An Introduction to Color Theory

Whether you’re wanting to create a custom Fair Isle palette or are looking to experiment with dyeing one of our special reserve Bare yarns, it all starts with color. Which is why this week we’ll be exploring more about color theory!

Color is all around us – it has the ability to affect our mood, it can make us feel energized, it can make us sleepy, it can make us hungry. And yes, it can even affect our knitting and crocheting! Although the study of color is quite complex, getting a good foundation of the basics is all you need to expand the possibilities of your craft.


knitting color theory 6


See the lovely rainbow of Palette yarn (pictured above)? This basic color wheel includes the three primary colors – yellow, blue and red – along with  several colors that fall in between the primary shades. These “in-between” colors are referred to as secondary and tertiary colors in color theory. Although there are only a handful of colors shown, this arrangement can go a long way in learning the basics of color relationships.


knitting color theory 5primary colors


First, let’s take a step back and look at the primary colors – red, yellow and blue. These three colors serve as the foundation of the color wheel and create all of the other colors that fall in between. Also, here’ s a fun fact about primary colors – they are the only colors that cannot be reproduced by mixing other colors together!


knitting color theory 4primary and secondary colors together


After primary colors come the secondary colors – these are created by mixing the primary colors together. For example, the bright green in the picture above is made with blue and yellow. These three secondary colors can then be mixed together to create tertiary colors like teal, which results when the bright green and blue are combined.

From here, you can start to use a few simple principles to help guide your next color selection:

  • Opposites attract! These colors are known as complementary colors and can bring about some unexpected combinations that you might love.
  • Keep in mind that colors of the same value when placed next to each other can sometimes cause a slight “vibrating” effect.
  • To avoid this, simple use the two colors in different proportions.
  • You can also try adjusting one of the colors slightly to the left or right. This will allow you to have two colors at different values which will help tone down the overall contrast.


knitting color theory 2split-complementary colors


If you’re looking for more than two colors, a good approach is using split-complementary sets. You  begin as you would for choosing two complementary shades and then, choose one of the colors to split out into the two colors located on either side. These color combinations add a lot of brightness and vibrancy to a color palette, while contributing an extra layer of depth and complexity.


knitting color theory 1analogous colors

Another approach is to take a group of analogous colors, or groups of colors located next to each other on the color wheel. These sets tend to produce color groups that are more soothing and calming while displaying a range of shades. If you are using analogous colors to create more complex colorwork, you’ll want to make sure that you have a set of colors with enough contrast so the end result isn’t washed out. Alternately, you could choose a complementary color opposite your set of analogous colors as a bit of extra contrast.

For example, the analogous color set above would work well with a nice deep orange or red (to contrast the blues and greens) or try a dark purple as an additional pop of color to contrast the light greens and yellows.

Have you learned any color tips and tricks from your knitting and crochet projects? Be on the lookout later this week for more on working with color!


  1. William / January 13, 2015

    I know that is being picky but the photo of the primary and secondary colors has the purple in the wrong position. It should be between the red and blue not the green and blue. This might help as well.

    • Jenny K / January 13, 2015

      You’re right, good catch! And thanks for letting us know, we’ve added a note and will update the image soon.

  2. GMcM / January 13, 2015

    You mention values (e.g. “same values”) but you don’t explain what values are. It would help to know what you are referring to. Thanks.

    • Jenny K / January 13, 2015

      Hi there! We’ll be continuing this series throughout this week and next where we will get more into detail on the hue/shade/value of colors and how to make this work best with yarn – check back soon to learn more!