Discover New Color Combinations with Color Wheels

Most crafters have go-to colors we use all the time when we craft. (For me, it’s blue, green and purple.) But if you’re making something for a friend or just need to step out of your color comfort zone, a color wheel can be helpful.

Image via ShutterStock/Yuriy Vlasenko

There are basic color wheels and there are some crazy color wheels. For our purposes, we’ll use a more basic one. Bonus: It looks like a flower!

Primary colors

Remember that blue, red and yellow are all primary colors because you mix them to create other colors. The primary colors are always equal distance from each other on the color wheel, as you can see above.

Secondary colors

Secondary colors are made by mixing equal parts of two primary colors. Notice that the secondary colors are always between two primary colors — the two primary colors that make up the secondary color.

On the color wheel above, the secondary color green is located between blue and yellow. If you mixed one part blue and one part yellow, you’ll get green.

Orange is the secondary color located between red and yellow. If you mix one part red and one part yellow, you’ll end up with green.

Tertiary colors

Tertiary colors are situated on the color wheel between a secondary color and a primary color. If you mix equal parts of the secondary color and primary color, you’ll get that tertiary color. You can also make tertiary colors by mixing two secondary colors.

Check out our pretty color wheel again. See the tertiary color blue-green? That’s created when you mix — you guessed it — primary color blue with secondary color green.

Complementary colors

You probably refer to complementary colors all the time when you’re crafting. Complementary colors are placed across from each other on the color wheel. So for example, blue and orange are complementary.

How to use a color wheel for knitting

Now that you know how all these colors relate, how can you use them for your next knitting project?

I find the color wheel useful when trying to bust my yarn stash. Not long ago, I wanted to knit coasters for my coffee table — a great stash-busting project — but I didn’t want all of them to be exactly the same. I looked at the color wheel and loved the way the different shades of blue looked side by side. I decided to choose blue as my basis, and knit the other coasters in blue-violet, violet and red-violet. (I told you I have a lot of blue and purple yarn!)

You can also use the color wheel if you need a highlight. For example, if you’re knitting a red hat and want to add one row of color on the brim, you can use a complementary color like green — located right across from red on the wheel — as a highlight.

Remember that the color wheel isn’t there to choose colors for you. Depending on the shade, most colors look good together. The color wheel is meant to give you ideas and help you explore possibilities. Trust your own judgment and use the wheel as inspiration.

Color wheels are useful for more than just knitting. If you’re a quilter, check out Choosing Quilt Colorsby Sherri McConnell. Looking for a knitting project that combines several different colors? Put that color wheel to work when you enroll in Entrelac Knitting with Gwen Bortner.

Have you ever used a color wheel? When would it be useful for you?

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