When it comes to color selection, you could just wing it and see how it all turns out — but that’s a risk for big knit or crochet projects. A more organized, strategic approach? Using a method to preview how the colors look together — before you even start stitching. You don’t want to finish a project only to realize that one color really throws off the whole design!
Pick the perfect palette with these tricks for previewing yarn colors.
1. Use yarn pegs
One of the most popular — and most beautiful — options is to create yarn pegs featuring the colors of the yarn in your stash. This strategy came first from Lucy of the blog Attic 24, who shares a detailed tutorial for creating them on her site.
The basic idea is that you cut a small bit of yarn off of every skein in your stash and wrap it around a wooden clothespin. You’ll end up with a directory to all of your yarn colors. Once set up, you can easily move the pegs around to figure out the order of colors for your projects.
When you aren’t in project-planning mode, the pegs can be displayed in your studio or home as beautiful yarn-wrapped art in their own right!
Note that you don’t have to wrap the yarn around a clothespin. You could use cardboard, popsicle sticks or other recycled materials that are about the same shape and size.
2. Work up small swatches
Michelle from Crochet Between Worlds samples colors by making two-round, 2″ solid crochet granny squares from each yarn in her stash. She labeled the backs of each granny square with the yarn info. You could do the same with basic gauge swatches for knitting.
This option allows you to really see what the yarn looks like when worked up and still lets you easily move the colors around as you perfect your layout.
3. Try a yarn shade chart
Shade cards are physical cards (although there are also virtual versions) that have bits of yarn attached to them, plus information about that yarn such as the name, weight and yardage. It’s a great way to see what the colors look like next to one another.
Several yarn companies offer yarn shade cards so you can see exactly what your palette will look like. This is nice because you can order the cards in advance. You can also make your own! Simply punch holes along the bottom edge of an index card, tie your yarn samples into those holes, and write the related information on the card.
Sometimes knitters and crocheters even get creative with shade charts. For example, Kate Davies Designs wraps yarn samples around cutout sheep instead of using plain cards.
4. Lay out your skeins
Pegs or shade cards are portable and convenient, but they’re certainly not necessary. You can always go the old-school route of simply laying out your yarn skeins and organizing them in order until you have a color layout that you like. This is great for ombré projects where you may not have a large number of colors but you need to get the order just right.
5. Wrap it up
Sometimes you know which colors you want to use but you need to figure out the right layout for them. Instead of making up yarn pegs or moving skeins around, you can create simple yarn wrappings on cardboard.
This is a project planning idea taken from the world of weaving. Cally Booker’s tutorial “Designing Warps: How to Use Yarn Wrappings” provides a great starting point for this method of previewing yarn color layout.
6. Create a color key
Projects like temperature blankets and mood scarves rely heavily on a color key, because the color you use depends on a specific variable (like the temperature).
These types of projects begin by selecting your colors and assigning them to a variable. For example, you might use a red yarn every day that the temperature is above 90 F, a yellow yarn when it’s between 80 and 90, etc. Creating a color key makes it easy to remember the correct yarn to use each day.
Stitchers often tape small scraps of yarn to a piece of cardboard or notebook paper for their key, logging the corresponding information next to it.
Need some help? Craftsy member Underground Crafter offers a pattern with instructions for planning a temperature scarf.
7. Make a pattern chart
In some cases, you want to know how colors or motifs will look beside each other. Will light green look OK next to dark purple, for example?
In this case, you can use graph paper (or online design tools) to play around with the color arrangement until you get it right. Draw out the design of your project, outlining the squares, hexagons or stripes of the project. Use colored pencils to shade in the design until you have a layout that suits you.
Ryane of Olivesandpickles makes terrific blanket designs using this technique, and she even sells her color layout sketches for those who want to crochet items based on her color choices.
8. Turn to palette design tools
Have you ever seen a beautiful photo and thought, “Those would be the perfect colors for my next project?” Use an online palette generator to upload the image and pull the colors out of it.
This allows you to easily see the most dominant colors, previewing how well they really go together. Then you can find the corresponding yarn in and make your project.
9. Try these online project planning tools
- Granny Squares Color Pattern Generator – Enter the height and width of your blanket and the number of colors per square in the blanket. Then, add your color and hit “generate” to get a visual graph suggestion for your design.
- Random Stripe Generator by Biscuits and Jam – This is a similar tool for stripe-based patterns.
- Weatherghan – A tool specifically for designing knit and crochet temperature blankets.