Color: An Excerpt from A Weaver’s Guide to Swatching

Color: An Excerpt from A Weaver’s Guide to Swatching

You don’t have to be overly skilled in color theory to make color selections, although it helps to learn the lingo. Following is a basic outline of the key terms and color relationships I find most helpful to think about when choosing colors for weaving.
Color Theory is based on a spectrum of color, represented by the color wheel. The “pure” color is on the outer ring. White (tint), black (shade), or gray (tone) can be added to these colors to create new colors shown on the inner rings.

Color Vocabulary

This color wheel is made of swatches illustrating basic color vocabulary. The yarn was kindly supplied by my colleague, Felicia Lo of SweetGeorgia Yarns,a master of color theory as it relates to yarn.

Please note that color is difficult to show true on a screen. Still, even if the colors aren’t perfectly represented on these pages, this wheel will give you an idea of the following color relationships:

Primary Red, yellow, and blue are the primary colors from which all other colors are made.

Secondary Three new colors result from various combinations of the primary colors. red + yellow = orange, yellow + blue = green, and blue + red = purple.

Tertiary There are six combinations of primary and secondary colors. These blends create the gradients between primary colors: red–orange, yellow–orange, yellow–green, blue–green, blue-purple, and red–purple.

Complementary These are colors that sit opposite each other on the color wheel. Blue and orange is a classic example.

Analogous Groups of three colors next to each other on the color wheel.

Cool vs. Warm If you divide the color wheel in half, with red, yellow, and orange on one side (warm), and blue, green, and purple on the other (cool), you create temperature zones. Warm colors tend to recede, and cool colors tend to advance. Temperature, though, can cross the temperature divide. You can have a warm blue and a cool red.

Hue A hue is a color’s pure form.

Tints, Tones, and Shades When a color is mixed with white, it creates a tint; when it is mixed with gray, it creates a tone; when it is mixed with black, it creates a shade.

Saturation This is the relative lightness or darkness of a yarn, or where it falls on the tint, tone, and shade continuum.

Value This is a tricky one. Value is the relative brightness of a yarn from light to dark of a color, compared to a grayscale. Some people talk about value in terms of the weight—the darker it is, the heavier it is. The brighter it is, the lighter it is.

Using Color Theory

When it comes to using this information in weaving, I think it comes down to this central question: Is contrast important or not? In some weaves, color-and-weave for example, contrast is extremely important. In other weave structures, you may want to highlight one yarn more than another.

A lot of weavers create contrast by using complementary colors, but that doesn’t always work. Contrast is created when two color values are different. For instance, a tinted yellow with a tonal purple.

A quick way to determine if yarns have value contrast is to take a photo of the two yarns, using your smartphone. Use the edit feature on your camera to change the photo to grayscale. To do this on most smartphones, pull up the photo and select “edit.” Find the color setting and change the saturation to -100, by moving the slider all the way to the left. If you have the option, do the same for hue. You can also use one of the black and white filters, which will give you similar, but not always completely accurate, results.

If you can still see the two colors as distinct shades of gray, then you have decent value contrast. If you can’t see a distinction, then the yarns have low contrast.

Three yarn are shown above in color and with no saturation. The image stripped of saturation shows how much value contrast each yarn has from the others. If you want to create a high value contrast, you might select the purple and yellow. If you wanted to create a medium value contrast you might choose the blue and pair it with either color. If you wanted low value contrast none of these yarns would be appropriate as you would want to see very little distinction between them. Colors that have a similar hue can also have contrast from one another, for instance a dark purple and light purple.

Build Your Color Muscle

It takes practice to identify where a color falls in this dizzying array of options. The more you use color theory, the more it will reveal its mysteries. You may find it helpful to play around with an online tool such as Adobe Color, a free online color tool.

Another good exercise is to get your hands on a good color wheel, with lots of tints, tones, and shades, then dig through your stash, building color combinations based on color theory.