How To

Your guide to colour – part 1

9th September 2013


Your guide to colour – part 1

Designing and choosing a successful colour scheme for your knits can be tricky, so we asked our resident expert Debbie Tomkies (herself something of a genius when it comes to colour) to give us her top tips to getting to grips with colour. First off, the colour basics! 

“Colour stimulates our senses, triggers memories and can create powerful emotions. A well-chosen colour scheme can be the difference between a garment that’s an instant head-turner and one that is technically perfect but somehow fails to capture the imagination. Colour schemes can be developed in a variety of ways but if you’re unsure where to start, this easy-to-follow guide will soon have you creating colourwork combinations with the wow factor!

Knitting normally uses the artist’s colour wheel as the basis for mixing colours but colour theory goes much deeper than just a simple blend of colours, incorporating value, saturation and temperature. These form the building blocks of a successful colour scheme.



First produced by Sir Isaac Newton in 1666, this wheel is likely to be the most familiar to us, being based on the relative wavelength of the various colours we can see. Starting with the three primary colours, these are further divided into three secondary colours and again into six tertiary colours to give a 12-colour

Basic wheel.

Primary colours (P)

The pure hues: Three colours that cannot be made by mixing other shades – red, yellow and blue.

Secondary colours (S)

Two primary hues adjacent to each other on the colour wheel when mixed in equal proportion.
Red + yellow = orange
Blue + yellow = green
Blue + red = purple

Tertiary colours (T)

The result of mixing two adjacentsecondary colours in equal proportion.
Red + orange = red-orange
Orange + yellow = orange-yellow
Yellow + green = yellow-green


The relative lightness or darkness of a colour – also referred to as a grayscale image and very useful in ‘seeing’ colour in terms of value rather than just hue. Darker colours are achieved in yarn dyeing by adding black. Because there is no white  dye, lighter colours are produced by adding less dye. Note how when viewed in black and white, the colours have very different levels of light and darkness.



This refers to whether a colour is warm or cool. Often the colour wheel is divided into two, with purple, blue and green forming the cool spectrum and red, yellow and orange the warm. But all colours have warm and cool variants. Blue with the slightest undertone of yellow, for example, will appear warmer than a blue with an undertone of purple.


Saturation (intensity)

This refers to the amount of pure hue present in the colour. Very vibrant, clear colours are normally described as fully saturated and duller colours are less saturated. This is often achieved by combining two complementary colours. Here, blue has been added to orange gradually to create rich rusts and terracotta, progressing through to brown. 


Check back next week for part 2: how to pick a palette for fairisle knits! 

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