Knerdy Knitter Chris Bahls is the resident color expert at The Knitting Tree in Westchester. This is an informal distillation of his color wisdom.
- There are no ugly colors – just ugly combinations. Everybody has colors they hate – burnt orange, neon lime green, cotton candy pink, khaki or you name it. But there are times when that so-called “ugly” color provides the perfect contrast or bridge between other colors to make a project sing. “Don’t be afraid to just try something,” Chris said.
- Love your favorite colors – just don’t use them for everything. It’s so easy to turn to our favorite colors because, well, we LOVE them. Before long, you’re in a rut. “If everything you buy or knit is in the same favorite colors,” Chris said, “those accessories will do nothing to accent what you’re wearing.”
- Get inspiration from what you see around you. Chris, a knitting designer with at least eight patterns available on Ravelry.com, often gets inspiration from the world around him – staircases, balcony railings, or palm trees lining a boulevard. You can do the same: a warm gray tree trunk with a branch of leaves in yellow and dark greens with a white highlight of sunlight might inspire colors for a cowl. A towel thrown down by a swimming pool can suggest blues, purples, yellows and oranges for a shawl. Sometimes it’s easier to see colors in photos than nature; you can always go to Google images or Pinterest for ideas.
- The proportions of each color you use in a project make all the difference. A shawl made of equal amounts of red, blue and purple might end up kind of blah. But a purple and blue shawl shot through with thin stripes of red could be interesting; as could a red shawl with some purple and even less blue. Since yarn is sold in balls and skeins of similar sizes, it can be hard to see the effect of varying amounts of different colors. One option is to take a strip of cardboard (about an inch-and-a-half wide) and wind the yarns you want to use in different proportions around the strip. You tape the loose end of the yarn to the cardboard, wind until you think you have enough, cut the yarn, tape the end, and start with another color. You can alternate the colors in various widths – or start over again on another strip until you have what you think you want. (Check out the Cool Tools section for other ideas.)
- Analyze why you don’t like something and -- and why you do. Paying attention to what you like and why is a valuable education. Too often we have “push button” reactions – like it, hate it. Giving some thought to why we react as we do can be a stepping stone to seeing colors in new ways.
- Experiment. Set out to make a combination you think you’ll really hate -- or a combination you think a friend with different taste would like. Use scraps of yarn too small for a project and see what different colors do together. Nobody ever has to see it – and if you really hate it, you can frog it (rip-p-p-it, rip-p-p-it, rip-p-p-it). For the same reason, welcome mistakes.
- “Errors are a great inspiration,” Chris said.