On Tuesday we talked about some of the fundamental “rules” of color theory as it pertains to knitting stranded fabric with multiple colors of yarn. Today I want to share some of my own design swatches for the Atlas pullover/cardigan that illustrate these concepts.
When I begin a new design, the first major block of time is spent making several swatches. This is never truer than when I am combining color (where swatching may comprise over 50% of the entire design process!). Knitting stranded colorwork is a very specific applied use of color, and it takes a lot of practice to begin understanding how colors work together in this format. More often than not, a color choice you were sure would be perfect doesn’t come together the way you thought it would, or better, a combo that you didn’t feel too terribly excited about ends up working beautifully. The only way to know for sure is to knit up your motif and see what happens! (Bonus: Knit your swatches on varying needle sizes to test what kind of fabric options you have; remember that stranded knitting is virtually twice as thick as single-color stockinette, so a more relaxed gauge is often preferable.)
For Atlas, a total of seven colorwork swatches were made (6 of which are shown in the following image; the 7th is used as an example below to illustrate what doesn’t work).
Atlas’s yoke motif requires the use of 3 colors and is intended for use with three contrasting values of color: Light, Medium and Dark. For me, the choice of value is the first and most important step in choosing a trio of color, followed by the selection of hues. In this case I chose triads of color that live in similar color families (browns, blues, greys, etc.), but you can just as easily mix hues from all parts of the color wheel, as long as you keep the value relationship in place.
Swatches 04 and 06 were eventually chosen as final colorways for the knitted samples (click here to see the final result for each colorway), though most of these options would have made perfectly adorable finished garments for children.
Looking at the six swatches above – one of them jumps out at me as being slightly less successful than the others (at least relative to what my original goal was). Care to venture a guess? In my opinion, Swatch 05 is the least successful (though not a failure). Do the “squint test” at all 6 of the swatches above and see how the motif on Swatch 05 fades to darkness more readily than the others, particularly in the upper “elongated diamonds” section. This is because Colors 1 and 3 are closer in value to one another in Swatch 05 than they are in the others.
Another interesting item to note: in all six swatches, I prioritized the darkest value for Color 3, since it held the most “heft” in terms of defining the overall yoke motif. For Colors 1 (sweater color) and Color 2 (yoke contrast color), however, I played around with swapping the position of the Light and Medium values. For example, swatches 02 and 06 use the Light value as the sweater color, and the Medium and Dark values for the yoke motifs. The other swatches use the Medium value as the sweater color and have Light and Dark contrasting in the yoke. Both results are pleasing. The take-away: when your value structure is solid, you’ll find success in just about any configuration of Light, Medium and Dark (and! even more swatching possibilities)!
Below is an example of how quickly low-contrast color combos can turn muddy; I encountered this situation when I was swatching with shades of brown:
The upper swatch was my first attempt combining browns from our palette. Tuesday I mentioned that you’ll sometimes be surprised at how similar values can appear in the finished knitted fabric, even when they seemed sufficiently different “in the skein”. When you work two shades onto a “grid” of knitted fabric, mixing color stitch for stitch, the colorwork fabric puts the value relationship to the true test. In this case, “Nest” (color 1, which would be the body of the sweater) appeared plenty different from “Truffle Hunt” (Color 3, the darkest shade) when I held the skeins together, but looked much less so when knitted. (Try the Squint Test here too.) So, it was back to the drawing board.
The second brown swatch shows how dramatically different the motif is when just a single color was swapped out for a darker value. The High Contrast swatch subbed “Pumpernickel” for “Truffle Hunt”, a much darker shade of brown. The results speak for themselves!
I’d like to make one final comment about all of this before wrapping up today’s post. When it comes to design and color, I don’t mean to insinuate that there are hard and fast “rules” for success. As in any creative endeavor, that author/artist/designer’s vision and intention are what should guide the decision making process from start to finish. In some cases, a lower-contrast, tonal colorwork palette might be your goal and in that case, choosing colors with similar values can get the job done (in this case, I recommend choosing wildly different hues with similar values, which can result in some very interesting combinations). I’ve structured this post with a more traditional approach, assuming that the goal is to easily see and decipher the graphic motifs featured on Icelandic yokes – and with that goal in mind, a “light-medium-dark” approach will automatically give you a strong foundation to begin your color pairings.
Though only two colorways made it into the final BT Kids collection, I wanted to post a few more options here for anyone who may have seen a combo featured today on the blog that they might want to run with – on Atlas, or any other 3-color stranded project you might be planning. We’ll also be posting these alternate colorways on Atlas’s pattern page for reference as well.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this little soirée into color theory for knitters! It’s a subject I love talking about — many thanks for letting me indulge!