Design-in-progress: Ithilien Brocade

Okay, I’m going out on a limb here… I’ve decided to do quite a bit of “show and tell” as I’m working through the design for my current major project. This is a bit risky, because of course I can’t guarantee how it’s going to turn out, or how many false paths I’ll be starting down (and then backtracking), but perhaps it will be a learning experience for you, as it will be for me. Knitting is always a learning experience!

The areas I’m working on now are 1) the shape of the finished garment (got that one down pretty well), 2) the background colors and how they relate to each other, 3) how the background colors relate to the bronze design color, 4) details of the border cable and 5) creating the back cable design. Whew! Not much to think about there, huh? Today I’ll just talk about the color issues.

This first large design swatch proved some of my suspicions about the yarn colors, and also gave me a pleasant surprise or two.

Ithilien Design Swatch

The lightest green is a bit lighter than I was hoping it would be, and doesn’t flow smoothly into the next green. The lightest purple IS too light, as I expected, but what surprised me about that one is the lack of contrast with the bronze. On closer inspection, I realized that the purple heather actually does have a bit of warm gold in it – but that’s not the problem. The real issue is that the value between those two colors is just too close for the kind of contrast this pattern – or any Fair Isle type pattern – requires. See how the leaves kind of blend into that stripe? The contrast between the lightest green and the bronze is only fair – better than the light purple heather, but not good enough.

The colors blending from the dark green through the blues are really nice, though. Can you tell there are 5 (or was it 6? I’ll need to go look) different yarns in that section? That’s what I’m after! And it was pleasant to find that the combination of solid and heather yarns play well together.

A tip for checking to make sure the values of a colorwork project have enough contrast to keep the pattern nice and clear – see what it looks like in black and white! A couple of ways to do this are:

Simply photocopy your swatch on a B&W copy machine.

Using some photo editing software (it doesn’t need to be sophisticated to do this), open a digital photo or scanned image of your swatch, and then change the image to greyscale.

Here’s the above photo in greyscale:

Ithilien Design Swatch in greyscale

See how the pattern disappears in the stripe near the tip of the large leaf? That’s the light purple. The lightest green is the obvious stripe near the bottom; its contrast is a little better, but not acceptable.

You can still see the vining trellis-type lines though, even in those stripes. That’s because the twisted stitches catch the light differently, since they stand just above the surface of the fabric. Interesting. And gratifying!

Okay. So the greyscale image helps me see that the background is too stripey, and the offending colors don’t have enough contrast. The light purple and light green will be stashed for other projects. I need one more dark green that will blend nicely. And I can do without more purple, but need a blue-purple that will make a nicer transition between the darkest blue heather and the dark purple. I thought the heather would do the job, but although it does have some purple fibers, it still looks too blue right next to the dark purple.

The hunt was on for those colors (probably heathers) in fingering-weight wool. I ended up ordering color cards for Jaggerspun Heather and Maine Line (solid colors) in 2/8 weight from Sarah’s Yarns last weekend. They came in good time, along with a swatchable length of each yarn – great idea!! These yarns come in cones, and as you can tell by the ‘2/8’ weight designation, were actually produced for weaving. They evidently have the stuff used to treat weaving yarns (kind of glued down to minimize wear and tear during the weaving process), so look thin and wimpy. I swatched the heather sample together with some of the other yarns, then washed it, and it bloomed very nicely.

So now I’ve ordered dark green and blue-purple heathers that may just do the trick. I don’t need full cones, of course, but Sarah’s Yarns offers convenient custom wound balls in 2-oz. increments. (Handy for ordering enough lace-weight for a shawl without having to splice!) I also ordered the pattern for Grace, a really pretty sweater. Like I need another project.

Some color theory

If you’re interested in learning more about color terminology and interaction, I found some good information at Art 104: Design and Composition. There is also a bit of explanation as to why it’s so hard to get accurate color representation on a computer monitor – see the sections on “Light Theory” and “Pigment Theory”. I’ve borrowed their color wheels to show you here.

Basically, a monitor is trying to ‘paint’ with light… and colors just don’t always translate well from printed CMYK (Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, blacK) to displayed RGB (Red, Green, Blue).

When you paint, you start with white paper and add colors. If you mix ALL colors, you will eventually get blackish.

Subtractive color wheel Additive color wheel

Well, when painting with light, you start with black (no light), and if you mix all colors, you get white! No wonder it’s difficult, huh?

Current WIPs

I’m headed for the finish line with the cabled baby cardigan for the Big Guy; fronts and back are seamed at the shoulders, and I have a good start on the first sleeve.

Current socks… plus getting ready to pick a lace pattern for a pair of socks as travel insurance. (Leaving for a conference a week from today!)

Keith’s cardigan is more or less on temporary hold; I do need to finish the shawl collar, will put it aside for now, and then get the sleeves done by the time he’ll want to wear it this fall.

Thinking about cheating on the current projects and starting some for which I have yarn and patterns ready and waiting!!

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