Colour Me In: Garments

April 17, 2012

There have been some very furrowed brows in the shop when it comes to making decisions over yarn colour for garments.

It's no small task - this is an investment: something you're going to spend a substantial amount of precious time on, and wear until it falls apart.
Well, hopefully.

First things first - be sure that:

a) you won't hate the colour after spending 60 hours knitting with it
b) it's a colour you will wear

Besides the first, very important point, here are a few handy guidelines in making your colour selection.

For the sake of this post, let’s pretend i’m hunting out a colour to knit both Dark and Stormy and Larch.

1. Look to the designer.
Ever wonder why so many people end up knitting a cardi in either exactly the same colour or very close to that used for the sample? Because it works. All sorts of considerations go into which yarn to use for a sample - and all are things you want to be aware of. When it comes to choosing colours for photography, a designer (or their creative director) will be thinking about what colour will show the stitch pattern to best effect in harmony with the yarn used. It’s also why you won’t see many samples knit in very dark colours - definition is lost with darker shades. You don’t want to spend lots of time knitting cables and have them practically invisible.

2. What stitches are involved?
Rules of thumb that I tend to stick with:
Cables: suit light to medium dark colours, with very little variation in colour. Think solid, heathers or barely semi-solid at best. The lighter the yarn in shade, the more light will play on the varied texture of the pattern and really make it stand out.

Lace: You can go darker with lace than with cables - especially if you plan to wear it over a lighter coloured something or other that will show through the holes and bring out the best in the fabric. You could even go black - but be warned that this WILL be a challenge to your sanity.

Stocking stitch with small sections of stitch pattern: Anything goes. Just remember: it is stocking stitch, and chances are high you will get bored. You need to be desperately in love with this yarn.

Fair isle: Fair isle calls for a neutral background - aim for shades of grey or brown, blues or less demanding colours as you don’t want the base colour to compete with the star of the show - your preciously worked fair isle. I’ll go into more about this one in another post.

3. Ravelry is your best friend.
The first thing you need to do: go to Ravelry, look up the pattern page, and then click on ‘projects.’

Assuming you have some sort of colour in mind, browse through the finished projects and see which ones stand out the most. The best ones to squiz at are the completed garments with a full length view in the images - they give a great perspective on how a colour adds to to detracts from the finished item.

Larch Cardi - all good colour choices!

Dark and Stormy  - which one floats your boat?

If you have no idea at all what colour to use - take note of the ones that literally jump off the page with awesomeness. What shade are they?

4. Take a friend, or ask your friendly shop person :D
This one is obvious - ask! Pick up the yarn, put it next to your face, and say, ‘is it me?’. Your friends and shop people are your best source of advice when it comes to what will look good on you. And we love to help. It might sound weird coming from a shop owner but from my own personal knitting experience: don’t settle for second best. If the shop doesn’t have a colour you like, ask. Or go somewhere else. It’s not worth your time or money to knit with something you’re not that happy with.

5. Fall in love

What we hear all the time:
‘oh, I could never wear that colour’

you LOVE that colour! It’s why you picked it up in the first place. But all this rubbish about being able to wear or not wear colours is just that: rubbish. If you really, desperately love a colour, just do it. Colour rocks my world: all of them. So if it makes you happy every time you see it, every time the hue crosses your hands when you knit a stitch: just go for it. There’s a confidence you take on when wearing something you are in love with - this will, EVERY TIME override any clashes of colour between your skin tone or hair or whatever.

Moral of this colour story:
Knit for the joy.

One last word: I haven't mentioned variegated yarn at all here. Reason: unless 99% of the pattern is stocking stitch, I advise against it. For kids: sure, fine go for it; on adults it can look a little crazy. If you do go variegated, aim for patterns that are knit entirely in the round, and knit both sleeves at once - this will help with even colour distribution. For hand-dyed yarns I ALWAYS advise to alternate two if not 3 skeins of yarn throughout to avoid weird pooling.

So: thoughts? Agree, disagree, loathe the entire process with the fury of a thousand suns?



Tash said:

Hi @Bridget! Personally I prefer strongly variegated yarns better for socks, scarves, cowls and the like – which I’ll go into more in another post. Some of the shop regulars knit lots of variegated yarns for the kids but will manipulate the yarn to prevent pooling (which means more ends to weave in, but sometimes it’s worth it!).


Bridget said:

I’m pretty new to knitting and I’m loving all the lovely yarn. I find the whole variegated thing interesting, I see that they look cool in the skein and its a nice opportunity to mix colours but I just struggle to identify any garments where I would use them successfully. I’m mostly thinking of adult pieces, but even for kids stuff the solid or semi-solid yarns seem to be more popular when you look at the projects on ravelry. Is it used primarily for socks? otherwise there seems to be a lot of them round?


Tash said:

Wow, there’s been such an interesting response to this post – am planning a follow up on variegated issue after a loooooong conversation around it on Twitter :)


Shelley said:

Being a fan of the “pick up the yarn and get judgement school” – all I’m going to say is: awesome post! Very informative. Thanks Tash!


Megan said:

“If you really, desperately love a colour, just do it. Colour rocks my world: all of them. So if it makes you happy every time you see it, every time the hue crosses your hands when you knit a stitch: just go for it. "

So much this. We need to stop being afraid of colour. (looks down, note she’s wearing black.) If it makes you happy, then just wear it. Who cares if it clashes with your hair?


Chris said:

I just stand in your shop for half an hour or more looking at all the colours and imagining. I have walked out of the shop many a time to go and “think” about the colours and look at the pattern again. For me it has to be a beautiful yarn + beautiful colour. I can’t simply go for a colour for the sake of it if I know it is not going to feel right.


Alice said:

awesome post Tash, and I agree, ravelry project pictures are the best ever. Now I’m actually brave enough to make cardigans I love looking to see how they fit on other people as well as the colours and oh my, it is just the most helpful thing in the world!
Agreeing with the caveat on variegated yarn, yes, under 12’s only! hehe


Tash said:

@Chris – excellent point, and also worth a whole other blog post….


Hannah said:

Love this post! Great tips, I think I need to sit down and read it again to get it all in.

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