Traditional Color Schemes: The Ultimate Guide to Color Theory For Sweater Knitters Part 2

In Part 1 of The Ultimate Guide to Color Theory For Sweater Knitters we explain what the color wheel is and how it works. If you haven’t read that post I highly recommend checking it out before continuing.

Today we’re going to be applying what we learned about the color wheel to choose color schemes for our sweaters. We’ll be looking at the most traditional color schemes that use the color wheel. For each color scheme we will also demonstrate what it looks like when applied to your sweater knitting.

Traditional Color Schemes

Typically in design school you are taught six ways to combine colors into color schemes that will almost always look great together. Let’s look at how these traditional color schemes work and can apply to your sweaters.

Complementary colors, color wheel, color scheme

Complementary colors are directly opposite from each other on the color wheel. Because the colors are directly opposite each other, they are at the highest contrast this creates a vibrant look especially when used at full saturation. This color scheme must be managed well so it is not jarring, generally by using more of one color and accenting with the second.

Complementary colors, color scheme, color wheel
Pattern: Grettir by Jared Flood

In this example you can see that a subdued version of each of the colors on the color wheel was used. The rust orange and navy blue pair incredibly well together! Remember that you can use any tone or shade of the tones or shades on the wheel to create looks that still apply the basics of color theory.

Split complementary colors, color wheel, color scheme

The split-complementary color scheme is a simple variation of the complementary color scheme. In addition to the base color, it uses the two colors right next to its complementary color. This color scheme has the same strong visual contrast as the complementary color scheme, but with less tension. This color scheme is a good choice for beginners, because it always looks great!

Split complementary colors, color scheme, color wheel
Pattern: The Life Aquatic by Serena Murphy

This sweater uses the split complementary color scheme to create a bright, happy sweater. It isn’t overwhelming because the designer has balanced the colors by using one main color and the other two colors as small accents.

Analogous colors, color wheel, color scheme

Analogous color schemes use 3-4 colors that are next to each other on the color wheel. They match well and create serene and comfortable designs. Analogous color schemes are often found in nature and tend to be harmonious and pleasing to the eye. Make sure you have enough contrast when choosing an analogous color scheme. When used in fashion choose one color to dominate, a second to support and the third color as an accent.

Analogous colors, color scheme, color wheel
Pattern: Kiyomi by Barbara Gregory

In this example you can see how using three very similar colors can work incredibly well! Make sure there is enough contrast between colors if you’re using this color scheme for intricate color work. If there isn’t enough contrast you’ll lose the pattern that you’ve worked so hard on.

One way to prevent this is to take a picture of your swatch, convert the photo into black and white. If your pattern still shows up in the photo, you’re set! If your swatch looks like it is just knit in one color you might need to switch things up to make your colors pop!

Triadic colors. color wheel, color scheme

A triadic color scheme uses colors that are evenly spaced around the color wheel. If you drew a line to connect them it would appear as an equilateral triangle. Triadic color harmonies tend to be quite vibrant, even if you use pale or unsaturated versions of your colors. For the most success with this color scheme the colors should be carefully balanced, let one color dominate and use the two others for accent.

Triadic colors, color scheme, color wheel
Pattern: Byzantine Pullover by Tanis Lavalee

In this example you can see that using the triadic color scheme the teal was chosen as the color to dominate and the fuchsia and yellow were chosen to accent it. To make sure the sweater wasn’t overwhelmed by color, the designer chose to place their color pattern on a neutral base.

Tetradic colors, color wheel, color scheme

The tetradic color scheme uses four colors and is made up of two sets of complementary pairs. If you drew lines to connect the colors in this scheme it would form a rectangle. This rich color scheme offers plenty of possibilities for variation. You should pay special attention to the balance of colors. This scheme tends to be difficult to harmonize and requires one color to dominate or subdue the other colors. When using the tetradic color scheme you should also pay close attention to the balance between warm and cool colors in your design.

Tetradic colors, color scheme, color wheel
Pattern: Sommer i Tokyo by Marianne Isager

In this example you can see that the orange dominates the other colors with it’s vibrancy and causes the other colors to slip into supportive roles. There is also a balance of warm and cool colors with more of the cool purple and blue to bring down the intensity of the warm orange and yellow.

monochromatic colors, color wheel, color scheme

Monochromatic color schemes are derived from a single base hue, and extended using its shades, tones and tints. As a result, the energy of a monochromatic palette is more subtle and peaceful due to a lack of contrast of hue.

Monochromatic colors, color scheme, color wheel
Pattern: Malachite by Heather Dixon

The great thing about using a monochromatic color scheme is that there are quite a few different ways to add variation. This sweater uses a different texture in the same hue. You could also make a very visually appealing sweater by switching up your needle size or yarn weight. A popular use of this color scheme is in gradient or ombre style sweaters.

Bringing it all together

Let’s summarize the traditional color schemes that we just went over.

Complementary color schemes are a bold choice and use two colors that are directly opposite each other.

Split complementary color schemes are a more relaxed variation of the complementary color scheme. It uses one color and the two colors next to it’s complement.

Analogous color schemes are very harmonious and use 3 colors that are right next to each other on the color wheel.

The triadic color scheme forms a triangle of equally spaced colors on the color wheel. This color scheme tends to be quite vibrant and dramatic.

Tetradic color schemes use two sets of complementary colors. It can be hard to work with but when done right tends to be incredibly rich.

Finally the monochromatic color scheme uses only one hue but multiple shades or tones.

If you’d like to try out your new color knowledge, pull out some needles and start swatching. You can do this with something simple like stripes or maybe delve into something more intricate using fair isle or mosaic color work. Keep in mind the methods we talked about for creating harmonious color schemes.

You may be surprised to see which colors you like together!

What’s next?

Now that we’ve talked about the basics of color theory and the traditional color schemes that we can put together using the color wheel join us for part 3 of the color series “Combining Colors With Neutrals: The Ultimate Guide to Color Theory For Sweater Knitters Part 3”. We’ll be taking a look at how to use colors and neutrals together in a few classic combinations.

Lacie Lynnae

My name is Lacie and I am the in-house knitwear designer at the Yarn Craft Academy and the author of the 30 Day Sweater. When i'm not knitting you can find me doing yoga, paddle boarding or finding great food! I am also a runway model for Vidal Sassoon and am privileged to travel quite a bit so you may see me posting from new and exciting places! Follow me on Instagram: Lacelue

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