This post is about complimentary colours and the name kind of gives it away… they complement each other! But which colours are complementary? Take a look at a colour wheel and draw a straight line from one edge, through the centre to the other edge and it’ll run through two colours. This pair sitting opposite each other on the wheel and are complementary.
So if you have a lovely orange-red yarn, what is opposite orange-red on the wheel? Green-blue.
The trick with using complementary colours is that just because they go together doesn’t mean you should do a 50/50 split between the two. In fact complementary colours work best if you use more of one and just a little of the other.
For example, if you’re designing stripes you might want to do thick stripes in one and thinner or fewer stripes in the other. But sometimes the yarn companies do the work for you, like where you have a yarn with a colour fleck in it, those are often complimentary to the base colour of the ply.
I like complimentary colours, because the right mixture of them always feels lively to me!
As I’ve said before, colour matters to weavers because when we cross a warp with a weft we visually mix colours. We also like to do things like create stripes and blocks of colour in patterns.
So how do you know that two, three or even four colours will work together? You use a ‘colour scheme’ a bit like those helpful paint brochures that show wall, ceiling and trim colours that work together give a colour scheme! Except you can take yours from the trusty colour wheel.
If you look at any colour wheel (see below) it shows the progression of colours around the wheel, but most of them also show the palest version of the colour in the centre and the darkest on the outer edge. If you look at just one wedge of colour – for example blue – then you’ll see a colour scheme that runs from blue-tinged white through to a dark navy.
That is a monochromatic (one-colour) colour scheme because they’re all the same blue just with more white/black added in to make them lighter/darker.
Of course we’re talking yarn not paint, so sure you might have four balls of yarn that are all blue, but are they shades of the same blue?
If you lay them side-by-side, in order from dark to light, you should see in daylight (beware the distorting power of electric lights!) that they’re shades of the same colour. Though this is where, if you really struggle with colour, you could grab a colour wheel and place the yarns over it to get help recognising if they’re the same blue because they should all belong to the same wedge of the wheel.
The great thing with monochromatic colours is that you can use as many or as few of them as you want (and can find in yarn). Just keep in mind what I’ve said before about the effects of the brightness of colours if you’re planning a pattern so that you draw the eye to part of the pattern you want.
As it has been a bit hot (40C/140F) the past days, I hid in the aircon with my loom watching movies. Wonderful thing about having a rigid heddle loom… you only need a table and your lap anywhere in the house!
I’d actually measured and wound the warp onto the back beam earlier, but something was niggling at the back of my mind… I’d glimpsed a broken thread somewhere… note to self: don’t listen to extremely interesting podcasts while dressing the loom!
Anyway, I unwound and discovered:
The yarn gods were smiling though, because I had one more warp end than I needed so I could just pull this end out.
Despite the broken bit, it is gorgeous wool. I’ve not woven a vari that is a ply of multiple colours and then crossed it with itself. But this was the yarn I sampled last year. I’d thought it’d look good with purple – which it did – but against itself it was stunning.
What fascinates me, is the interplay of the colours… the long change of the variegation gives strong warp strips and these don’t blur or get muddied by a weft that’s going through the same changes.
Here is the scarf, just waiting for a wash, with the stripes still strong:
The colour twist gives it such a lively surface too. Up close it almost looks busy.
I’m looking forward to seeing if it changes at all when fulled!
If you mix red and yellow you get orange and if you mix yellow and blue you get green, right? Most weavers know the answer to this question, because they’ve messed about with paints at some point or watched others do so. Some of you will even have created or used a colour wheel at some stage. If not then this post is for you!
Essentially a colour wheel shows how colour moves gradually from red to blue and blue to yellow and yellow to red with all the gradations in between.
It’s not just an exercise in paint mixing though; the colour wheel has long been used as a ready-reckoner or quick-reference tool for choosing colours that work together.
So should you rush out and buy a colour wheel? Well they are fun to play with if you like colours! But (sadly) they’re probably only of use to people who really struggle with colour.
Okay, so why did I do a post about them? Because they are used to explain key colour concepts that I’ll be talking about in future posts in this series!
So you have bought a lovely blue yarn and you think how great it will look with that other blue yarn in your stash, but when you put them side by side you realise they don’t look good together. Why? A common reason is that one is a warm blue and the other a cool blue.
What does that mean? Well, when colours have more red or yellow in them they tend to be warm and when they have more blue or green in them they tend to be cool. Usually what you’ll notice is that one seems livelier (warm) and one seems duller (cool). The tricky thing is that it can be hard to see until you compare them.
If you don’t feel that you really get this idea, take a trip to your local hardware store or paint store – anywhere that has one of those collections of colour cards/paint chips. Pick a couple of different greys and put them next to each other and do the same for whites. You should be able to see what’s warm and what’s cool easily with whites and greys.
Then grab different yellows, reds, blues and greens and compare. You should see what’s lively/dull or more pink/more blue (more yellow/more green)!
But what happens if you mix warm and cool colours? Usually you end up with a slightly “flat” result where the colours look dull, but you can get “muddy” colours that take on a brown or grey appearance too.
If you’re not sure about a combo of yarns… sample!
In this post, we’ll look at the effect of the brightness of your yarn colours. Notice I said brightness? This isn’t about how light/dark a colour is, but how bright/dull it is.
The brightness matters because a bright colour seems to ‘come toward’ you while a dull colour seems to ‘move away’ from you. That means:
your eye/brain thinks the brighter colour is physically closer, and this is what makes a colour and weave pattern like log cabin seem 3 dimensional (by the way, not everyone can see these 3D effects – depends on your eyesight)
your eye/brain notices the bright colour more, so your eye thinks there’s more of that colour, and it also makes any pattern sections in that colour stand out more
To expand on those points… to maximise the 3D effect of log cabin, you need to use colours with a high difference in brightness – i.e. one very dull and one very bright.
In terms of bright yarns standing out, here’s an example I hope shows that:
When you first look at these two samples, you see the brighter teal/aqua first and register the pattern they make. That’s why the two samples look quite different despite both being the same pattern; one has a bright warp and the other a bright weft.
In terms of mixing colours, here’s a small example (not the best pic sorry):
Both these samples have exactly the same variegated warp, but the weft on right is much nearer the brightness of the warp, so the colours are less distinct and mix more. The dull black weft (left) causes the warp yarn to really pop and makes its colours seem stronger (might be a little lost in the photo).
Something else to note; while the grey weft is closer in brightness, it is still duller than the warp yarn and so lowers the overall brightness of the sample. If you have a lovely bright yarn and you cross it with a yarn that’s a little duller, you might be disappointed at the overall loss of brightness!
As a final note, value is the term used for brightness in colour theory. So, when people talk about a yarn’s colour having a higher/lower value than another yarn, they’re comparing how bright one yarn is to the other.
Colour is important in weaving, because when you cross warp with weft, you start mixing colours.
The effect isn’t like mixing paint, of course, because you are creating separate dots/lines of warp and weft that sit next to each other, rather than blending. The result of this is more like a picture in a magazine (look closely and you’ll see dots of colour), or pixels on your computer/phone etc.
The main difference between dots and the blending you get with paint, is that the end result is created by the peculiarities of how the eye perceives colour. What do I mean by that? Well, a basic principle is that the closer you are more likely you are to see separate colours and the further away, the more they blend. Obviously that also depends a bit on how big the dots are.
Again, grab a page of a magazine and see how close you have to be to see the dots. Or if you don’t have one handy, here’s an example:
What does that mean for weaving? You should sample! Aside from all the other things sampling tells you, it will allow you to take the cloth off the loom and walk away from it to see what the colours you’ve mixed actually look like. Even more so with fluffy yarns, because the fluff gives a different, more blended, result and the fluffy yarn can dominate.
The good news is that you can count on one hand how many concepts you need to grasp to become a whizz at working with colour, and if you’re still not sure, you know you can sample.