I’m playing with a number of colourwork ideas at the moment. I always find it interesting to see the sometimes unpredictable ways that colours behave in a swatch – shades in the skein, that you might think would contrast sharply, often seem to swallow each other up when knitted. My personal colour palette is dominated by muted and dull shades, and I have to fight a natural tendency to knit everything in blues, greys and greens… anyway, as I’m working through my ideas, I thought I’d show you some swatches and design thoughts that didn’t quite work out.

My first thought for the dollheid tam was to knit it the same colourway as the paper dolls sweater, but in reverse. I love the high contrast extremely here in the corrugated rib, but on the tam top the combination of cream with indigo blue was a bit too intense…

Now the clone-dolls are slightly freaky anyway, but here they took on the strange aspect of jolly ghosties, which was perhaps not so desirable. The light-on-dark colourway also meant that the whole of the tam top was dominated by large areas of negative space. It felt quite unbalanced – so in the final prototype, I went with a slightly more subtle colourway of rose and burgundy against fawn, and used dark-on-light rather than light on dark. This looked much better.

You may also remember this hat from last year:

Comparing it to the dollheid, It has the opposite problem of too little contrast. The Alice Starmore colours are so sneakily blended, that each shade speaks to another in sometimes unexpected ways. This is good for creating a shifting, slightly luminous effect, but bad if you actually want to see the pattern. It is not a success – you can’t make out the peeries properly or discern the changes in background colour – but despite all this, it really is my favourite hat: I love its muted grey-pinks and fawns – and I wear it all the time.

Here is a hat that you won’t have seen before. I knitted it over a year ago, and it is an example of one of those occasions where the concept dominated, and, in the end, scuppered the design….I began with the name – NUTKIN – which in anybody’s book should be a great name for a hat – and the idea was of red squirrels in a pine forest, seeking out their winter hoard. The forest worked out reasonably well, but there were other problems which meant that Nutkin was set aside. Photographing the hat against our kitchen wall gives the fabric much more contrast than it has in actuality. . . it is the wonderful Alice Starmore yarn again, and the lighter shade actually contains strands of the darker one: great for a subtle blended effect, but not so great when you want a pattern to show up very distinctly. And quite apart from the colourwork not achieving quite what I had wanted it to, this hat had other issues…my squirrels didn’t really look like squirrels; the rate of decrease on the crown was not quite right, and, once knitted up, what I had intended to suggest a hoard of NUTZ seemed to resolve itself into something else entirely. I just couldn’t shake the idea that the top of my head resembled a giant nipple…

so Nutkin bit the dust.

Here is one of the swatches I’ve been knitting for my tortoise and hare gloves (coming soon!).

I am knitting the gloves in J&S jumper weight (it is such a joy to work with this yarn again!) and have been wanting to use that marled blue shade (FC61) as the background. I love this colour, but like many blues, it seems to intensify when you knit it over large areas of fabric, and it is also an unbelievably greedy shade, swallowing up whole spectrums in its wake. The wine and rust that I’ve used for the beasties create plenty of contrast, but I’ve found it impossible to get any suitable colour to work against the blue in the zig-zag peerie. This is the fourth colourway I’ve tried, and each time, the peerie disappears into the background, particularly when you look at the swatch from a distance. My problem is, I think, that I am simply too attached to the marled blue, and am trying to make it play the wrong role here as a background shade. I do like the autumnal feel of this palette, though, so am going to mix it up and try again.

Like Nutkin, the Tortoise and Hare is a design whose concept dictates that the foreground colours really need to stand out against the background – the bottom line is that you need to be able to see a tortoise and a hare. All of my colourwork designs so far have been along these high-contrast lines. Curiously, though, at the moment, I’m finding myself quite interested in design ideas where shading is more important and which might allow one to play with a palette in a way that would show off the subtly-spun colours of yarns like the J&S or the Alice Starmore at their very best.

Do you find that your personal palette is dominated by a colour or particular range of colours? I’d be interested to hear.