June 03, 2015

How To Select Eye-Catching Colour Combintations - Part 2. The Colour Wheel



Planning your colour scheme for colourwork projects can be difficult.  Knowing exactly which colours to put together to form a pleasing colour arrangement can be a very daunting task.  Not any more!  This week we'll be exploring the colour wheel and explaining why this simple little colour map should become your 'go-to guide' for selecting amazing colour combinations.

So, how can a colour wheel help when choosing colours for colourwork?  According to colour theory, harmonious colour combinations (or colour schemes) can be found on a colour wheel by simply using a number of formulas. Knowledge of these formulas will give you immeasurable help when selecting colours for colourwork, or any project that uses more than one colour. Once you get the gist of it, you'll find yourself using these formulas without even thinking about it. There are many formulas, but we will be concentrating on monochromatic, analogous, diad, triad, complementary, split complementary and tetradic. We'll look at the pros and cons of each formula, as well as suggesting some tips that you might find helpful when knitting with each of these colour schemes. 


The colour wheel is often left out of a knitter's tool kit. Why not get one to put in your notions case or, even better, get an app for your phone or tablet?  That way you'll always have one on hand.


Monochromatic Colour Combinations

Monochromatic colour combinations consist of colours ranging from light to dark within a single hue (for example, blue).


  • Selecting colours for this type of colour scheme is easy and the results are subtle, yet very pleasing.
  • Allows you to choose a number of different colours: i.e. you're not restricted to just two or three.
  • Produces a balanced, calming effect.


  • Very low in contrast - you need to make sure that the colours you chose differ significantly in tone (see part 1.)

Tip! To test for contrast, twist all colour strands together. If the colours merge together, you'll know there is not enough contrast.


    Analogous Colour Combinations


    Colours placed next to each other on the colour wheel make up an analogous colour combination. These type of colour combinations are often found in nature and are very pleasing to the eye.


    • Just like monochromatic colour combinations, they are easy to select.
    • This color scheme looks a lot more vibrant than monochromatic colour combinations.
    • You can choose as many colours as you like.


    • These colour schemes can lack contrast, so it's vital that you make sure that there is enough variation in tone for your colourwork project to pop!

    Tip!  Avoid using warm and cool tones together in analogous colour combinations.


    Diad Colour Combinations


    Diad colour combinations are made up of two colours, found two steps apart from each other on the colour wheel.


    • These look great in colourwork and are perfect for those who are wanting a colour scheme that is less vibrant than complementary colours.
    • A simple colour scheme that is easy to put together.


    • The contrast between colours is not as strong as complementary.
    • Limited to two colours.


    Triadic Colour Combinations


    Triadic colour combinations are made up of three colours that are spaced evenly around the colour wheel.


    • Gives you a nice balance of colour that is high in contrast.
    • These colour combinations tend to be quite vibrant, even if you use pale or unsaturated hues.


    • Not as vibrant as split complementary colour schemes.
    • Limited to three colours.

        Tip!  To use this colour combination successfully, let one colour dominate and use the other two as accents.


         Complementary Colour Combinations


        Complementary colours are found on opposite sides of the colour wheel. 


        • When used together, these colours create vivid and bright colour combinations, more so than any of the other combinations we have looked at. 
        • Fabulous for stripes.


        • Can be jarring and hard on the eyes. To help ease this, make sure you use different tones (e.g. a light colour paired with a dark).
        • Limited to two colours.

            Tip!  When using complementary colours, try placing warm tones next to cool. 


            Split Complementary Colour Combinations

            Split complementary colours are a variation of the complementary colour scheme: one colour is paired with two colours that are on either side of the complementary colour. 


            • Perfect for three-colour knitting.
            • Provides a high contrast between colours.
            • This type of colour combination is hard to mess up and almost always results in a pleasing colour scheme.


            • May be harder to create a balance between colours. If so, you may be better off trying the monochromatic or analogous colour combinations.
            • Limited to three colours.

              Tip!  To highlight warm tones in your project, use a single, warm colour against two cool, OR if you want the cool colour to take center stage, place it next to two warm colours.


              Tetradic Colour Combinations

              Tetradic colour combinations are also known as double complementary because you are using two pairs of complementary colours.  The first picture shows a rectangular colour scheme, the second is a square. 


              • Creates a rich and vibrant colour scheme.
              • Lots of contrast.


              • This is the hardest of all colour schemes to balance.
              • Limited to four colours

                Tip!  To help balance this colour combination, make sure you have an equal amount of warm and cool colours.


                Cool and Warm Colours


                Colour wheels are split into two sections: cool colours on one side, warm colours on the other. Selecting a balance of these colours means making sure that you have the same number of colours on either side of the colour wheel. Mixing warm and cool tones works especially well with triadic, complementary, split complementary and tetradic colour combinations but should be avoided in analogous colour combination.



                I know I spoke about tone last week, but I again wanted to emphasise its importance within a colour scheme. The colour wheel pictures that I have used do not show tone; there are colour wheels out there that do, like this one.  If you're looking to get one, try and find one that illustrates tone.  Using the above colour formulas and combining those with your knowledge of tone will, without a doubt, produce eye-catching colour combination.


                Using Neutrals

                Neutrals don't appear on the colour wheel but they make wonderful additions to any colour combination. Neutral colours are shades of grey, black, white and sometimes brown and beige. Try adding one or more neutral colours to any of the above combinations to liven them up and expand you colour palette. The example above shows a split complementary colour combination with grey.


                To Sum it all up

                • The colour wheel is an important tool that will help you choose harmonious colour combinations.
                • Keep in mind the pros and cons of each colour formula when selecting colours for colourwork.
                • Never forget to vary tone within a colour combination; this is really important for the overall success of your colour scheme.
                • Try adding neutral colours to your colour scheme; they help to liven up your colours and expand your color palette.

                I hope you have found this post helpful!  Next week we'll be looking at where to find inspiration for colour combinations and how to use this inspiration 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.