range of colours. If there is an extensive shade range, however, this little trick can be an absolute life-saver when it comes to picking colour combinations!

It all revolves around one of my favourite websites EVER: coolors.co – I spend a ridiculous amount of time generating colour schemes with this site. It’s just so fun!

Basically, you need to take a screen grab of the yarn you want to use. Using a colour sampling website or an eyedropper tool (the Instagram Story one works well!), try to find the ‘average’ tone of the yarn colour. Ideally, this will be where the light is most even – not too bright, not too shadowy. Once you have a sample of the colour, and find a website that can generate a HEX code based on your sample. I like imagecolorpicker.com.

When you have your HEX code, pop it into coolors.co and begin playing with schemes. You can add multiple colours and specify multiple hex codes. Keep generating schemes until you find something that would work with your choice of yarn. And voilà! You have a pretty perfect colour scheme, just like that!

And that’s it! Do you have any tips for choosing colours? Let me know in the comments!

Comments (1)

  • Maggie Cawthorn

    March 13, 2021 at 8:54 am

    I love the warm colour version, just what I would pick!

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