Here I am, modelling my zickzack scarf, in colours I love!
Since taking up the needles again just before Christmas, 2013, I’ve discovered a lot about myself and how I relate to colour. Choosing colour is a surprisingly emotional issue. When you’re about to commit to a knitting project, which will take many hours of work, choosing the “right” colour(s) becomes very important. I have been watching quite a few knitting podcasts on Youtube, (yes, for the uninitiated, there is such a thing!) and recently my very own LYS (local yarn store) has started one that I really love. It’s called Espace Tricot. (The store exists just two blocks from my house, so naturally I’m there at least once a week!) This week, the hosts, (Melissa and Lisa) talked a lot about colour and choosing the colours with which to knit their store samples vs choosing colours for themselves. . They talked about how most of their samples are knit with neutral colours such as grey, beige, brown, black or cream because they find that most people can imagine their preferred colours more easily when they see a sample made out of those neutrals. It’s been my experience that they’re absolutely right. It was lucky that when they started the store, with no previous experience, they naturally knit in the colours they liked, which tended to be neutral!
Vertices Unite Shawl by Stephen West, in the early stages.
On the other hand, there are designers who have no such compunction. Take Stephen West, for example. An amazing, gifted and flamboyant designer of knitwear, he knits in any colours he likes, and although I have no evidence for my theory, I bet he isn’t worrying about whether they have broad appeal. When I first started looking at patterns on Ravelry, I stumbled across Stephen West’s patterns almost right away because he’s crazy popular, but when I looked at them I couldn’t get past most of his colour choices. It’s only when I started looking at people’s project pages that I fell in love with some of his patterns, because I saw them in “my” colours. That’s a good lesson to learn as you’re choosing patterns; if there is something about a design that you’re attracted to but you’re not sure, start sifting through the project pages and you’ll soon have a much better idea of whether you love the pattern and whether you’d knit it with enjoyment.
It’s common for people to get completely stuck when choosing colours and not be able to make a decision for lots of reasons. As an experienced knitter, you might feel badly that you always pick the same colours; if you’re a brand new knitter you might be overwhelmed by all the choices; if you really want to branch out, you might think, but will I ever wear it?; if you love bright colours, you might tell yourself they’re impractical. If you love neutrals you might be in the best position, because you’ll enjoy knitting the piece and you’ll likely wear it, because neutrals are easy to wear on the whole. However, if I were a neutral-loving person, I might diss myself for always choosing such dull colours! (No offence!) After going through these quandaries frequently over the last few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that life is too short to knit something in a colour you don’t love. The hardest thing is to knit something for someone else in a colour you dislike. Then it’s a slog. That doesn’t mean I’ll never do that again; I probably will because I enjoy making things for people, and if they’ve chosen the colours, then they might actually wear the item!
As a young woman I went through a process called “getting my colours done”, a fad at the time (80’s). There were people (mostly women) who made their living by going to people’s houses with a pile of swatches of different colours and assessing what “season” people were. If you were a “winter” or “summer”, you were better in the cold colours, if you were a “spring” or “fall”, you were better in the warm colours, broadly speaking. ( I just googled this and it’s still very much a thing!) The day I had my colours done, whether it was the lighting in my house or the mood I was in, I found the process very uncomfortable and embarrassing, especially since, according to the colour lady, I was totally wrong when I guessed which ones looked better on me! When she put the black up and then the brown and said, which one? I chose brown, though I had no idea—I thought I looked hideous in both. Same with white and cream. Wrong, wrong, wrong. We got off to a rough start but when she got into the actual colours I finally started to see that the brights— the purples, pinks, blues and greens—were much better on me than the oranges, yellows, reds and browns. If this seems like a bogus proceeding, I understand, but it made a firm impression on me and I’ve always chosen colours in the cold palette since then and regretted it when I didn’t. I still can’t be 100% sure whether I love the cold colours now because the colour lady said I looked better in them, or because I actually love them from my soul, but the result is the same. When I see certain colours my heart soars, others leave me unmoved. (I have the same connection to certain flowers over others, which helps when I’m at the garden store!) Here’s an anecdote to demonstrate my pre-“season”-choosing self. I got married when I was twenty-three and chose a “going-away” outfit (gosh, this sounds so dated now!) in light brown and cream, I suspect with help from my friends, but that memory is hazy now. In retrospect, the main reason I chose that suit was because the lining was in a beautiful pale pink! No surprise that I rarely wore that outfit after my wedding day.
So, choosing colours can make you very happy, but it can also cause guilt, frustration, embarrassment, buyer’s remorse, and, saddest of all, waste, since the yarn will probably sit in your stash; or you’ll knit it up without joy and never wear the article. The most important thing is to enjoy the process of creation as much as possible and the colours you pick are a huge part of the equation. Now that I’m in my fifties I find myself more able to go with my gut without worrying (as much) what other people will think of my crazy choices, which is great, but I can’t help wishing I’d had more confidence to do that during my prime. Another example of youth being wasted on the young!