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All About Color
©2004, 2012 Sandra Petit, http://www.crochetcabana.com

Color. Fascinating. How do we see color? What IS color? Why do people sometimes see things as different colors even though they're looking at the same object? All good questions. Let's first attack the question "What is color?"

Artsparx gives us the best explanation I found. I've quoted a small portion below, but do visit their site. Great info!

Daylight (white light) is made up of numerous waves or impulses each having different dimensions or wavelengths. When separated, any single wavelength will produce a specific color impression to the human eye. What we actually see as color is known as its color effect. When an object is hit (bombarded) with light rays, the object absorbs certain waves and reflects others, this determines the color effect.

For example, what we actually see when we observe a blue ball is that the ball appears blue because it reflects only blue light and absorbs all other light.

The ball does not have color in itself. The light generates the color. What we see as color is the reflection of specific wavelength of light rays off an object.

The color white: If all light waves are reflected from a surface the surface will appear to be white.

The color black: Similarly, when all light waves are absorbed by a surface the surface will appear to be black. 

Now that we know what color is, let's talk about colors specifically. Here is a basic color wheel.


The primary colors on the color wheel are blue, yellow, and  red.

The secondary colors are those you can make using two primary colors. Those would be green (yellow/blue), orange (yellow/red), and violet (purple) (blue/red).

On your basic 6-color wheel the colors are laid out so that there is a secondary color between each two primary colors, like this: blue, green, yellow, orange, red, violet.

The tertiary colors are those made from a primary and a secondary, such as: blue green, yellow green, blue violet, red violet, red orange, yellow orange. Some people call this the intermediate group and the tertiary as those made by combining two secondary colors. Either way, you're combining colors to make new colors. These colors are shown above in the 12-color wheel. Remember that computer colors might not be exactly accurate.


Those numbered 1 in the above picture are the primary, 2 the secondary, and 3 the tertiary colors. You can expand this wheel to as many colors as you want. The largest wheel I saw in my wanderings had 36 colors. Of course, these are all shades of the original three.

Now here is a color wheel from Aggie Horticulture. A different kind of wheel, labeled with floral sort of names. I liked this one because having the labels seemed to better help me imagine yarn colors. Thanks to Texas A&M for giving me permission to use the image below.

You can see more info at their web site.

Container Gardens Color Wheel  and Container Gardens Color Theory


Image property of Terri Starman, Texas A&M University. Used with permission. Jan, 2006.

There are many different ways to use the color wheel to help you decide on the color scheme for your afghan - or anything else you need to decorate.

Once you decide on the colors you want to use, you might like to use the Fibonacci or Lucas numbers to determine how you want to space these colors in your piece. For example, in striping for a scarf or afghan. For reference, the beginning Fibonacci numbers are below. You will probably not go further than 21 or 34 using these with a crochet project.

0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89, 144, 233, 377, 610, 987, 1597, 2584, 4181, 6765, 10946, 17711, 28657

Lucas numbers (first few in sequence): 2, 1, 3, 4, 7, 11, 18, 29, 47, 76, 123
Now here is some more information on color to help you form good color combinations for your work.

All in the family (Also known as monochromatic). These are similar colors which are side by side on the color wheel - like three shades of red.

Won't you be my neighbor? - For this you need a bigger color wheel than the basic dozen colors. You choose 7 adjoining colors, then choose three colors from the seven and use those. For example, in Red Heart Super Saver yarn you find these colors:

0380 Windsor Blue
0381 Light Blue
0382 Country Blue
0384 Skipper Blue
0385 Royal
0387 Soft Navy
0388 Teal

See how the color numbers are close? That may not always be the case, but many times it is and you can use that to help figure out "families" of colors. So, in this grouping of 7 colors, I might choose Windsor Blue, Country Blue and Soft Navy as the colors to use in my afghan

Analogous - This is a variation of the neighbor method. You use the colors that are close together on the wheel. You  might choose one color and use one or two colors on either side of it to go along. So you would be using 3 or 5 colors in that case.

Opposites Attract (Also known as Complementary) - You'll certainly get the compliments if you use this method. Choose colors that are directly across from one another on the color wheel, such as red and green, blue and orange, yellow and violet.  One variation is to use three or four colors that are evenly spaced from one another on the wheel. 

Switzerland - Okay, this is not really called Switzerland. These are the neutral colors, shades of white, gray or beige, also black, tan, brown. Also called the earth tones. Say you want to use one color as your main color and mix it up with a variety of other colors. You might choose white because it's neutral and would go with anything else you use. Black is also used often in this manner. You can use a neutral color for joining squares, for example.

Neutral colors in yarn might include ecru, aran, buff, off white, white, soft white, antique white, eggshell, oatmeal, oyster, linen, beige. Neutral colors are often used to join afghans though brighter colors may be used as well.

Monotone - This has to do with the brightness or intensity of the colors rather than the colors themselves. For example, using all pastels or all bright colors. In other words, you use colors with the same tone. (Get it? Mono = one, tone)

Pastels would include very light shades of other colors such as baby pink, aqua, lily pink, pale yellow, pale green, light coral, light peach, frosty green, pale blue,  mist green, anything with light, pastel or pale in the name. Pastel yarns are good for babies and women. Pastels are generally not used for items meant primarily for men.

Brights might include bright yellow, vibrant orange, cherry red, really red, cardinal, paddy green. If you can't stand the glare, it's bright. Red Heart Kids yarn is very bright. Orange is usually a brighter color as is yellow. Brights would generally be used for youngsters.

Hot or Cold? - Colors can be warm or cool. The reds are warm (red, orange, yellow). Think fire. The blues are cool (blue, violet, green). Think ocean. Also, in regards to temperature, dark colors usually are warmer and light colors cooler in clothing, so why not in yarn? And why IS that? Well, it's because the light wave energy is converted into heat when absorbed. As Artsparx told us above, we see white when all the waves are reflected, so that would be cooler. Black absorbed the light so the more that is absorbed the hotter it would be, right?

Some colors are associated with particular things. For example, purple is associated with royalty. You can find numerous sites that will tell you what each color is supposed to represent.

Crayola has a lot of information on color. Here is a sampling of what they say  about blue, my favorite color:

Personality Traits
calm, relaxed, loyal, soothing, tranquility, peace, confident, serene, purity, gentleness, infinity, strength, reliability, healing, patience, truth, devotion, honor, sincerity, wisdom, security

Cultural Meanings
To the Cherokee Indians, blue represented failure or disappointment. They would imagine themselves red, and pray for the enemy to become blue and walk in a blue path.

Fun Facts
In karate the blue belt represents the blue sky and a plant (student) growing toward it. The sky light feeds the plant (student) and it continues to grow. Blue belt students enhance physical skills and promote mental growth.

Visit the Crayola site for more information.

Emotions - Another thing to think about besides the temperature of the color is what feelings it evokes. You might consider the things in nature that are the same color.

Let's go through the rainbow.

First, how do you remember the colors of the rainbow? Most people use an acronym. A popular one is Roy G Biv. I don't know why. I don't know Roy. When my kids were young, we used Rainbow Over You, God's Blessings in View. Whatever you use, those are the colors of the rainbow.


Red - What can you think of that is normally red? Most people think of fire (exciting, dangerous) but there are other things too - roses come in various shades, red among them.  Apples. Traffic lights. Stop Signs.

Orange - This seems to be basically a food color - oranges, peaches, carrots, Skittles, Starbursts. Autumn leaves are orange too.

Yellow - Yellow is a  happy color. Smileys, sunshine, sunflowers, corn on the cob, are yellow. Those are bright, happy things.

Green - Grass is green. You see green grass when things are fresh and new, not when they are old and dying. So green is a fresh, clean color, calming. You'll see a lot of green and blue in doctor offices.

Blue  - A lot of people like blue, myself included. It is the color of the sky. It makes you think of wide, open spaces. It is a soothing color.

Indigo - Indigo is one of those colors that you know is sort of blue and sort of purple, but never know exactly what it looks like. Did you know it was named by Isaac Newton? According to Wikipedia. The article has a neat color chart. On the chart indigo looks more purple to me. So I guess as far as feelings, it could go either way.

Violet - When I think of violet, I think of flowers. The violet specifically. And crushed velvet. The color of royalty.

Those are my thoughts on color and feelings. You can get more info on color in the Quilting Color Magic articles (down at the bottom of the page), which are wonderful.

Just so we cover all bases, some colors are considered more manly and some are more feminine. That doesn't mean your man won't like pink or your lady won't like brown. But generally speaking, these are considered gender specific.

Feminine colors - This would generally be the pink, pastels, lighter reds, lavender, teal, rose, light and medium blues.

Manly (masculine) colors - darker colors like black, claret, burgundy, maroon or other dark shades of red, navy, royal blue, wedgewood, grey, camouflage in any shade, hunter green, sage, anything in the brown family such as coffee, warm brown, tan, taupe . Neutrals could be included if you are making an afghan and don't want it too dark, like a light tan.

Most men frown on anything pink or flowery while women will generally use any color, even those considered more manly. And they love flowers. :-)

If you are using the above color options for crocheting or knitting something, there is another thing you may want to be aware of with regard to color. Flashing and Pooling in multi-color yarn - also called variegated or ombre.

What is color flashing and color pooling? (I also have an article at the Crochet Cabana blog on these phenomena.)


Color flashing can occur when using variegated or ombre yarn. Flashing is when an unintentional pattern appears in your project, created by the lengths of the colors in your color repeat.

Pooling is when particular colors always end up at the same general location as you work, causing the color to "pool" around one another. Your project will appear to have spots of color at those points. This is also usually unintentional. Sometimes you might like the effect. Other times you might be dismayed, particularly if you are working an afghan and one skein makes one pattern and another skein makes a different pattern in your work. (Yes, I've been there!)


What can you do about flashing and pooling? Well, if you see it quickly, you can change where your repeats occur. You can work from the opposite end of the skein, or cut a piece of yarn out so the repeat starts at a different spot - just don't cut the whole color repeat out or you'll be back where you started. If you have just begun, then you can change hooks or foundation chain. The color flashing may occur in one pattern and not in another, even with the same yarn. It just all depends on where the repeats occur. That said, if the flashing bothers you and you are strong of heart, you can rip that skein and use it for another project where the flashing does not occur. Small projects are good for this, like granny squares, potholders, dishcloths, hair ribbons and such. Variegated yarn is great for butterflies and flowers too.


So, there you have it, color. Here is a photo of an afghan I made years ago using the color wheel as inspiration.



Links that might be helpful:

Color Scheme Online 
Random Stripe Generator
Sherwin-Williams paint colors (color visualizer). The pages have been redone and there's a lot of good info here regarding color.
Any paint manufacturer web site with have something on color.


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Copyright 1997 - 2016 by Sandra Petit. All rights reserved.

Crochet Cabana created October 1997 (domain name purchased March 2001)
Crochet Cabana’s Crafty Corral begun November 7, 2004.
The Crochet Cabana Blog begun May 2010.
Site update November 18, 2012.