May 25, 2015

How to Select Eye-Catching Colour Combinations - Part 1. Tone


Selecting multiple colours for colourwork projects can be a daunting task. There are just SO many colours and SO many choices that it can become really overwhelming.  Fear no more!  Over the next few weeks I'll be sharing some tips about how to put together eye-catching colour combinations.  This week we'll be looking at tone.

Tone is defined as the lightness or darkness of a colour.


It's a well-known fact that tone plays a huge role in making or breaking a colourwork project. Tone, quite simply, is the lightness or darkness of a colour.  When it comes to colourwork, you want your colours to vary in tone as much as possible.  If there is not enough variation in tone, colours will simply fade into one another and the colourwork pattern will be lost.  There is, however, a simple 'light, dark and bright' method that I use when selecting colours, that will help you focus on tone when you're selecting yarn for your next colourwork project.


Light, dark and bright


To explain the light, dark and bright method, let's pretend that you're wanting to knit the very popular Colour Affection shawl by Veera Välimäki (pictured above).  Say you're shopping online or browsing through your LYS, looking to buy three skeins of sock yarn in different colours to make this shawl.  Start off by selecting one colour, something that really draws your attention; this will be the colour that you will use to base your other choices on. 

Tip!  If you're shopping online, use the cart to help visualise your colour combinations.  Most carts will display your yarns in a list formation, which makes it easy to see what they will look like together.

Step 1. Decide if the colour that you've just chosen will be the light, dark or bright tone in the trio. For example, I chose Citrine, a greenish yellow and I've decided I want this to be the light colour in my project.

Step 2.  Now that I have my light colour, I need to select two more colours that are darker and brighter.  These colours don't have to come from the same colour group, they just needs to be darker and brighter in tone. So, after looking around I've chosen a navy blue that will act as the dark tone in the trio.

Step 3.  I have my light and dark colours, all I need now is a bright. Again it doesn't have to belong in the same colour group, it just needs to be brighter than the other two skeins. You want this colour to really pop!  I've chosen a bright fuchsia.

And here is my colour combination:


When knitted up, this trio of colours will contrast really nicely together because they all differ significantly in tone: one is light, one is dark, and one is bright. 


Tip!  For a never-fail colour trio, select a light and dark neutral of the same hue (for example, grey) then add a bright pop of colour like fuchsia, lime or yellow.


What happens if you're wanting to select only two colours?

For projects that only require two colours, like the Daybreak shawl by Stephen West, you can still use the light, dark and bright rule, but this time you only need to select two tones - a light and dark, a light and bright, or a dark and bright. In the picture below we can see that Stephen West chose a dark brown with a bright rusty orange. Both colours contrast really nicely against each other; as you can see, the orange really pops against the dark brown.



What about projects that require four or more colours?

For projects that require more than three colours, like Kate Davies' beautiful Fair Isle cardigan Cockatoo Brae which is worked with six contrast colours, you will need a selection of light, dark and bright colours. It's really important when selecting colours for fair isle designs that you use the light, dark and bright rule - otherwise if you use colours that have a similar tone the colours will merge together and the design will be obscured due to lack of contrast. Don't be afraid, just use the three steps mentioned above. First, select a background colour. If it's a light background (like Cockatoo Brae), make sure the rest of the colours are darker and brighter or, if the background is dark, choose light and bright colours. In Kate's design, she chose a light, white background with contrasting bright pops of red, yellow and blue, and dark green and purple.



 Tip! Use an image editing app on your phone or tablet to test tonal differences between colours.


Photographic Evidence!

You've gathered your yarns, but you're still not sure if there is enough difference in tone between each colour. Don't panic, this is where technology comes to the rescue! Grab your mobile phone or tablet and take a picture of all your skeins side by side.  If you're shopping online you can still use this method: all you need to do is take a screen shot of your cart, or simply use your phone or tablet to take a picture from your computer or laptop. Now, upload the picture to Instagram, VSCOcam or any other photo editing app that enables you to add a black-and-white filter. After you have turned your picture to black and white, you will easily be able to see if there is any difference in tone between your colours. For example, let's look at the colours that I chose above for the Stripe Study shawl. Here they are again in colour, and below in black and white:

As you can see, there is a huge difference in tone between these three colours. The first colour is a light grey, the second is a dark grey/almost black and the third is a medium shade of grey. We can now be confident that these colours will contrast nicely, and thus make an eye-catching colour combination. Now let's look at another example, one which shows a colour combination that has little or no difference in tone:

See how, in the black-and-white picture, there is little-to-no difference in tone between these three colours. They all appear to be a similar shade of grey. This particular colour combination would not contrast well together and should be avoided.

To Sum It All Up

  • Tone is the most important factor that can make or break a colourwork project.
  • For a colourwork project to pop vibrantly, each of your colours must differ in tone.
  • To help you focus on tone when selecting colours, use the light, dark and bright method.
  • Use an image-editing app on your phone or tablet to test tonal differences between colours.

I hope you have found this post helpful! Next week we'll be exploring the colour wheel and how to use it when selecting colours for eye-catching combinations. If you've found this post useful, please let me know in the comments below and be sure to share it with your fibre-loving friends.