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Colour Theory for Knitters

October 12, 2017
Colour Wheel

Since we released the Strange Brew recipe, a pattern which guides knitters to create their own colourwork yoke design, we realized there were a number of colour-related terms we hadn’t yet defined on the blog. The KAL for Strange Brew starts next week and we know you are all picking colours! This discussion of colour theory is included in our book Mad Colour.

When picking and combining pairing colours, there are some concepts and terms are useful.


Hue is what we generally mean when we say what ‘colour’ a thing is. If you’ve been through primary school, you’ll probably already know that there are 3 primary hues: red, yellow, and blue. Mixing these hues (in light, in paint, etc.) generates the 3 secondary hues: orange, green, and purple. These colours make up the ‘colour wheel’.

Colour Wheel

A colour wheel of Rainbow Heirloom Sweater

Taking the colour wheel as a starting point, we can name a series of relationships between colours.

Complementary colours are located across the colour wheel from each other, these colours have a very strong contrast against each other. This can be great, or sometimes a little to strong or harsh. Red + Green, Purple + Yellow, and Blue + Orange are complementary colour pairs.

Analogous colours are located adjacent one another, these ‘similar’ colours often play nicely together. Green + Blue, Blue + Purple, Purple + Red, Red + Orange, Orange + Yellow, Yellow + Green are analogous colour pairs.

We find that analogous colours are a pretty solid bet for colourwork, provided there is enough difference in value between the colours for the pattern to read clearly.


Low contrast pairs create a more blendy (which is totally a word) or soft effect which is indistinct. High contrast pairs create more crisp graphics, really emphasizing each stitch, stripe or motif. When working stranded colourwork, the higher the contrast, the more clearly and crisply the pattern itself will read.



Saturation is a measure of colourfulness or colour intensity. Less saturated is closer to grey

If you think of mixing paints, then the more white or grey you add in to a pure colour, the less saturated it becomes. Or when dyeing yarn, the less dye you add into the water bath for a skein of yarn, the less saturated the finished yarn will be.


Value is how dark or light a colour is. Sometimes this can be difficult to perceive clearly with your eyes, because your perception of the hue can get in the way. Converting an image to grey scale can help you perceive value more clearly. You can see that, for example, blue is darker in value than yellow is.

These concepts are useful as they can help you to choose colour combinations. Next week, in preparation for the Strange Brew Knitalong, we are bringing you an in-depth look at colour strategies you can use when designing your own colourwork projects.

More colourful designs from Mad Colour:










One Comment leave one →
  1. October 12, 2017 2:03 pm

    Thanks for the great hint about black and white images allowing easier perception of intensity. Amazing.

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