Playing with Yarn and Color

March 13, 2017 , In: Fiber

Like many other creative types, I go through phases where I get bored with one type of medium and suddenly find myself working obsessively in a different medium that I had zero interest in a few weeks ago. What’s great about this is always having something that interests me to work on. I am currently in the throes of a knitting obsession. Knitting is one of those activities I do to keep my hands busy in front of the tv, on a long car ride, or when waiting for a kid to finish an activity. It’s a time filler. It has never really been about a finished product, but about the process. In fact, finished projects often get put away and never used. However, if we suddenly find ourselves in a dystopian society where the weather is cold, I can at the very least keep my family warm.

And if I don’t love the yarn I’m working with? Forget it. The project will never be finished. I need beautiful yarn in beautiful colors to keep knitting interesting. At the same time, the colors can be beautiful, but I hate how it looks when knitted up. I’m super picky about how the finished project looks. What other people find beautiful, can make me extremely unhappy. I finished one shawl that I declared looked like neopolitan ice cream and placed in my closet never to be seen again.

I am currently OBSESSED with fading and mixing yarn colors. It started with this cowl in January:


I knit so much in one week my fingers were sore. But I was too excited to see how the colors played and faded into each other. This cowls uses eight different colors of a beautiful hand painted yarn called Koigu KPPPM

By mid-February, I decided I *needed* to do the pattern called Find Your Fade. This is what I’ve completed so far using 4 different yarns (you can find all the details in my ravelry notes if you’re interested):


I still have a few more color changes to go, but these are the colors I’m considering (the purple on the left is my current color). I will probably knit a very small sample before I progress beyond the dark purple because I’m not anywhere near as certain of these choices as my first four choices. 


As a knitter, as with so many other creative pursuits, I am very fickle. I probably have at least 8 projects going at any one time. While I knit obsessively on the find your fade shawl for a couple weeks, along came the marled mystery knit along hosted by Stephen West. A mystery knit along is just what it sounds like. You get a clue each week and by the end, you have a finished project. In this instance, you know it’s a shawl. And you also know it will have lots of texture and opportunity to use a bunch of different colors if you want. Sometimes you don’t even know what you’re knitting when you join a mystery knit along. Anyway, I wasn’t going to do this one, until I heard the words “stash buster” because I shop for yarn way faster than I knit the yarn. Stephen also used a macro photo of the texture/color of a section of the project that was too gorgeous to ignore. 

It helps to know that marled yarn is two colors twisted together. Marled knitting is when you hold two yarns together while knitting, which causes the yarn to twist on its own. It’s a stunning and suprising effect. 

To start with clue 1 section 1, I used purple as my neutral color (because in my world, purple looks amazing with all colors and skin tones) plus the leftover yarns from the Koigu KPPPM cowl I showed earlier. Notice how different the Koigu looks when paired with the deep purple color?


Clue 1 section 2 is a fading marl technique. You start with colors 1 and 2, drop the 1st, pick up the 3rd color, drop the 2nd color, add the 4th, and so on until you get to the end. Here’s what that section looks like:


And what the two sections look like together:


So how do you mix colors together without them look gross? Well… it’s part personal preference, part experience, part experimentation. Some people love certain effects and color mixing that I personally think looks hideous. I prefer my stripes to fade into each other rather than rigidly defined stripes for this technique. This is accomplished through color and value, which is similar to painting, beading, glass beadmaking, and just about every art form you can imagine. 

Value is the lightness or darkness of tones or colors with white being the lightest value and black being the darkest value. With value, the bigger the difference between the yarn colors, the more they effect each other. I knit up this quick little sample for this blog post for the purpose of demonstrating:


From the left, I knit with a light value yarn for a couple rows, then added a medium to dark value yarn together with the light value yarn. I then knitted with just the medium/dark yarn by itself for a couple rows. Here they are together in cake form:


If you have difficulty comparing the value of colors you are considering, in any medium, take a photo and convert it to a black and white photo. Below is the exact same yarn photo converted to black and white. 


The dark yarn in the above sample happens to be my current favorite. I just can’t get enough of it. It looks amazing with the speckled white, and it also looks amazing with my dark neutral purple. In addition to value, select colors that look good together. But how? It can be super overwhelming because there are SO MANY.

In the case of yarn, if the yarn you’re considering pairing has a similar color as one of its colors, it’s a safe bet. My current favorite has some purple. Obviously if you already like the yarn, pairing it with a similar purple works with very little thought or stress. See the small ball of purple sitting on the cake in the photo below. 


If you’re still uncertain, this is also where a color wheel can help you. Here’s a basic “how to use a color wheel for knitters” 

Again, I’ve changed the color photo to black and white to get a more concrete understanding of value. To be honest, I only did this once while knitting my project even though I used probably 15 different yarns. After years of knitting, beading, making beads, etc, a lot of what I do is intuitive. Usually it works. Sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes I get stuck and need to make a photo black and white. 


So looking at my sample square again, I added my neutral purple with my current favorite yarn, then knit with the purple by itself. At this point I wanted to add a yarn that was a solidly medium value. See the black and white photo above. I chose the gray yarn on the top left. So on the sample below, you can see I added the gray to the purple, then knit with the gray for a few rows alone. 


Notice how dramatically the yarns can affect each other. Or not if you choose colors that are close in color and value. I actually love this sample so much I think I want to start doing this all the time. 

If you want to follow along as I continue the mystery knit along or the find your fade shawls, I post photos on Instagram and specific details on Ravelry.



Jennifer Cameron

Combining fire and glass since 2005, Jen Cameron discovered jewelry making after realizing a small child could disappear in the growing collection of beads sitting around the house. Jen is the adoring mother of two, jackpot winner in the husband category, and zookeeper of several pets. Jen is also the instigator for bringing together this team of innovative, talented, passionate and dynamic women to write for Art Jewelry Elements.
    • Andi
    • March 13, 2017

    Great article on color combos for knitted items. I’m like you, an artist in many mediums, mostly jewelry, but I also knit, crochet, quilt, paint etc.

  1. Reply

    Absolutely stunning, Jen!

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