Your Guide to Color Theory for Knitters and Crocheters

Your Guide to Color Theory for Knitters and Crocheters

Do you struggle to find the correct colors for your knitting or crochet project? Then this article is for you!

In this article we’ll look at color theory and how it can be applied. We also give you our favorite color palette generators! 

Your Guide to Color Theory for Knitters and Crocheters

What is color theory?

Color theory basically encompasses the ways in which color is used, for example, in design. Color Matter notes that “there are three basic categories of color theory that are logical and useful : The color wheel, color harmony, and the context of how colors are used

In this article we’ll first look at primary, secondary, and tertiary colors and what they are, before moving on to the color wheel and how you can use one when designing your own knitting and crochet project color schemes.

Your Guide to Color Theory for Knitters and Crocheters

Primary colors

The primary colors – blue, yellow, and red – can’t be made by mixing other colors together. In fact, all other colors are created by mixing these colors in different quantities. 

Secondary colors

The secondary colors are made by mixing together two of the primary colors. The secondary colors are: orange, purple, and green.

These colors are made as follows:

  • Orange – Red and yellow
  • Green – Yellow and blue
  • Purple – Red and Blue

Tertiary colors

By mixing primary and secondary colors together, we get tertiary colors. The tertiary colors are:

  • Yellow-orange (Amber)
  • Red-orange (Vermillion)
  • Red-purple (Magenta)
  • Blue-purple (Violet)
  • Blue-green (Teal)
  • Yellow-green (Chartreuse)

(Sources: Color Matters, Color Meanings)

Your Guide to Color Theory for Knitters and Crocheters

The color wheel and how to use it

The color wheel – they can easily be bought at your local arts and crafts store – is made up of a circle that includes all the colours we’ve already covered, and usually many more as well.

If you take a color wheel and turn it so that yellow is at the top, you’ll see that blue is on the left and red on the right. In-between these three primary colours you’ll see the following:

  • Between yellow and blue – chartreuse, green, and teal
  • Between blue and red – violet, purple, and magenta
  • Between red and yellow – vermillion, orange, amber

Together these make up the primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. Following this chart, colors that go together can quite easily be matched.                                                                                                                                                            Choosing colors for your knitting or crochet project

Using a color wheel, we’ll look at some color options and combinations next and how they can be incorporated into knitting and crochet projects that are pleasing to the eye.

            Warm colors and cool colors

Colors are split into these two categories (warm or cool – also sometimes called temperature) and to see which colors are warm and which are cool, you need to draw a line that runs between yellow and chartreuse and purple and magenta.

One half of the wheel – containing chartreuse, green, teal, blue,violet, and purple – are cool colors. The other half – containing yellow, amber, orange, vermillion, red, and magenta – are warm colors.

You can, for example, use only cool colors or only warm colors in a knitting or crochet project. (You can also mix them if you’d like to make a temperature blanket.) However, now you’ll know to choose violet (blue-purple), for example, if you’re using cool colors, and magenta (purple-red) if you’re using warm colors.

Your Guide to Color Theory for Knitters and Crocheters

            Hue, tint, tone, and shade

Although we often refer to any color as a “shade of” blue, red, green, etc. “shade” has a specific meaning in color theory. What we’d normally refer to as shades can, in fact, be split into hue, tint, tone, and shade. These can be described as follows, using blue as an example:

  • Hue – blue
  • Tint – blue + white
  • Tone – blue + white + black (blue + grey)
  • Shade – blue + black

You can either use the same hue’s tint, tone, and shade in a single project, or you can use the same tint from two or more colors. This means that you take the hue of the different colors and add the same amount of white to each. The same goes for tones and shades, which are formed by adding the same amount of grey or black respectively.

             Complementary colors

Complementary colors are easy to find when using a color wheel; these colors are exactly opposite each other on the wheel. The following pairs, therefore, are examples of complementary colors:

  • Yellow and purple
  • Red and green
  • Blue and orange

Your Guide to Color Theory for Knitters and Crocheters

You’ll see that these are the primary and secondary colors. The tertiary colors also have their own complementary colors, which are other tertiary colors:

  • Chartreuse and Magenta
  • Violet and amber
  • Teal and vermillion

You can also match these pairs’ hues, tones, and shades with each other for further complementary color pairs.

Instead of drawing a straight line from one color to another on the color wheel to match a pair of colors, you can try connecting:

  • Three colors by using an equilateral triangle (a triangle with equal sides and an angle of 60 degrees in each corner,
    • For example yellow, blue, and red or green (primary colors), orange, and purple (secondary colors), or violet, chartreuse, and magenta (tertiary colors)
  • Four colours by using a square,
    • For example, yellow, teal, purple, vermillion, or violet, green, amber, and red
    • In this case a primary, secondary and two tertiary colors will be included
  • Five colors by using a pentagon,
    • For example, a set of 5 colors can be yellow, teal, violet, magenta, vermillion.

You can then do the same with six colors, etc.

            Analogous colors

Analogous colors are those colors that appear next to each other on the color wheel, for instance:

  • Chartreuse, green, teal
  • Teal, blue, violet
  • Violet, purple, magenta, etc.

Analogous colors

These colors can make for striking knitting and crochet projects because they all use the same “strength” of hue, tint, tone, and shade. This means that one color won’t be overpowering, but rather that they will work together in harmony.

Analogous colors should not be confused with monochromatic colors, which we’ll look at next.

            Monochromatic colors

Monochromatic colors refer to using the same hue, tint, tone, and shade of the same color together. This can be used to great effect when you want to create a colorful but not overpowering knitting or crochet project. Neutrals and greys are also part of these monochromatic colors and are often used together when a project is made that needs to harmonise with a range of colors.

Your Guide to Color Theory for Knitters and Crocheters

            Color palette (color scheme) generators

Thanks to the availability of color palette generators, it’s now easier than ever to ensure that you choose colors that harmonise to use in your knitting and crochet projects.

Here are a few of our favorite color palette generators:

  • Coolors Very easy to use, Colors can be used to generate palettes that’s anywhere from one color (monochromatic) to over 4 colors. You can also import photos to create palettes from.
  • PalettonMore geared towards designers, but still easy to use.
  • Colormind Slightly more difficult to use than the other two, but uses deep learning to even be able to extract palettes from movies and art.

What’s your favorite color scheme? Tell us in the comments or join us on our Facebook group!






Casey Morris

I purchased a color selector wheel several years ago but have never fully understood how to use. Thank you so much for the explanation!

Casey Morris

Wonderful overview of color theory, thank you!!

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