Skip to content

Colorado Recap

I’m back from Colorado, dear readers! After successfully filming 4 videos for Interweave (coming this fall), I’m happy with how smoothly things went (thanks to years of teaching and filming Knitting Daily TV, being in front of the camera is decidedly less terrifying). I filmed videos on how to make jersey yarn from tie-dyed t-shirts, how to knit up a market tote bag specifically designed for jersey yarn, how to dye yarn using ingredients all found in your kitchen on the stove, in the crock pot and solar dyeing, finishing techniques and the endless possibilities with stockinette and garter stitch. The prep work was intense (hence the radio silence on the blog these past few weeks) but it’s always so worth it once you’re in hair and makeup, mentally prepping yourself and you step up to the set and start talking to the camera. Being overly prepared is how I roll and it’s always better to have too much to talk about rather than grasping at straws to fill air time.

prepping to shoot

prepping to shoot

2015-05-18 09.57.10

speed…. marker!

2015-05-18 11.00.52

blocking the shot

2015-05-18 12.18.00

yarn I dyed for the “Kitchen Dyeing” video

2015-05-19 14.00.28

wet blocking

2015-05-19 15.51.48

busy week for Interweave!

The Interweave studio is in Fort Collins, CO and it’s interesting to go from DC where there are so many buildings packed together, everyone walks everywhere and it’s relatively flat to suddenly finding myself in the mountains, driving everywhere and surrounded by wide-open spaces. The staff is wonderful and I always get the feeling when I walk in of being with “my people.”

I managed to fit in a bit of play time on this trip and visited The Loopy Ewe (in person is even better than online!), My Sister Knits, a charming little knit shop where I crashed their Knit Night and Fancy Tiger, a knit and fabric shop with a great collection to browse and a generous teaching space. I got to hang out with one of my favorite people – Heather from The Lemonade Shop and visit her studio, see old friends, meet some new ones and have a thoroughly crafty few days. I came home with some new yarns and fabrics in my bag, completely exhausted and ready to start on the next project.


finally made it!


the roving wall was gorgeous!


crashing Knit Night with Lindsay from Interweave at My Sister Knits


Separated at birth? Maybe. Hanging with Heather from The Lemonade Shop

I came back home, unpacked, dusted off my sewing machine, completely ignored the housework that needs to be done and have been hard at work, sewing late into the night. Sewing is soothing for me and working in the dark when everyone is asleep is how I unwind.


teacher gifts


A lot of people have asked how I made these bowls I posted on Instagram for teacher gifts and there will be a tutorial on those here on the blog next week. In the meantime, there are 35+ new TanisKnits project bags in my Etsy shop, enjoy!


Catching Up with Larissa Brown

I’m excited to share a new author interview with you, dear readers. Larissa Brown is the author of knitting book favorites  Knitalong and My Grandmother’s Knitting, but did you know she’s a novelist as well? Her novel, Beautiful Wreck, is one I’ve read multiple times and her latest novella, Tress (which I’ve also read, both available here) came out very recently. Larissa had a project in my first book, Knit Local, and I’m glad we’ve kept in touch over the years. Larissa was kind enough to sit down and answer a few questions I posed to her…


Larissa Brown

Tanis Gray (TG): Not everyone knows you write both knitting books and novels. They are so different in both style and subject matter. Which do you like writing more and why?

Larissa Brown (LB): I feel like I’ve told the whole world that I write fiction! How could they not know? ;)

It’s true, I write both and I love them both for different reasons. I’m more excited about my fiction right now, but the process is so painful, I’m not sure I’d say I “like” writing it. It reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend about sitting around with family on Thanksgiving. He said, “I’ll really love having these memories later, but I’m not going to like making them.” There are days when I feel that way about writing fiction. I love having written it.

(I think fellow author and knitter Rachael Herron has written about feeling the same way, and I’ve heard the same from other writers. Writing fiction seems like something you want to do so bad on the days when you can’t. Then you find yourself doing practically anything to avoid it.)


My craft books – Knitalong and My Grandmother’s Knitting – are heavy on writing as compared to most design-focused books. (Note: The best parts of Knitalong were written by my husband and co-author Martin.) Like you did with Knit Local, I included stories that go along with and enrich the designs. I really love to write about the social and creative aspects of knitting, and besides my books, I’ve published essays and articles in Jane Austen Knits and


You’re right that the writing styles are very different. But when I look closely, I can see that it’s all inspired by the same things. For two years, it was all Vikings all the time. I wrote Beautiful Wreck and also published two collections of knitting designs: My Viking Love Song and Shieldmaiden Knits.

Most recently, I wrote an essay about Knitting & The Art of Fairytales. I spent hours looking at first editions of gorgeous books and immersing myself in my own children’s books to write that essay. When it got cut from the magazine it was slated for, I published it on my website here. Shortly after, along came Tress – my new novella that is all about a woman who longs to live in a gruesome fairy tale. This week I’m working on two related knitting designs.

TG: You often post your writing locations on Instagram. Do you have a favorite writing spot?

LB: Absolutley! I love to sit and write at Powell’s Books – not the giant one in downtown Portland, but the one on my street in Southeast. You will see many of my #writingspot pictures set in the coffee shop here (yup, I’m answering you right now from Powell’s.) I like the idea of writing in a place where books are sold and readers are all around, even though this Powell’s does not carry my books. (Beautiful Wreck is only available at the City of Books location, but please write your Congressman.)


TG: In both your knitting books and your recent novel and novella, there is a theme of time travel (My Grandmother’s Knitting is arguably more about the passage of time and looking to the past, but I see it as traveling through time and looking back on our grandmother’s generation and embracing both the past and the future in our craft. Dare I say “knitting time travel?”). What is it about time travel that fascinates you?

LB: I think at its heart it is a love of juxtaposition. Of placing the future and the past together and seeing how cool that looks and what it reveals. It’s also a love of tradition and a fascination with how people used to live. When I went to Iceland and sat at a real Viking fireside in an 1100-year-old house, I had a very eerie sense of continuity with the people who sat right there naalbinding and warming their toes so long ago.

In terms of fiction, I love accidental time travel – like the kind that happens in Beautiful Wreck – because it places a character (almost always a woman) outside her inhibitions, expectations and cultural norms. She is stripped of all those things and can be herself in a very raw way, for better or worse. She can have adventures that she would never have in everyday life. And time travel fiction is often concerned with fate, and in particular epic love. That’s my favorite topic to write about.

TG: If you could travel to any time or place, where and when would it be? With whom?

LB: I would definitely go to the future with my husband and son. The past is incredibly fun to write about, but honestly I would be pretty unhappy to end up in 10th century Iceland without espresso or novacaine. It was a hard, short life for people then. Most of the people in my book would die from lung disease by age 45. I would want to use my time-traveling chip to see some incredible wonders that I can’t even imagine, and I’d want to share that with my two guys.


TG: In Beautiful Wreck and Tress, your novel and newest novella, your lead characters are strong women who feel like they don’t fit in. They both have to come to the realization on their own that they are stronger, braver and more independent than they realize. Do you put yourself in your characters or who inspires them and their traits?

LB: Jen/Ginn and Tess/Tress are both strong women who don’t initially recognize or believe in their own strength. Each one uncovers her strength as her story goes on. (I think that’s why they each ended up with two names, because they each shed something and became something new.)

As for putting myself into them, hmmm, I’d say that I put my experiences into their lives. Both Ginn and Tess go through things – large and small – that I have gone through. From being chased by birds in an Icelandic elf hollow to standing in a dark summer field and watching a man in perfect Viking garb chop firewood. But the character who has most of my personality in her is probably the heroine of my follow-up novel to Beautiful Wreck, which won’t be finished for a while. Her name is Eðna and she is a driven, determined person who thinks she has a plan. I am having fun watching her plan fall apart as I write.


TG: What I love about reading any novel is the chance to paint a picture in my head of the characters and the setting. In our modern age, you, the author, provide your readers with public Pinterest pages that support your novel and novella. I never look at them until after I’ve finished reading so I can keep my personal visions uninfluenced until I’m done, but it’s wonderful to see images that inspired the author during her writing journey. Do you do all your visual research up front, or do you find inspiration as you go? Is it usually an image that sparks your ideas in the first place?

LB: I am a very visual person, and I’m inspired by and drawn to color. Tess’s character began with an image on pinterest of a woman with the palest pink hair. The image of Brosa’s tangled, brown hair, lit by a flickering fire, came from watching the movie Beowulf & Grendel with Gerard Butler. My characters and places each have colors associated with them, and lack of color – in Jen’s future, or in Tess’s room at Wildwood Knoll – is often there to juxtapose a sterile life with something real and vivid.


While writing Beautiful Wreck, I had colorways or color palettes that I used for the future and for exterior and interior 10th century scenes. Outside Ginn had her steel and violet and green world. Inside there were orange flames, blond wood, dark plum and brown shadows. The colors in Tress are bright and cheerful, contrasting with the creepiness of her story, in a way that is very much inspired by the art of Adrienne Ségur.

At times, I will use a particular photograph to help me write a scene. One example is Ginn’s farm in Beautiful Wreck. I knew the kind of place it needed to be, but I had no experience being in that kind of house. So I chose a real farm in Iceland to use as the template for Hvitmork. I collected many images of that farm, and of the reconstructed longhouse there, then made some mental adjustments to create the layout of Ginn’s home.


TG: Who is your favorite character that you’ve written (and I know it’s difficult, but if you had to choose)?

LB: Ooh, my favorite is actually one that no one has met yet. The heroine of So Wild A Dream, the companion book to Beautiful Wreck, which is still in progress. I realize I also said she was like me, hah. She had an interesting childhood, and unlike me she experienced early loss and betrayal that have made her very anxious and rigid, but also very strong and brave. It’s fun to match her strengths and desires and fears up with those of Brosa, the brother in Beautiful Wreck. He is my other favorite character, and so inventing Eðna for him is a pleasure. They complement each other and hold each other up through some terrible things that happen in that forthcoming book.

TG: How much of your writing do you edit out? I know with knitting books, often entire projects are cut for various reasons. Do you edit as you go or mostly once you’ve written the entire story first?

LB: I write everything in pencil, in pieces, and not in order. As I type the pieces into the computer, that becomes my first real edit. This editing-along-the-way may explain why I end up cutting less from my fiction than I did from my knitting books. I think with My Grandmother’s Knitting there was one day that I cut 70,000 words. And in terms of designs, I can’t even count how many ended up on the cutting room floor. I don’t think any of us would want to estimate the number of stitches we’ve unraveled in the creative process. The words I’ve cut from my books don’t hold a candle to all those misguided cast-ons.


TG: Tress has a mechanical hand. Knitting is so tactile and our hands are such an integral part of our craft. I love that she uses her hand as a tool to open doors, much like we use our needles to create knitted objects. Does your knitting work inspire your novel writing work?

LB: I love that you saw that connection, because I didn’t! But that points out one of my favorite things about writing fiction. I often don’t know that I’m doing something. Like with Tess, I’m just now realizing that her hands have been her tools all her life, as an artist. The fact that her new hand is like a paranormal Swiss Army knife is just another development in a whole lifetime of creating with her hands. Huh. Thanks for pointing that out.

TG: Do you write in order or do a general outline and skip around?

LB: I skip all over the place for a while, and then there comes a day where I can’t go on any longer without a shape. Then I pull out all the index cards. I learned with Tress that it helps to write out what each person is trying to accomplish in each scene and the exact incident or even the phrase that will drive the reader on to the next. Once that is done, I can start skipping around again to write the words that fit within the outline.

TG: How does the process differ in a knitting book vs. a novel vs. a novella?

LB: With a knitting book or article, I have a pretty strong idea of the structure and agenda before I start. With fiction, I often start writing scenes before I have any idea what book they even belong in. In both cases, I of course eventually need to make a solid framework. Create the flow and carefully place the incidents or details that drive a reader from one design or chapter to the next. That’s when things really come together in an exciting way, and also when it gets very exhausting (for me, anyway.)

TG: In all of your writings, what part of which book are you most proud of?

LB: What a hard question! I can tell you the part I like best in Beautiful Wreck, which is the whole section set at the coast, when they are harvesting the whale. When Brosa comforts Ginn by the fireside, that was the very first thing I ever wrote for that book, and it is in there pretty much the way it first came out. In terms of work I’m proud of? Hmm, I’d say that the whole beginning of Tress came out much the way I hoped. I tried to do a few things in particular, and some of them worked.


TG: Your novel, Beautiful Wreck, had knitting patterns supporting it. Do you plan to do the same with Tress?

LB: Yes! Laura from The Unique Sheep designed a gorgeous gradiance colorway that reflects Tess’s pink-tipped hair, and I used that yarn to create a wavy, lacy, gigantic stole to wrap yourself up in. I am giving the pattern free to anyone who buys the novella (and lets me know by emailing a receipt or other indication that they purchased.) I’m also working right now on several Garter Stitch shawl and wrap patterns, and the first of those is called the Cobblestone shawl and is very loosely tied in with Tess’s dream house. Quite loosely, but as I mentioned, I think it all comes from the same place.


TG: Which authors inspire you?

LB: Well, I have some authors I aspire to be like, and some who inspire me because of their flaws. I won’t identify which are which. J The blended list definitely includes Connie Willis, Neal Stephenson, Daphne du Maurier, Mark Helprin, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Susanna Kearsley and Diana Gabaldon. And I was probably shaped in many ways by the writers of the first “grown-up” books I read. Those would be V.C. Andrews, Colleen McCullough, Edgar Allen Poe and D.H. Lawrence. That combo sounds wacky and good, right? Put that all together and you get Larissa?

Specifically, the initial idea for Tress was inspired by a famous short story by Charlotte Perkins Gilman called “The Yellow Wallpaper.” I put a couple homages to Gilman’s story into my novella. At one point Tess “creeps like a squirrel.” If you’ve read The Yellow Wallpaper (please do!) you will remember all the creeping.


TG: What’s coming up next for you in both your writing and knitting worlds?

LB: I’m already back to work on So Wild A Dream – the book that follows Beautiful Wreck. I’m also actively trying to suppress two new ideas for books in the mode of Tress – with more magical realism and fluid perception than in BW. And since Tress just came out last week, I am caught up in trying to get people to know about it. Not many do. It’s astoundingly hard to cut through the noise and get to even one new reader who isn’t your friend or mom. It takes a ton of work “pounding the pavement,” asking dozens of people to read and review the book. I’m going to do that work for a little while with Tress, and then try to stop worrying about whether anyone reads or likes it, so I can move along to the fun of the next story.

TG: Thank you so much for taking the time to answer my questions, Larissa! Looking forward to your next publication!




Rhoadside Hat

While the blog may have been quiet, dear readers, I have been feverishly working on a big upcoming project for Interweave. I’ll wing my way to their home base in Colorado this weekend to film 4 knitting DVDs. I can’t say much more than that for now, but follow me in Instagram (@tanisknits) for some behind-the-scenes images of what I’ve been working on over the past couple of weeks and shots from the set. I’m excited to see what I’ve been working on come to life and be able to share it with all of you soon!


One other thing I’m excited about going to Colorado for is catching up with my friend Heather Rhoads. Heather is the creator and mastermind behind The Lemonade Shop. While she used to make the most excellent stitch markers and crochet hooks, she has moved on to making the most excellent yarn. While there are many color ways and bases to chose from, I’m a big fan of Stormy Day Sparkle Sock. Stormy Day Sparkle is a self-striping yarn that not only sparkles (yes, please) but stripes up with rainbows! A child of the 80’s and having been obsessed with both Rainbow Brite and Punky Brewster, sign me up for anything sparkly and rainbowy and I’ll be happy.



Some knitters see “sock yarn” and think it can only be used for socks. Lies! I don’t knit socks often (and only for my mom), but I love using sock yarn for shawls, hats, cowls, fingerless mitts… The possibilities are endless! That’s why I’m thrilled to share this new design with you. Let’s break the sock yarn barriers, shall we?


I’ve joined up with The Lemonade Shop to share with you the Roadside Hat! With a generous ribbed brim to show off the rainbow striped goodness, this beanie is a cable-lover’s dream – a challenging cable winds its way up the crown and is topped off with a pom-pom. It’s everything Heather and I love in a hat! Inspired by Dolly Parton’s quote, “The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain,” this will put a smile on your face on even the grayest and coldest of days. Knitting up on US 2s and 3s, you’ll be able to wear this sock weight hat throughout the year.


Have a rainbowy day and download the Rhoadside Hat here!

Seed Lace

I’m always on the lookout for knitting inspiration, but I especially love when I take a quick look at something, read it as knitting, then give it a second glance and see that it’s anything but.

Check out this stunning lacework made out of seeds – yes, seeds. Artist Rena Detrixheby made this gorgeous installation back in 2013 using only sheer cloth and seeds. The final result is both breathtaking and inspiring. Read the original article here.

Heirloom: A Tablecloth Created with Lace-like Patterns of Collected Seeds by Rena Detrixhe




Heirloom is a 2013 installation by artist Rena Detrixhe created from thousands of collected seeds that were applied in lace-like patterns to a large piece of sheer fabric. The resulting tablecloth makes it appear as if the seeds are hovering just above the surface. You can see much more of her environmental and textile-based artwork here.

Color Psychology

Remember we talked a bit about color theory here, dear readers? As promised, today we’ll follow-up with a drive-by discussion of the psychology of color, which is equally important.

Screen shot 2010-04-11 at 8.24.12 PM

We’re told that, “color psychology is the study of color as a determinant of human behavior. Color influences perceptions that are not obvious, such as the taste of food. Colors can also work as placebos by having the color of pills be certain colors to influence how a person feels after taking them. For example, red or orange pills are generally used as stimulants. Another way in which colors have been used to influence behavior was, in 2000, when the company Glasgow installed blue street lights in certain neighborhoods which resulted in a reduced crime rate. Color can indeed influence a person, however it is important to remember that these effects differ between people. Factors such as gender, age, and culture can influence how an individual perceives color.”

I’d definitely agree with that, do you? Take a look at the spectrum wheel above (and take it with a grain of salt). It’s an interesting image tying together colors with emotions. Some of these tie-ins seem obvious – thinking about a beautiful light blue ocean can make you feel calm, orange traffic cones can make you feel anxious, remember the expression “seeing red” when talking about someone being angry? Some of these are cultural cues, some are perhaps ingrained and some are quite possibly nonsense.


Did you know that blue is the top choice for 35% of Americans, followed by green (16%), purple (10%) and red (9%)? Some other fun color facts are that a preference for blue and green may be due to a preference for certain habitats, color preference may depend on ambient temperature, research has concluded that women and men respectively prefer “warm” and “cool” colors, studies have shown that cultural background has a strong influence on color preference, children’s preferences for colors they find to be pleasant and comforting can be changed and can vary, while adult color preference is usually non-malleable. Some studies find that color can affect mood (ever notice that hospital walls are almost always extremely neutral?). However, these studies do not agree on precisely which moods are brought out by which colors.

Keeping all this in mind, let’s apply what we know about the psychology of color to branding and marketing. Color is used as a means to attract consumer attention to a product that then influences buying behavior. Color name can also matter (what sounds better: “I bought a red car” or “I bought a lipstick red car?”). I find this graphic fascinating:

Color_Emotion_Guide22Makes sense now, correct? Trying to drive the point home that your company or brand is eco-friendly? Using green is an obvious choice. Hoping to stand out and cater to a perhaps younger audience? Bring in the red. Want to convey that you are a lasting brand, one with history and dependability? Everyone loves blue. Companies spend billions on branding and marketing. There isn’t some person sitting in a room somewhere making doodles for logos – they’re incorporating market research, company identity, visibility, whom they want for their target audience and, you guessed it, color psychology.

So how can we bring all this information over to our knitting and apply it? We don’t even need to be talking about Fair Isle, intarsia, mosaic or any other type of color work knitting – we could be talking about a simple, monochrome ribbed scarf. Color matters. It seems like an obvious statement, but if your goal is to design an ethereal lace shawl inspired by the forests of Iceland, you probably don’t want to cast on with orange or red. That being said, there is of course a flip-side where sometimes the color of the yarn dictates the design. I found myself purchasing 2 hanks of crazy variegated yarn recently that part of my brain said “this is not your thing, Tanis, step away” while the other part (that eventually won out) screamed “bring me home with you, Tanis! I’m gorgeous!” I knew the crazy variegated was destined to live its life as mostly garter stitch – and I was fine with that because in this particular case, it was about the color, not the design. What do you want your design to convey? Maybe it doesn’t matter to you and you just want to knit a beautiful shawl – and that’s fine!

One of the most amazing things about knitting is that we create every single stitch. We literally take string and turn it into something wearable and useful. How great is that? Color psychology adds an additional layer to our knitting and it can enhance a design, hinder it (ever knit lace with a highly contrasting variegated?), add emotion or mood, blend in by being neutral or proclaim to the world “THIS IS MY KNITTING AND I LOVE GREEN!”


No, this isn’t my yarn stash, but isn’t it lovely?

So next time you stash dive or head over to your LYS, don’t just settle on a color. Cast on with intent and thoughtfulness towards your design. Give color a voice – listen to it, respect it, apply it and enjoy it. There are no right or wrong color choices – at the end of the day I think it’s mainly personal preference that makes a person choose one color over another. How those preferences came about is another story, but go to your LYS and look around with fresh eyes. You might surprise yourself with what you reach for!


Unwind Recap

I am back from my retreat, dear readers! My back is sore from a lot of late-night floor knitting, but it was a wonderful experience and definitely an interesting and inspiring one. If you’ve ever thought of partaking in a knitting retreat, I highly recommend it. You learn so much, make new friends, share experiences, enjoy meals and the conversations, knit anywhere and everywhere, come back with your head spinning from jamming so much fun and learning into a handful of days and leave knowing that you want to come back. There are so many knitting retreats, and no matter where you are in the country, chances are there’s one close to you. Henry David Thoreau said:


“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived. I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary. I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms.”

I definitely sucked the marrow of life at Unwind and am looking forward to next year.

Shetland ponies!!!

Shetland ponies!!!

One of my favorite things we did this year was pay a visit to Apple Hill Farm. The owner and operator, Lee, was in one of my classes, but she gave us a wonderful tour of her farm where we met alpaca, goats, angora goats, dogs, horses, Shetland ponies (squee!), a pig, donkeys, chickens and cats. Apple Hill Farm started in 2002 and is still a working alpaca farm, but they’ve opened their gates to the public and are now focusing on agri-tourism as their main focus. Their passion is creating an environment where their guests can develop a new and deeper connection with animals and the beautiful mountain they call home. Every animal on the farm and every crop in the garden is grown and maintained with a specific purpose. You felt nothing but mutual admiration between animal and owner while walking the property and the yarn from her own herd of alpaca was amazing. Lee has a lot of gumption and I enjoyed our time there! It reminded me of my first book, Knit Local, and the importance of buying local and loving the land we’re lucky enough to be part of.

small_ahf_12 small_ahf_11 small_ahf_10 small_ahf_9 small_ahf_8 small_ahf_7 small_ahf_6 small_ahf_5 small_ahf_4 small_ahf_3 small_ahf_2 small_ahf_1

I’ll be talking more about the science behind color psychology in another post soon, once I dig myself out from the laundry pile and get caught up.

Color Theory – A Primer

As you’re reading this, dear readers, I am driving my way south, headed to new, uncharted lands (by me, anyway) to the wilds of Blowing Rock, North Carolina. I’ll be spending the next handful of days teaching at the Unwind Knitting Retreat, schooling knitters on all things Fair Isle, lace and picot. I’m looking forward to becoming deeply entrenched in the land of knit, surrounded by “my people” and trading stories, yarns, ideas and thoughts.

As mentioned in my last post, I teach a lot of stranded color work classes, both technique and in design. I like to throw in some information about color as well, because color and Fair Isle knitting go together like Wheat Thins and goat cheese (trust me, it’s a spectacular snack). Color theory and the psychology of color (coming in another post) are downright fascinating and whether you realize it or not, it sways your thoughts, your purchasing history, your mood, your body… Everything.

I get asked frequently about color and often, the next sentence to come out of that person’s mouth is “I have no idea how to choose colors, make them go together or even where to start.” While I could write a book on what I’ve learned, I’ll keep this knitting-friendly and just scratch the surface a bit in the hopes that you’ll hightail it to your library and check out a few books on color theory.

color wheel

So what exactly is color theory? Wikipedia tells us “that in the visual arts, color theory is a body of practical guidance to color mixing and the visual effects of a specific color combination. There are also definitions (or categories) of colors based on the color wheel: primary color, secondary color and tertiary color. Although color theory principles first appeared in the writings of Leone Battista Alberti (c.1435) and the notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci (c.1490), a tradition of “colory theory” began in the 18th century, initially within a partisan controversy around Isaac Newton’s theory of color (Opticks, 1704) and the nature of so-called primary colors. From there it developed as an independent artistic tradition with only superficial reference to colorimetry and vision science.”

In knitting speak, it’s a way to balance colors of fibers so they play off of one another, work together to benefit the design to create harmony, rather than hinder it. In visual experiences, harmony is something that is pleasing to the eye. It engages the viewer and it creates an inner sense of order, a balance in the visual experience. When something is not harmonious, it’s either boring or chaotic (and in knitting, it can start to look muddy). At one extreme is a visual experience that is so bland that the viewer is not engaged. The human brain will reject under-stimulating information. At the other extreme is a visual experience that is so overdone, so chaotic that the viewer can’t stand to look at it. The human brain rejects what it can not organize, what it can not understand. The visual task requires that we present a logical structure. Color harmony delivers visual interest and a sense of order. There are 3 basic types of color categories:


Primary Colors: Red, yellow and blue
In traditional color theory (used in paint and pigments), primary colors are the 3 pigment colors that can not be mixed or formed by any combination of other colors. All other colors are derived from these 3 hues.

Secondary Colors: Green, orange and purple
These are the colors formed by mixing the primary colors.

Tertiary Colors: Yellow-orange, red-orange, red-purple, blue-purple, blue-green & yellow-green
These are the colors formed by mixing a primary and a secondary color. That’s why the hue is a two-word name, such as blue-green, red-violet, and yellow-orange.


We could go in even deeper and talk about lightness, saturation and hue (those terms probably sound familiar to you if you took Art 101 or ever played around in Photoshop) – lightness (light vs. dark, or white vs. black), saturation (intense vs. dull) and hue (e.g., red, orange, yellow, green, blue or purple). We’ve also got our warm colors (red, orange, yellow) and our cool colors (green, blue, purple). We’ve got our pure achromatic colors (commonly known as the gray scale), tints and shades, split complimentary, complimentary, RGB vs CMYK, the list goes on and on. Learning about color is like learning about knitting – you’ll learn something new all the time.

So how do we apply what we learned above in my brief Color 101 lesson to our knitting? My advice – get yourself a color wheel. If you’re one of those people who struggle with color, buy a detailed wheel at an art store and keep it in your knitting bag, or throw it in your purse when you’re going to your LYS. Basic rules of thumb are this: things opposite on the color wheel (complimentary colors) ALWAYS look aesthetically pleasing and play well with each other. Same goes for your primaries, secondaries and tertiaries, if you plan on using more than 2 colors. Your split complementaries will look good as well. Draw a line from one color to another and they’ll work, make a triangle or a box and they’ll work, too.

I’ve noticed that some knitters have a hard time envisioning the fair isle project they want to knit in colors other than what is shown. After you’ve downloaded your pattern, print it out in black and white. Take all of the color out of the equation and start from scratch. Bring both your black and white print out and your color wheel to your LYS, lay fibers down in the color wheel sections and start playing around with them. Sometimes color is a feeling (as in “I love how this looks, this just feels right”) and sometimes it’s more scientific (as in “green and red are complimentary colors and I know that the colors will play off of each other well”). If you’re gift knitting, maybe keep in mind what colors your recipient wears and tends to stay away from, eye color, skin tone, climate, fiber preference, etc.

Using one of my recent Fair Isle patterns, the Simon Says Cowl, I’ve played around a bit with the colors in Photoshop. Here we have the original picture next to the same image in black and white with all color information removed:


Completely different feel, correct?

Now what if I played around with the hue and saturation settings?

cowlsWow! Not only does the look of the cowl change, but the feel of it does also. Color is amazing!

Growing up with an artist mother, I have been deeply submerged in the world of art and color since day 1. I suppose at some point I learned the technicalities of color and science, but when choosing colors, I go with my gut. I know what works, I know if the colors will play off each other or turn to mud when knit up and what to avoid. My #1 advice for color choices? BE BRAVE. Try something new! Yellow and purple freak you out? Guess what? They’re complimentary colors, they’re aesthetically pleasing. On the flip side, just because science tells us they’ll look good together, you may personally not like that combination, but that’s the beauty of walking into your LYS, making a choice, trying something new and coming up with a color combination you may never have gravitated towards.

Embrace color and don’t be afraid that you’ll “mess up.” It’s your project, your vision, your choice! What color combinations have you tried lately in your knitting that made you swoon?



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 419 other followers