Terri Laura talks colour

Today, I’d like to introduce you to a young designer-maker I very much admire for her creative work with colour, as well as her professional approach – Terri Laura. Sometimes, when we try to put together a colourwork palette, the different yarns that we select simply won’t play together nicely – and Terri’s piece today is a wonderful introduction into why that might be, and how to create a palette with balance and harmony. Terri’s method of testing shade combinations with a yarn wrap is marvelously straightforward and and, I’m sure you’ll agree – has stunning results! Here she is to tell you more.

Hi everyone! I’m Terri, owner of Terri Laura, a knitwear design business run from my home here in Shetland. I specialise in Fair Isle and Shetland wool but I’ll work on any project that interests me. I officially started my business in 2017, but I have been knitting since my weekly school lessons from the age of 8 and have been surrounded by inspiring, creative, business women my entire life. Customising and expression is really important to me, and I love creating finished knits, designs for knitters, and classes to help people be intentional and tell a story with the colours and designs they use. I have a lot to share about the use of colour and I hope you enjoy this introduction to how I plan my colour combinations.

We have often heard of colours carrying moods – some colours can seem calm, while others are angry or energetic – but moods are temporary states. What happens if we look a little deeperand think about colour personalities? Particular textures and dye mixtures give us lots of information that can help us get to know each colour individually, as well as how they are likely to interact with one other.

I think about colour in Fair Isle knitting as being all about these interpersonal relationships and how one shade reacts to another. Sometimes shades really get along and seem made for each other, but sometimes we can start out thinking two shades should be a perfect match but they end up turning on each other. In my design work I’ve often found myself thinking and learning about shades in terms of their personalities, to help me better predict what they might do in various combinations. This approach does seem to make sense to knitters when I teach classes on colourwork and it is always great fun to discuss.

Today I’ve put together a starter’s guide to the types of colours you might meet in Fair Isle knitting and offered some examples of how to set them up for success.

Pictured: Jamiesons shades Crimson and Pumpkin; Jamieson and Smith shades 79 and 132

The first shades I’d like to mention are our flat, plain, basic named colours – those that you might identify in the rainbow. Classic red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple, as well as variations of these that don’t have anything else mixed in. These colours are bold, bright, and totally true to themselves. On a serious note though, they are also the most stubborn colours you will come across. No matter where you place them, they are what they are, and they will let you know… “I AM RED!” Don’t try to make these shades blend in. Unless you pair them with a very similar colour personality, they’re just not going to budge.

Pictured: Jamiesons shades Yellow Ochre and Conifer; Jamieson and Smith shade 87

Next we have these deep-hued versions of the basics. When you look at these shades closely you’ll find they are usually a basic colour with some kind of darker yarn mixed in, which gives a shadowy effect. These shades are moody, but still quite true to themselves: they know who they are, and only in high stress situations do they appear to change. A high stress situation for a moody colour character would be to put them in a position where everyone else around them is quite light and airy. When a moody colour is surrounded by pale colours it stands out a little too much and begins to turn turn jet black! But if you place a friendly colour nearby, with which they have something in common, you’ll find they will lighten up and join in.

Pictured: Jamiesons surf; Jamieson and Smith shades 203 and 1283

If moody shades are basic colours with darker yarns mixed in, here are their paler cousins, mixed with fibres of white or grey. Such colours are shy creatures who don’t, at a first glance, seem to give very much away. When placed with powerful colour personalities, the shy colours become complete pushovers, and transform themselves into neutrals. This can be great if it’s the look you need, but sometimes we really want a light blue to just be itself – light blue. Again, it’s a case of finding something in common: for example, placing a light, shy blue alongside a couple of stronger blues. Now the shy shade is part of a larger colour family, into which it integrates very smoothly.

Pictured: Jamiesons Nighthawk and Cardinal; Jamieson and Smith shade FC44

Colours that are nearly solid basic shades, but with additional fibres of light and dark, have interesting personalities. They fascinate the eye with their appearance, which can become glossy in the case of reds or metallic in that of blues. Such subtle, shifting effects add textural interest to Fair Isle knitting which can be welcomed when used sparingly – or sometimes overwhelm when used over large areas or on more delicate motifs. Working with these fascinating shades is very much about achieving a balance, and the colours on their own are extremely attractive to look at. Plain pieces in such shades are always stunning!

Pictured: Jamiesons Autumn and Purple Haze; Jamieson and Smith shade 366

Now to the mixed or heathered colours, which we can think of as our easygoing best friends. These are the shades we need to hold our motifs together and to allow a blending or transition from one colour to the next. When knitters begin in colourwork, they often shy away from these apparently complex, delicate creatures, because they seem difficult to categorise. But though these shades appear complex, they are also, like our best friends, reliable: that’s what makes them so useful!

Pictured: Jamieson and Smith shade 65; Jamiesons Turf, Fog, Wild Violet/

By blending our colour friends together, we can create a Fair Isle motif that shifts from one shade to another without our eye noticing the transitions: here, a transition from green to pink is achieved by bringing together Green, followed by a pinkish green, then a greenish pink, and finally a pink. Flat, bold shades mark such transitions with harsh lines, but these complex mixed or heathered shades blur the transition lines, helping us to see the motif as a whole, rather than individual chunks of colour. By beginning with a few colour friends, and adding more, we can build a palette that transitions from darkness to light, or from one shade to another. The key to building a palette is that your order has a logic to it: then you can add an accent colour if you like (more on this shortly!).

Now I’ll show you an example of how I go about developing and testing such a palette:

Step 1: Gather a selection of colours for a project.

In this case I was designing something in greens, with an autumnal feel.

I started to bring these colours together by making small families. Dark greens, light greens with neutrals, and rich autumn shades. My paler section has a nice, natural gradient, with a flat green next to a mixed grey/green before moving onto to white. It makes sense to keep them in this harmonious order.

Step 2: Plan which colours are the background, and which are foreground of the main motif.

I don’t have to use all of the shades at once: some could be kept for border sections or additional motifs.

I decided here to have my two dark greens in the background, to use my gradient of pale shades in the foreground and then to use the most eye-catching autumnal colour as an accent: I felt it would really shine next to that white.

Step 3: Now that I have made decisions on the background and foreground of my main motif, I can start wrapping!

Using a plain piece of scrap card I wrap my background colours first, beginning with the colour I plan to knit around the centre of the motif and working my way out on either side. My finished wrap will look symmetrical, just like my Fair Isle motif does when knitted. Tip: tie a double knot at the back and try to have the yarn wrapped neatly to give yourself a smooth surface on one side.

Step 4: Once my background colours are wrapped I can begin to add my foreground colours on top, making sure to layer them over the background shade I plan to knit it alongside.

I start from the middle here with my accent colour and work my way out again, mirroring the colours in the order they would appear on a Fair Isle motif.

Looking good!

Step 5: Now that I have a plan for my main motif I can start to think about colours for borders or additional motifs.

For my border here I have chosen one of my pale shades – the green/grey mix. I can also use this section to incorporate the final dark colour which didn’t make my cut for the main motif.

I also want to include another mid-sized motif section in this project. This section should have some contrast with my main motif, so I used the palest colour as the background, but included the richest green and the accent colour to help it stand out in a more simplistic way.

I brought my repetitive border back into the process to make sure I liked the colours in the context they would be placed in for the final piece.

And here’s the final wrapped card, with my colour plan for the whole design. Would you like to see how it knitted up?

And there we have it!

I went on to choose 3 motifs, large, mid sized and border shapes, then knit it up in the colour sequence I’d worked on with my wrap. I’m delighted with my results here, so just watch this space for more work in this new colourway!

Thanks, Terri, for breaking down the magical alchemy of Fair Isle knitting with such clear advice and practical examples! If you’d like to learn more about colourwork from Terri you can take an online class: she has a great selection here, with spots available at the end of this month and the beginning of next – and if you’d like to knit up one of her beautiful colourways you can find Terri’s pattern store here.