What about color value?

When planning any type of colorwork – think stripes, mosaic, intarsia, stranded, etc. – you probably give some good thought to your color choices. And there is plenty of room for experimentation. So why not combine orange and burgundy as I did with the Rockscape shawl (shown above), or teal and cream as I did with the Townhouse cowl, or dark purple and variegated yellow like I did with the Basalt Swirl cowl / scarf?

But have you also considered color value?

Let’s first have a quick refresher about color. A hue is what we usually think of as “color”: Red, orange, teal, you get it. The value is the relative lightness or darkness of a hue on a gray scale. And the gray scale shows the gradation of white to black, with every shade of gray in between those two extremes. What this means in effect is that the value characterizes the contrast between two colors.

Back to the knitting world: In colorwork, value is important – and not only hue – because you want your colorwork to really pop out. Otherwise, it’s not really worth it to spend so much time working intricate colorwork patterns if they don’t show in the final project, right?!

There are two very easy ways to assess the value of two skeins of yarn. Go stash diving and grab at least two skeins of yarn, then do the following:
1/ The low-tech option is to squint. In a way, this will “filter out” the hues and let you see the value better. If the hues of the chosen two skeins don’t really pop while squinting, this means that their values are too close to each other. In other words, the contrast is too low.
2/ The somewhat more high-tech option is to use the camera on your smartphone. Set it to black-and-white mode and through it, you’ll see the world in color value. With your chosen two skeins, if one appears light and the other appears dark with your camera, you’re good to go: There’s enough contrast between the two skeins. The black-and-white photograph included here illustrates this: This is the same photograph of the Rockscape shawl as included above, but it’s now shown in black-and-white. You can see that the two colorways really pop, and that there’s enough contrast.

So, how much contrast should you have in your project? Well, like always in knitting: That depends! 😉 Some forms of colorwork are more “forgiving” than others. If you are working with stripes, you can perfectly use colorways with very little contrast. This will create subtle color transitions and create an elegant and refined look. Check out the Chevron cowl for example. If you go with strong colors and lots of contrast, the same stripes will most likely create a bold and more sporty look. Check out the Modulation cowl for example. The same holds true for intarsia if you’re working with abstract color blocks (rather than figurative shapes that need to pop out anyway).

However, if you are working with mosaic, stranded colorwork or figurative intarsia patterns, then you need lots of contrast for your stitches to pop out. Otherwise, the motifs will get lost and that would be really too bad. So, next time you pick some skeins for a colorwork project, pop out your phone and check the color value!

Shown above: The Rockscape shawl (available on Ravelry).

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