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Value in Color Theory

In case you missed it last time, make sure to check out the previous two color theory lessons on working with the color wheel and choosing color combinations based upon the wheel. This time, we're going to talk about color value and why that's an important consideration when choosing colors. Then I'm going to show you a little of my process for choosing self-striping colors.

If you remember from the earlier lesson on color theory terminology, value refers to a color's brightness, how light or dark it is. To add some depth and contrast to your project, it's good to consider colors that have a range of values. This is especially the case if you're doing something like fair isle or even illusion (shadow) knitting because you want your colors to stand out against one another rather than blend in.

So how can you make sure the colors you are choosing have different values? You can get a gray scale and value finder (I have this one). The idea is that you hold your color up to the scale to figure out which value it matches with. What do you think the value of this color is?

So, I don't know about you, but I have a hard time matching a color to a gray scale. I have a pretty good idea of what I think the value is based upon this picture, but I'm not completely positive. So here's a trick:

Take a gray scale picture instead of a color picture. Using my iPhone, I changed to the "Mono" mode option on the camera. Doing that gives us this:

A lot easier, don't you think? But it's not really necessary to assign a value number to each color. Instead, what you want to do is look at how the colors work together.

For example, here are the three colors I used in my Exchange of Winnings self-striping colorway:

Can you tell the values of each color in this picture? Doesn't one color look "lighter" than the others? It's the color that "pops." Let's look at the gray scale version of these colors:

Now it's definitely easy to tell that the middle color is a very different value than the other two colors. If I just used the two outer colors on their own, the combination would be nice but not really anything special. Adding in the middle color adds in a different value and provides the contrast that turns the combination into something a lot more eye catching.

So, want to see a little bit of my behind-the-scenes process when picking out color combinations for self-striping yarn? I make tons of little mini skeins with lots of different colors. That way I can pull out different color combinations and actually see how they look together. I can also take photos, both color and gray scale, to see how they work together (or not). When I say that I'm experimenting with colors, it usually means that I've got these mini skeins in the dye pot. I'm building quite a collection of them. Here are just some of the greens, purples, and blues:

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