Color and Inspiration

Subtle colors can sing loudly.

I was recently asked about my process for choosing and placing colors for stranded knitting. It got me thinking about many of the aspects of color. How does one put into words what seems such an innate thing to me? How do you communicate color decisions? It is like describing a smell, in a way. Everyone sees colors in their own way. Color even has its own language: value, intensity, hue, shades, tints, etc.

Some people react violently to color. I once painted my dining room a lovely inside-of-a-pumpkin orange. It felt warm and inviting to me. My daughter, on the other hand, reacted violently to the color and we repainted the room a cool periwinkle. Like my daughter, a friend responds physically (in a bad way) to some blues. Fast food restaurants and casinos often decorate with red because they stimulate (eat more food, gamble more). Blue is considered a calming color for many people and is the most common color across cultures. Color can be a sensitive issue.

I plan yarn purchases for the shop around an imaginary color wheel populated by my friends. Friends that favor blue/violet, blue, red, pink, orange, etc. By selecting colors for “them,” I end up with colors for everyone and no one is left out.

Over the years, I have learned that I simply love color, or in truth, color in good light. Lighting is everything. I suppose that is the photographer coming out of me. I don’t have a “favorite” color.

The two types of fiber work I do most often tend to require careful color coordination: Fair Isle knitting (click here to view my patterns on Ravelry) and band weaving, especially turned krokbragd on the inkle loom (click here for my video). Band weaving usually requires high contrast to emphasize pattern. Fair Isle knitting uses color more subtly, often incorporating three shades of one color to create the image and three shades of another color to act as a canvas or background. It is a subtle dance to get the colors to work in harmony, to ensure that values play well together.

The beginnings of a new hat.

A few days ago, I decided to go to a local concert in the park and I needed a new knitting project. For me this often means a new hat design. I found my stash of Spindrift Shetland yarn and started matching up colors. In this case, I let the colors speak to me. I was drawn to the very subtle colors of Shetland black, a medium dark gray, ash, and a dusty soft blue. My plan is for a simple hat suitable for men, women and difficult to please teens. Not too fussy, but handsome. Using only four colors will be a fun challenge. I have knit a lot of hats over the years and my carefully curated stash (LOL) could fill a bushel basket. The colors all have something in common: me. I knew I could quickly pull colors together (see photo at top) and find something that pleased me.

The inspiration …
The yet-to-be-published hat.

Other times when I am selecting colors and patterns, I look to nature. This yet-to-be published hat was inspired by nature. I took a photo of native campanula on Isle Royale last fall and the colors and the motif set my design radar off. This hat is where that inspiration led.

Sometimes history inspires me. My Molly Dog hat was inspired by a motif on a geometric coverlet in the collection of the Henry Ford Museum where I volunteer. The colors were selected in the early days of COVID. My mood was subdued and I needed gentle colors.

My hats designed for events, for example, are driven by the motifs. The Michigan Fiber Festival series celebrates Michigan and the motifs selected tend to dictate the color selection. A free pattern that I designed for ChiaoGoo incorporates knitting and traditional Fair Isle motifs with a twist. The ChiaoGoo hat pattern can be found here.

When designing hats that more closely adhere to traditional Fair Isle patterns, I thumb through myriad books until something catches my eye. Then I go to the computer and play with the pattern in color (I use Excel). From there I pull colors and lay them on the table under full-spectrum lighting. Every pattern calls — yearns– for a different solution, evokes an emotion, sets a scene.

Turned Krokbragd on the Inkle inspired by antique floor tiles

When designing a recent turned krokbragd band, I looked down. A tile floor from a Colorado bank built in the early 20th century became my inspiration. Selecting colors was the easy part, but figuring out how to interpret the design in textiles took a little more thought.

A tiny woven landscape.

Bands can be woven relatively quickly and color choices can range from traditional Scandinavian to modern. The pattern itself can be traditional or not. I enjoy creating miniature landscapes using the turned krokbragd technique and color is used to set the mood.

Working with color is a life-long adventure that never gets boring or dull. Whether it is on my needles, woven on my looms or behind the lens, the play of light and color is infinitely fascinating.

Serendipitous Weaving


I’ve been really enjoying band weaving of late, especially weaving in the turned krokbragd style. It is loom-controlled and quite easy to set up after you understand the constraints. Loom controlled means that the thinking is in the set up and the weaving can be done at night when I’m too tired to think. Following a pattern is fairly straightforward, it is setting up new designs to be woven that take precision and accuracy. Step one is to design your pattern on a brick-like grid. Not so hard. Then, because the grid is actually representational of a 3-dimensional object and warping is done linearly (2-dimensional), a translation must be made. The threading diagram looks nothing like what the woven band will look like. It’s an amazing puzzle that I enjoy quite a lot.

In a recent band, something was lost in translation between the “brick” diagram and the threading diagram. Perhaps it had something to do with the craft beer I had with dinner, or the fact that it was quite a wide band, or I was just too tired to be doing that kind of work late in the evening, but whatever the reason, my threading diagram didn’t represent the band in my mind’s eye. I figured this out about halfway through the threading. Throwing caution to the wind, I decided to forge ahead and see what this now “unknown band” would look like. So I marched on with the threading according to my chart.

Non-traditional serendipity

It turns out that I love the band. It taught me that this weave structure doesn’t have to rely on traditional krokbragd motifs, it only needs to rely on a repetition of three. So simple, yet it is like a whole new door of possibilities opened. I can’t wait to do some  purposeful designing that strays from the traditional.

Rewoven and traditional

So that I would have something to compare my accidental design to, I reworked the threading diagram to achieve the pattern I originally intended. It is decidedly in the krokbragd style. I am looking forward to marrying the restrictions of the weave structure with the possibilities it has to offer in new and different ways.

A big shout out to my friend Tom, Excel master extraordinary. Between the two of us, he managed to program a spreadsheet that can accurately assist me in converting the brick diagram to the threading diagram. What a joy it is to warp with confidence from an accurate threading diagram. Thanks, Tom!

Technical details:
Both bands have 127 threads
Non traditional: used 8/2 cotton with 8/4 cotton weft. 1 3/8″ wide
Traditional design: used #8 perle cotton in both warp and weft. 1 1/4″ wide

Every Warp Brings a Lesson … or Two

Simple is never simple. Our Jane Stafford On-Line Guild Study Group decided to do a year-end towel exchange to apply what we have learned in our own way over the past three years. I had several personal goals in mind, namely: to explore the 2-ply Lithuanian linen we carry in the shop, to weave a pattern I love (goose eye twill) and, of course, to produce towels for our exchange. Little did I know how these simple towels would challenge me.

The assignment called for a towel roughly 20” wide. To balance my pattern, my plan called for 415 ends, a width of 20.75” in the reed at a sett of 20 epi. I planned for four towels and one sample.

My (abbreviated) draft looked like this:



The first sample. Kinda squiggly.

I based my sett on earlier woven samples to arrive at a sett of 20 for a nice drapey towel (perhaps my sett samples were mislabeled?). My first sample was a gauzy fail, but I did try different yarns in the weft (from top to bottom): 8/4 Brassard cotton, the three different linen warp colors used as weft, a 6/1 Borgs tow linen, and 8/2 Brassard cotton. From this sample I decided to shoot for 24 epi and work a second sample (no photo because I have misplaced it). What it taught me was that 24 is the right sett. 8/4 weft is too heavy, the linen is stiff, and the 8/2 has a nice hand that immediately matches the intended purpose of the fabric. Based on what we learned in Jane Stafford’s on-line guild, I did not rebeam the warp. I tensioned normally, because, in theory, that little difference in width shouldn’t matter if even tension was maintained throughout the warp, which it would be.

With the sett determined, I had to figure out why I was having so much problem with my selvedges. The simple fixes weren’t working:

  • Wider weaver’s angle.
  • Advance more frequently.
  • Sley the floating selvedge by itself
  • Use a heaver thread for the floating selvedge (three-ply versus two-ply).
  • Change the direction of throwing the shuttle.

My next thought was about a paper written by Alice Schlein called The Selvedge Dilemma (Alice shared it on WeaveTech a number of years ago). She discussed working with the twist of the yarn to correct selvedge breakage. For my “S” plied yarn, I threw over the floating selvedges on each when passing the shuttle from left to right and under the FS on each side on the return (a circular pattern, rather than the traditional figure-eight). Changing to this method of throwing the shuttle did make things better, but it did not eliminate the problem.

Nasty selvedges are painful!

At the same time, I was having a problem with the linen breaking at the spinning joins. I remembered from a class with Nancy Hoskins, that dampening the linen by laying a damp cloth on the web behind the castle may help. After all, linen is stronger when wet. That helped tremendously. I should note that the humidity the past week in Michigan has been in the 20s. Very, very low. I continued with the damped linen tea towel throughout the entire warp, periodically adjusting it as it repositioned itself from the movement of the warp and I had no more breakage.

A damp linen towel on the web stopped the linen plies from splitting mid weave.

I was getting ½” draw in on each side. My warp was still beamed for 20. In addition to selvedge issues, I wasn’t getting clear lower sheds, even after the apron rod went over the front beam. I attributed this to the jack loom. The unevenness of the lower shed caused the shuttle to dive and sometimes to bump threads and bounce back. I was continually digging my hands into the warp to push the shuttle through. There was no way I could weave four towels under these conditions and maintain my sanity and the integrity of the warp.

Following the “suck it up buttercup” school of weaving, I cut off the second sample, pulled the warp forward and secured the dangling floating selvedges to the back apron rod, secured two pairs of miscounted warp threads, and effectively removed any messiness at the back of the loom. I then weighted each of the three warp sections using 2.5 pound weights laid on the floor and rebeamed using the reed as a raddle.

After tensioning for the third time, everything looked much nicer, even the lower shed. However, it was still looser than the upper and caused problems. The last thing left to do to fix my selvedges problem was add a temple. That did the trick. The warp became an enjoyable weave.

The next challenge was to remember the very simple pattern while weaving in public during regular shop hours. I always need to weave a bit to find the rhythm/pattern that makes sense to me. It was another “suck it up” moment when I realized I couldn’t eyeball the pattern if I wanted to get the results I intended. I would have to count. But, hey, it was only to 15. Then I found that my mind wandered or I would get distracted and forget if I was going up or down the twill and I would break the pattern. I solved that by putting a marker on the warp selvedge on the side the twill started on. It only took a hot second to place it and it saved my bacon several times. If I was weaving in solitary, that probably wouldn’t have been necessary, but it did help me and was worth the extra step.

The clip acted as a reminder as to twill direction.

Finishing was simply a machine wash, hand hem and press. I’m pleased with the end result and like the quiet, classic colors and weave.

All this thinking and testing and fretting created quite a mess!

Lessons learned:

  • 20% humidity and linen don’t mix well without intervention.
  • In the future I will weave linen on one of our countermarche looms. I proved it can be done on a jack, but I think it will be easier with equal warp tension and since I have the luxury of a selection of looms, I might as well take advantage.
  • Count more carefully at the warping board. This is the second warp in recent memory where miscounting in the measuring contributed to problems at the loom.
  • Mixing cotton with linen creates a lovely fabric with benefits of each fiber.
  • Cotton shrinks more than linen. I should have planned for that when using the golden mean to calculate towel length. The cotton weft shrank a full 1” more than the linen weft, making my towels disproportionately long.
  • I will continue using Alice’s selvedge solution to honor yarn twist.
  • I still love weaving!

Weaving notes:

  • Warp – 2 ply linen, approx. 4,075 ypp (bleached white, natural, light blue)
  • Weft – 8/2 Brassard Cotton (denim)
  • 24 epi, sleyed 2 per dent in 12 dent reed
  • Color plan: division of space in thirds. Outside thirds alternated one natural with one light blue, center third is bleached white.
  • Weaving notes: woven using a temple.
  • Loom dimensions: 17.25 in the reed and woven to the Golden Mean @ 26.5”.
  • Washed dimensions (excludes hems): 15 x 24.75 Note: width was 16 when linen was used as the weft.