Curating a Stunning Palette
A deep dive into the process
For a natural dyer, logistical challenges are the norm. The colors I produce rely on several factors: acquiring the right materials, acquiring enough materials, and coaxing adequate results out of those materials to be color and light fast enough for the end user. Now, make these colors consistently and in repeatable batches, and you have yourself a triad of uphill challenges. Where does one start? First, narrow down your color choices.
I started with the most difficult skills and built from there. Dark colors are the most challenging to produce because they require strong mordants, more time, heat, and larger amounts of dyestuff.
I used to love making dark purple with logwood, but found that batch after batch, despite testing and excessive washing and rinsing, there would still be some color that came off on the hands. This deeply bothered me, as I don't want to sell a product that gives anything less than a stellar experience. After much experimentation, I discovered that using a copper mordant creates a very stable bond with the logwood, especially if cold-mordanted for long periods before dyeing. This color doesn't turn out dark purple, but dark blue, almost black, and I love it! It's so intensely stunning. Because this color is so pivotal for me, I decided to build the palette around it. This brings me to my first color tip.
Tip #1 - Contrast is key to the success of a project.
That’s why I created equal amounts of neutral lights and darks. The most impactful color combinations will, most likely, include plenty of contrast.
Tip #2 - Stay away from over-saturation.
Highly saturated colors in natural dyeing pose the same challenges as very dark hues. They require a high volume of dye materials (aka plants or bugs). I counteract this need by either adding back time, temperature, or both.
Mustard, the brightest color in this palette, requires a high volume of fustic wood. To extract all the pigment, I re-boil the dyestuff up to 4 times. Yes, I boil it. When dyeing with wood chips and shavings, high temperatures are necessary for the material to undergo the correct enzymatic process and release its sugars, thereby imparting color. I let the yarn sit in the dye bath overnight to maximize the depth of color. Since I prefer more muted tones, I finish the batch with a light touch of copper afterbath, which adds a hint of blue and pushes the yellow to an irresistible ochre range. With the remaining dyebath, I overdye the indigo-dyed yarn to achieve an amazing teal. I cannot do one batch without the other. Timing and logistics are always key.
Tip #3 - Use a variety of shades, and Tip #4, limit the number of bright, bold tones, and support those with more neutral tones. Trying too many colors at once can lead to color chaos. That's why I've compiled an array of colors in my palette. There are a couple of neutrals, some dark tones, and a few bold focal points.
Key criteria - Each color has to stand on its own and also play well with others. If a color doesn't go with at least two others in the palette, it isn't worth including in this collection.
Saturation mistake to avoid
Here’s a bonus tip. You’ve heard that complimentary colors are a great way to create a palette because they sit directly across from each other on the color wheel and therefore are a natural match. I agree with this rule of thumb, but it can easily go sideways.
If you combine a strong, vibrant red with a strong, vibrant green, they are hard to look at. Why? The combination of them together is harsh and jarring. They vibrate. This may be awesome for college football team uniforms, but not so much for a sweater.
Instead, adjust the intensity of those colors. For example, you could make the red a soothing pink and the green a dark forest green. This combination is immediately pleasing, providing balance and plenty of contrast.
Here is my finished palette
Curious about the finished palette? Browse the yarn collection here.
What's next: Go Beyond the Rainbow
I invite you to purchase my color theory guide, “Going Beyond the Rainbow.” Inside, I reference color harmonies with graphics and lots of sample palettes. It's meant to get you out of your typical color rut and try something unexpected, especially if you’re off spending months knitting that perfect fair isle sweater.
I hope it gives you the confidence to try something new and love it! You may think you’re bad at color. That’s not true. You just aren’t good at it yet. It takes time to develop color-building skills. It’s like cooking. No one is a chef right away. Years of practice and tasting, and trying will help you flourish into an amazing foodie. Pairing colors is much the same.
Unfortunately, there are not many color theory resources available that are specifically tailored toward makers and yarn enthusiasts. However, there are plenty of resources available for painters, designers, and beginners. This is precisely why I created this guide - to fill an obvious gap that I personally needed to address.
What you’ll find inside:
- Learn about 6 Color Harmonies and see three visual examples for each
- Explore several 3-color motif examples
- Discover a strategy for picking your own color palette
- Get inspired with some pre-made palettes
Adobe Color is a robust color tool I use and love. You can create your own palette or explore their vast library.
Buy the color guide: Going Beyond the Rainbow