More About Picking Colors (anytime and for your Ella Coat)

There is lots of advice out there about colors, color combining, picking colors. I will not point you to color wheels and wax on about complimentary colors. It can be very academic and there are folks who can speak that language much better than I.

I have feelings about colors, respond to certain combinations more than others, have my own preferences, likes, dislikes.

I always hesitate to give advice about colors because I have very defined tastes of my own. . . and as I always say to the folks who take my workshops, “your taste trumps mine.”

That said, part of the objective of this Ella Coat Knit-a-Long is to help you unleash your inner knitting artist self. For those in touch with this power, I am in full support. For those who feel well, a bit stifled or maybe a bit at sea with no land in sight, I have an exercise for you.

Many people think that creativity springs purely from the self. One must wait to be inspired. . . But this is not quite the way I think of creativity. Creativity takes work–it is pleasant if hard work sometimes, mind you–and it also springs from living in the world. We can only hold so much in our own minds. If you want to understand how flowers are made, for example, you have to look at them, take them apart, garden them, understand them, and look at them. . . look at them. If you want to sketch the joints of a beetles leg, it will not spring from your imagination . . . you must study in the world.

I listened to an interview of a panel of esteemed writers. The reporter asked them about the creative process and asked if they waited to be inspired. . . they all laughed. Every last esteemed guest positively guffawed. One person finally said, “If I waited to be inspired, I would never produce anything.”

Artistry takes work. Every day.

Picking colors needs, like any artistic production, to arise out of living in the world. Nature is an unequaled painter. She is an endless source of inspiration and has put together some of the most startling and beautiful color palettes you can imagine. Even today as we were driving home from seeing HUGO (fabulous movie. . . magical and beautiful with a wonderful overarching theme about everyone having a purpose) I was seeing Ella coat color palettes everywhere.

Put simply: I don’t start in the yarn store necessarily for a beautiful selection of colors. I start with the throat of the foxglove, the petal of the stargazer lily, the sunset over the Rockies, even in that patch of grass by the road where we drive there are several green shades and above the celadon, the bright yellow-green, the darker bright green of more mature grass blades there is the grey of deciduous bushes and trees, the overcast sky.  I filter out the signs, the brick houses, the shops. Focus on the patch of greens (3 shades) and greys (2 shads). These are the colors for an Ella Coat.

The last day I was skiing in Colorado I skied down the mountain (amazing!). . . through the most beautiful birch forest. The palette was limited: creamy white, creamy grey, bits of chocolate, dark grey, a dark purpley blue. The effect was incredible. It was silent, cold, serene. A beautiful Ella Coat.

Colors in the Close up of a Birch Tree Trunk

The other night as I was talking to Melissa on the phone I kept staring at a box of chocolates across the room. The box was chocolate brown and on the side was a bouquet of crimson roses. A beautiful Ella coat, or many beautiful and very different Ella Coats. I can see a chocolate brown coat with stripes of Berries (only a little), Garnet, Christmas Red, maybe even Antique Rose (but that might be too light . . . I would try it and see how I felt. If I used it, only sparingly because a color so light in a dark field has incredible power).

Extract the flowers from the entire picture and focus on the reds, keeping the dark chocolate. . . Sometimes the pixilation of the photograph helps to extract the different reds in the picture.  Here I see Midnight Lake, Berries, Garnet, Christmas Red, even Hot Pink. There is also gold. . . I would omit this, but that’s just me. Maybe a splash of true gold or pumpkin would be fabulous, maybe not. In any case, it should be used sparingly because in such a palette the color has tremendous power.

Picture the coat in reds stripes, with slender stripes in the darker chocolate and possibly also Midnight Lake. Maybe I would harness the power of those darker colors for the ruffles, or just the tips of the ruffles.

If you see a combination of colors that you love, take a picture, then limit the possibilities by narrowing your attention in the photo. Use the crop tool in Photoshop to focus on a section of the landscape, picture, photo, greeting card image that you like. Here is an example. The first images is of a painting. There is too much going on in this painting for me to want to represent all of these colors in an Ella Coat. I’m overwhelmed. But what about the tree at the top right of the picture.  I’ll limit my focus to that tree.  I love the complexity but limited palette. . . A beautiful grey coat with green stripes at the hem and cuffs, or a striped coat that uses all the shades of green and grey . . . or a green coat with grey ruffles. . . or a green coat with stripey waist or stripey bodice. . .

I’ve highlighted other areas of the picture to show how limiting your vision can make for exciting possibilities and is less overwhelming. . . Those fabulous blue domes with a hint of purple. The darker blue palettes on the buildings, the neutral palette of the building at the center of the painting.

Here are the extracted color palettes:


More Blues

The Green Tree (you could segregate the lower and upper halves for very different coats).


Here is my challenge to you: Go out in the world, take some pictures. Then crop the picture to focus on a color palette. . . Post your ideas on the Noni Facebook page along with the yarn colors you pulled out of the picture(s) you took. You do not have to knit the colors you find into your Ella Coat, but you will begin to see color combinations you had not noticed, and you will start to notice which ones you like (and which you don’t). I want you to love your coat. And I want you to be the artist of your own color choices.

16 thoughts on “More About Picking Colors (anytime and for your Ella Coat)

  1. I love the way you break out the colorways instead of looking at the whole picture. It helps alot to see it that way, thanks. Still trying to decide on colors for Ella Reinvented and I have been leaning towards a solid red with a striped ruffle so this will help me quite a bit.

  2. What a terrific exercise! I like helping people choose color but freeze a lot during color choices for my own projects, especially on larger projects like Ella. I have always envied the ability to see palettes in nature. I’m trying harder at that but I tend to be drawn to fashion and home dec pictures as inspiration–decidedly less “creative” I think, since someone else has usually already done the work in those scenes! A friend and colleague who also happens to hand-dye yarn, posted on FB recently, on a really crummy rainy gray morning, something to the effect of “beautiful pearly gray day.” It rocked my morning…seeing things through her color appreciative eyes for a split second. Turned things right around for me! Your post also reminds me of a very wise yarn shop owner/mentor of mine (with an art degree 🙂 ) who notoriously instructs customers to take the yarn out of the shop to see it outside in the back yard before deciding to buy it–using the natural light, the sun, the shade, to decide if they like the color combos. Love that.

    • Nothing is better than natural light! And the suggestion to compare the same color in different light settings is very wise. Yarn colors, like the paint colors in a particular room, change with the quality and type of light, the time of day, mood. . . Keeps things interesting!

  3. I am constantly snapping photos of things I see that make an interesting color combo. My husband and kids think I’m a nut job at times. 🙂 My problem now is picking just one palette.

  4. I love your way of seeing colour combinations! I do a similar thing – I go out and take hundreds of close-up pictures of colours and then print them for reference. I really like greens and browns at the moment, but I’ve already chosen a rich heather blackberry for a solid coat with Sirdar Escape ‘ecstasy’ for the ruffle. Can’t wait!

  5. I’m doing a medium grey Ella with a black ruffle. But after that lesson I definitely will be doing a second Ella also!!

  6. Thanks! Great tips for picking colors! Have been having fun putting yarns together. The striping sequence is going to be another challenge. But it will be another fun exercise.

    • Hi Sierra! It’s good to see your words here. Thank you for the wonderful time in your part of the world! I will write more about this in a blog entry of its own, but when I stripe, I try not to overthink it and chart things out. Some folks will feel comfortable doing this, but I make little tests for myself, such as 1. never repeat a stripe sequence; 2. use families of color to create drama; 3. straddle the distance between distant colors by shading. . . there are others I subject myself to (happily most of the time). In order not to be overwhelmed with decisions every time I change colors, I will line up balls of color that I like together. This is difficult on airplanes (especially during landing and take off!) because one needs space. I don’t always like my little line-ups, so I rip out what I don’t like and go to the next color or re-do the line-up. I also use previous stripe patterns that I like as guides, sometimes choosing the same sequence of colors, but altering the number of rows. This creates complexity and interest. And it keeps me interested and guessing.

  7. So … If you would like a beautifully striped Ella …what number of colors do you recommend … You have 11 in your color palettes in the pattern …what would the minimum be? The maximum?

  8. LOVE the breakdown you gave to the process. I fancy my self good with colors, I am a custom picture framer; but I never gave thought to what my eyes were collecting. I just felt color. And know what I like.

    I will pay more attention. To everything I see now.

    Thanks Nora, your writing smiles for you.

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