It’s been awhile since I pulled out my Munsell Student Color Book. There is a green exercise though. So I pulled apart my color chips and pulled out the mounting paper. I have to tell you that I was rusty. I found that when doing these exercises it is easier to compare one or two chips. Does this one have more gray or more pure hue. Then I can place them in the correct place.
It all started with too many snow days in a row. I had this knitting book that I bought last summer and it’s been sitting on my shelf. I had opened it a couple of times but just looked so complicated that after flipping through page after page of beautiful hand knit tunics, hats, scarves and sweaters, it would go back to the shelf. Last Friday, I took it off the shelf. I armed myself with post-its, a highlighter and the desire to learn more about knitting. The book is Artful Color, Mindful Knits: The DEFINITIVE guide to working with Hand-Dyed Yarns but Laura Militzer Bryant.
Hand-dyeing is what I do. It is my passion. I love when the colors make a pattern similar to ikat weaving. I did have an understanding that the patterning was a result of the number of stitches, but I thought it was a fluke or serendipity. Well, it’s not. This book teaches you to understand the way a yarn has been dyed, whether it is dyed across like stripes on the skein or whether it has been dyed around where the skein is dipped into successive dye pots to achieve color. Of course there are many more techniques to get color on the skein but these two are the ones that produce the most noticeable patterning. Sometimes when you buy skeins the dyers have kept the skein as it was out of the pot. There it is easy to see the color transitions and to understand how it was dyed. However there are other dyers, myself included, who reskein the yarn to show the interactions of the colors.
Very simply, to determine the magic number of your yarn, you need to determine the repeat. Then you need to swatch. This will help you determine how much yarn you use in each stitch. Of course this number will change with needle size and yarn weight. You do a simple calculation to get your magic number on that yarn, with that stitch and those needles. A knitter can stack colors, make the colors zig-zag, or spiral with a few minor tweaks to the magic number.
Here is my yarn: it’s magic number is 73. This is our BFL DK yarn in Amsterdam Tulip colorway using a size 8 needle about 4.5 stitches per inch.
In the first experiment I used half magic number of 36.5 +1.5 for 38 stitches across. I used a fisherman rib (k1, p1). The result was different on each side and really striking. The fabric was a bit heavy though and I knew I wouldn’t be happy with it, so I ripped it out.
Then I decided to do a ribbed lace pattern with 8 rows of stockingette between the ribs. I used double the magic number + 2 and knit in the round. The pattern is a bit more mixed, however there is a spiral pattern going on in the colors. This cowl actually took 1.5 skeins about 300 yards. When you start your next skein, you need to match new yarn to the same place in the repeat, so that you don’t disrupt the pattern. This took me a bit of time but I was really pleased with the results.
The red-yellow cards have so many brown or so called “neutrals” in them. The darker shades of red-yellow go immediately into the brown territory. Mahagony, tan, beige, leathers, tobacco. Also most skin tones are in the red-yellow family.
No doubt! Value is the hardest color dimension to talk about. I have found that seeing the value of color is a learned skill. It is hard to differentiate and so it is very frustrating. Value is the lightness or darkness of the color, it is also is a measure of color purity and saturation. Here is the gray scale that is used to help determine the value of a hue. While it is relatively easy to see the differences in value between white, gray and black, it is not so easy to see the value of colors. The color itself skews our perception of the value. Some hues like yellow are more likely to be at the top end of the scale, while purple is more likely to be at the darker end of the scale.
The human eye can see about 5 steps of this scale. The “pure” white, “pure” black, neutral gray and a step between those 3 values. In the real world, there are many more nuances of value. When I was learning about value, one strategy that helped was to squint or partially closed your eyes and look at the yarn, fabric, or photo and the value would be easier to see. The squinting reduces the number of color sensitive cells (cones) that are activated, while the cells that perceive light (rods) are still activated. Try this with a favorite photograph and see if you can differentiate among the values in that photograph.
There are a couple of “tricks” that we can use today. One is the computer. You can take a photo and change it to a black and white photo. Also you can use red or green plastic ……to see the value differences.
If you are intrigued and would like to learn more, register for my color class on September 6th at 1pm. Go to the fiber class page to register. We will be doing lots of experiments to train our eyes to be better color detectors.
Among the hues on a hue wheel or color wheel, there are primary colors from which all other colors can be made, theoretically. The primary colors are red, yellow and blue. The secondary colors are created by adding 2 primary colors together. Red and yellow make orange, yellow and blue make green and blue and red make purple. Lastly there are tertiary colors. These are made by adding a primary color to the secondary color. So add red to orange and you get red-orange. Or add yellow to orange and you get yellow-orange. I hear some of you saying, I know that…I learned it in grade school.
But wait, it isn’t black and white (pun intended). Secondary are not limited to simply orange, purple and green. There are many variations. The same is true of tertiary colors. . The variations depend on the amounts of each hue that is added to another. That’s where the fun begins for a dyer like me. In my dye pot, magic can take place. Did you know that teal and purple can make a navy blue? I wouldn’t have guessed it, but I get that hue time and again with one of the dye types I use. Try this experiment: Use your child’s watercolor set and play with the colors. Make the secondary colors with only red, blue and yellow. Can you make more than one orange hue? Or purple hue? Or green hue? Add a comment and share what you found out.
Most people can distinguish between colors, but very few have the vocabulary to describe the colors that they see. There is Red-Orange and Orange-Red…what is the difference? When you see a color in isolation, can you characterize it enough to describe it to another person?
I am studying color this summer in a new way. I’ve taken many color classes and last year my weaving study group spent the whole year on color. So this is what I’ve learned. Color is the overarching idea. When talking about Blue or Green or even Blue-Green, you need to use the word Hue. In fact in the Munsell system of color, he doesn’t called it the “Color Wheel”, no, he calls it the “Hue Wheel”. Within the Hue family, there are tints (white added) and shades (gray/black added) in varying degrees.
Try this experiment: Take a flower from your garden or a beautiful cherries at the farmer’s market and describe its hue. And try to use language that does not include the name of the object, so you can’t use the phrase rose red or cherry red. Add a comment below and share your experience.
“Can you teach me about color?” That’s what many people say to me. I love your colors. I just never know what to choose. A few years ago, when I taught dyeing, I just assumed that people would know what colors they liked and would be able to choose the dye to make yarn that color. It wasn’t so simple. The students would look at my yarn and copy it. I got smarter and more strategic and now I have my students look at magazines or at Pinterest and pick some images that they like. Then we can dissect those images and pick colors they can use to learn how to dye.
I am constantly trying to hone my knowledge about color and how it affects our lives. I have noticed that we all SEE colors differently. Art historians believe that the impressionists like Van Gogh and Monet saw colors much more vibrantly than others around them. So this summer, I am working on the Munsell Student Color Set.
The colors come in a small pad. They are not in any particular order that I can see. AND there isn’t an answer sheet. So it really is a good exercise. The way I approached this experience was to look for the clear hues that had little or no grey in them. Those go on the right side of the rows. Then I looked for the shades (greyed hues) that were the same value as the true hue in each row. I then made sure that the saturation (lightness/darkness) of the shades proceeded in order from lightest at the top to the darkest at the bottom. I did this early in the morning with the clearest, brightest light. Then throughout the day I walked past them to see if there was any color chip out of place. Every once in a while, something seemed wrong to me, so I would move the chips around to see if it made more sense. Finally, I glued them down. The book wants you to glue them with a “post-it” kind of glue, so that you can remove the chips and use them in further exercises. I hope to remember to pick up some of that glue….gotta put that on a list! The book is fantastic. It contains information about colors, hues, values and interactions. It also contains a lot of exercises to hone color knowledge. A caveat: many of the color books available are geared towards painters and while the principles are the same, the way that fiber artists work with color is different and has to be taken into account. So if you want to learn about color, get this book and complete the activities! You will work with color a whole lot differently after you do!
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Where to find us
Open June 16th 2:00-5:00pm
9/14-21 Black Sheep Yarn Shop in Timonium MD
We are at the following fiber shows:
June 1-2 Fiber Art Studio Tour here at the farm
August 10th Fibernate Fiber Farmer’s Market, Vienna, VA 1-5