Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Best Laid Plans: A Lesson in Colour

Long before I finished Lizard Ridge, I was looking at the leftover bits of the Noro Kureyon and thinking what a shame it would be to just throw them away. I came up with an ingenious plan for how to use them and began to plot out a brilliant blog post that would delight everyone who read it. Unfortunately, the best laid plans, as they say...

I was going to start out with this lovely photo of the leftover Kureyon, wound into little balls. As I was knitting the blanket, I found that oftentimes the loveliest colours would be left behind when the block was finished. It seemed like, because of the way the ball was wound (and because the block was knit with yarn from either end of the ball, working toward the middle) the colours that seemed to predominate were often positioned in such a way that the knitting was over before I got to them. It seemed a shame to not use them, but how could one use randomly coloured lengths of yarn in some sort of reasonable project?

I thought of this hat from Drops, which I've been wanting to make for a while. What if I figured out the length of yarn needed to do a round on the hat, and then measured out lengths of the Kureyon that are consistently one colour, and then arranged them in such a way that it would make a beautiful fair-isle design on a solid background? Wouldn't that be stunning hat, worthy of praise for how complicated and well-planned it was? So I proceeded to swatch for the hat with some Cascade 220 in my beloved Sparrow Heather colourway, and test what length of yarn would be sufficient to do a round. Then I sat down with my balls of Kureyon and began to measure out lengths of single colours. It made a lovely rainbow of little tiny skeins, and I was pretty excited about how this project was going to go.

Then I started to knit it. Obviously it was a bit of a pain, since I had so many ends -- each round of colour being a separate piece of yarn. But I carried on. Then I realized that I hadn't accounted for the increases in the length of a round (since the hat is cast on at 120 stitches but increases after the ribbing.) D'oh! I soldiered on for another round or two, thinking I might get away with it, without any lengths of colour being too short (since I had made them long enough for all 120 stitches, and the rows of fair isle weren't ever solid in colour but would have some background stitches, and therefore hopefully wouldn't ever take up all 120 stitches worth of yarn.) Then I decided I was being overly optimistic, and that it would be best to save myself the stress and worry. I elected to frog back to before the increases and try making it without the increases, since then I would be assured that the yarn would be long enough. Besides, I had tried on the initial swatch I had made with the Cascade 220 and decided it was big enough for my head. (Did I mention that the pattern is designed for DK weight and I am using worsted, just to add to the complications?)

So I began the colourwork again, this time on a steady 120 stitches. I got about halfway through the flower motif and realized that something wasn't working. The design wasn't very cohesive and it wasn't standing out from the background very well. This was probably partly because the colours varied from round to round, but I had a sneaking suspicion that it also had to do with the value of the various colours.

Colour value is a hard thing to pin down. You can't really eyeball it as easily as you might think, since the brightness or saturation of a colour might make it look like it's a different value than it really is. The best way I know of to check colour values is to look at it in black and white. Before photoshop, a person would probably have to use a photocopier for this sort of thing, but I just changed the photo I took of the hat into black and white to check it out.

As you can see, the values of most of the colours are pretty similar to the value of the background colour. There are a couple of ways I could have tried to fix this: I could reknit it with a new background colour (something very very light, like white, or very very dark, like black) would probably make the fair-isle stand out better than the Sparrow Heather background I chose. I went with option two: make a blog post about the failed experiment in fair-isle and knit the hat in two solid colours that have more contrasting values.

I picked up the leftover magenta from the blanket edging and frogged the hat back past the colourwork to start again. It seems to be working better this time. The lesson? Take a photo and check the values of your colours before beginning a fiddly project. Or live vicariously through my mistakes and stick to solid colours.


thecupcakefairy said...

love your blog. Star Wars and crafts. I live with two star wars freaks. My husband and son.

Anonymous said...

Well, I have be sufficiently scared out of ever trying to do colour work. Looks like I can cross that off the old list of things to do.

MOM said...

OMG, you are just too fussy...I thought the colored hat was the beginning of something pretty lovely...can't wait to see the finished project though if it is going to be even nicer.