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October 19, 2017

so… how do I add in a third colour?

I’ll admit it, I don’t find this colour strategy as easy as the ones I worked on for  Monochrome Monday, Tonal Tuesday, and Wacky Wednesday. I actually made 4 swatch hats in the development of this blog post! None of them are truly ‘bad’ combinations, but some appeal to me more, and which less.

This post is the fourth in our 5-part Week Of Colour! Check out the other posts too:

While I did use 4 colours in Tuesday’s ombre hat, they’re all the same basic hue (that’s just another word for colour) with different value or saturation. So it was relatively easy to match them all up. Which, of course, is why that colour strategy is a great one to try!

In contrast, I find working with different hues in the same piece is more … unpredictable!

To develop a 3-colour palette, I think it’s easiest if you begin by choosing a colour pair that you like together, and which has an effective level of contrast, and then test out a few different options to decide on the third colour.

This is my favourite of the three-colour hats that I made (from the Anthology pattern). When it comes down to it, this combination really only uses two colours: yellow and blue. The main colour is a darker yellow, and then the two contrast colours are pale teal and a bright yellow. This combination pleased me because although it is quite low contrast, it has just enough contrast to be effective. And in natural light, the hat really glows!

It was quite a journey I took to arrive at this result! Below are some more swatch hats I made along the way.

neutral + 2 colours

This early swatch hat really got me thinking about how nuanced and fun working with a 3-colour combination could be. It’s made with a neutral (the charcoal) and two hues (pale icy blue and orangey red). This sort of combination is a little bit easier to make work than one which uses 3 different colours. With a neutral in the mix, the important thing is that the other two colours work well together. This combination ended up being a bit too ‘halloweeny’ for my tastes, but there are also things about it that I like.

3 distinct colours

Next I decided I would attempt a hat that incorporated 3 different hues. I chose a deep red main colour, and two light / bright contrast colours. The pale teal and the slightly muted yellow work very nicely together here because they’re quite similar in value, and both have a strong contrast to the deep red. This means that when they are alternately used to work the foreground pattern, this pattern has a clarity and unity. This is obvious in the X shaped motifs, which read very clearly. I didn’t initially love the colour combination. I think it was a little bit too Gryffindor for me! Regardless, I decided to complete the hat, and it turned out to be the favourite of the bunch for my son Max.

While I don’t think I would use this precise combination in a sweater for myself, I did grow to like it in the end. I think that if I were to improve this combination, it would likely be by swapping out the main colour. Here are a few interesting options:

There are many different ways this palette could be altered. I particularly like the options on the bottom row. A more muted / washed out red would take the contrast down a little bit. A muted pink would have a similar effect, but also create a combination that is more girly / romantic. On the other hand, a punchy saturated pink could be quite delicious too!

despite the best of intentions…

After that combination that was a bit ‘outside the box’ for me, I chose a palette I was more comfortable with; charcoal with teal and red. In this example, I also used the bright teal, but this time I used a neutral (charcoal) background, and a really lovely purply red.

This combination looks like an obvious winner, right?!

Despite my love for all of these yarns, the final combination was a bit bland and didn’t have the sparkle that I was looking for. But knit and learn, right? To me, this just illustrates the fact that swatching is essential to choosing 3-colour combinations. You simply can’t be sure whether a palette will work until it is on the needles!

neutral + 2 related colours

It is easier to make a 3-colour palette work if you work with a main colour, and then pick two related CCs; a deeper or more saturated plus a lighter or desaturated version of the same colour.

Alexa did this in her design for the Tenderheart Sweater; for the adult size she used a cream background and two different colours of red for the foreground patterning. Each horizontal motif was worked in a single foreground colour.

The Clayoquot cardigan illustrates a similar strategy; deep and bright green foreground colours create strong contrast against a white background. The Clayoquot toque uses a light grey background with charcoal and brilliant blue as foreground colours, which is two neutrals with a single colour to ‘pop’. And the Triptych mittens use a very similar strategy again! Try this method of employing a neutral background colour for a low-risk way to use three yarns.

Where do I use the 3 colours?

Once you’ve chosen a palette, there are different ways to combine the three colours. You can keep the background colour consistent throughout, and alternate where you use the two different foreground colours. This means that the foreground pattern has shading within it. If you want to do this, and want your foreground pattern to ‘read’ as a clear graphic, it helps if both foreground colours you are using are a similar value or brightness, and that they both contrast very strongly with the background colour (as they do in the red hat example).

Alternatively, you can keep the foreground pattern colour consistent throughout, and change up the background colour. If you want to do this, it helps if the third colour is close in value or brightness to the background colour, and that the foreground colour has a strong contrast with both of the other colours.

What a difference a third colour makes!

On the left is the basic chart of the stitch patterns used in the hat. This is how the pattern would appear in a two colour pair.

On the right I’ve shown where foreground and background colours are used. You can see that the stitch patterns in rows 1-5 and 11-15 are the same, as are the stitch patterns in rows 6-10 and 16-20. However, in the coloured version, you can see that the combination of colours used makes these patterns look different.

In row 3, the bright yellow replaces the background colour. In rows 8 and 13, the bright yellow replaces the foreground colour. In rows 17, 18, 19, the bright yellow replaces the background colour, and this happens again in rows 22, and 23. Lastly, in rows 25-27, the bright yellow replaces the foreground colour, and the teal replaces the background colour.

Do you see the difference? Of course, these two strategies can also be mixed and matched in a single piece, as I have done above. With less contrasting dark vs. light relationships you can also achieve very beautiful effects, but there is a tendency for the line or graphic of the pattern itself to get a bit more lost.

I have found that smaller horizontal patterns make for very sparkly effects when you play with 3 colours; these are the kinds of patterns I chose for the swatch hats I made. We’ve included many of these types of stitch patterns in the Strange Brew sweater recipe, check it out!

What are you working on now? Share your knit story with us!

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. Linda Roundy permalink
    December 7, 2017 4:59 pm

    please let us copy your color arrangements and sizing for Max’s Syncopation Adoration we admired on Instagram? Happy Holidays

  2. November 17, 2017 2:20 pm

    OK girls, your hats, mittens, sweaters are all the best. Colors are bright and eye apeeling, patterns are simple, but look complicated, what I am trying to say – they are the best!
    Thank you for being so inspireing.

  3. Carol permalink
    October 20, 2017 7:00 am

    As a knitting newbie, I am impressed and overwhelmed by your level of detail, commitment and knowledge. Amazing work, thank you for sharing.
    Glad our former LYS, Grey Heron, now in Belleville ON, has posted about and shared about this blog.

  4. Rachel Judson permalink
    October 20, 2017 2:29 am

    Oh, I am so in love with the goldenrod/ yellow/ blue combo. It makes me all sweary it’s so good.

  5. sophy0075 permalink
    October 19, 2017 6:00 pm

    Your recommendations are very helpful!

    I’ve been fiddling for a day and a half, trying to figure out what color to pair with a very brightly variegated yarn (it’s a strong yellow, lime green, and turquoise-to-royal-blue blend. Whew!). With so much going on, I knew I had to choose a color that would make the variegated yarn “pop”.

    So I went on a lazy knitter’s swatch, holding possibilities up against the crazy skein. White? No, too bland. Black? Rejected in a nanosecond, as too grim. I considered various mid- to deep grays, but grey has either a blue or a green cast, and each cast “fought” against one of the crazy colorway yarn.

    Navy. Darkest, darkest navy. That worked. it was warm enough to complement the warm portions of the yarn, but deep enough to contrast with the yarn’s blues. And since this combination will be knit into a baby blanket, the colors will be gender-neutral and not need constant washing (yes, the yarn is a superwash).

    I love your patterns, but because I live in the southern US, I can only use the ones knit with lightweight yarns. A Flax Light (in kelly green, royal blue, off-white and navy) just went to a new baby boy.

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