Tuesday, 31 May 2011

Combining colours

When I was a young person, I once bleached my hair all over with Sun-In, decided it didn’t look dramatic enough, and put henna on top of it. This was in the days when if you wanted highlights you had to sit with a rubber bathing cap with holes in on your head while the hairdresser pulled sections through with a crochet hook and asked you what you thought about Bros’s latest single, so although it seems an eccentric decision in retrospect, you have to see it in context. Anyway, predictably my hair went completely orange, at school they called me Cheesy Wotsit, and it was all very difficult. However, I discovered something interesting: I discovered that there are some weather/ atmospheric conditions where the light is cold and clear, and colours look more intense, as these were the days when people stared at me (most) in the street. It was this kind of light when I walked home from the station the other evening, and it made me think about colours and how to combine them.
Pictures on a wall in Howies. I take photos in shops just like a secret Ninja
I love combining colours: it’s my favourite thing to do with fabric and yarn. I am a bit of a one-trick pony, though. I have certain combinations I like. I like rainbow sequences, and I like colours that are opposite on the colour wheel (e.g. purple and yellow, blue and orange), or very close together (red and pink). My favourite, though, is any combination of intense colours. I like colours which have an intensity that you don’t really find in nature: I am not a fan of the muted colourscheme.
Clock just behind Regent Street helpfully illustrating generic 'multicolour' although I do spy a bit of ecru
What I always find is that if you match intensities, you can use any combination of colours, and it will look alright. For instance, if you are one of those mad people who likes pastels, you can make a quilt using entirely pastel prints and it will look fine (I mean, it won’t, because it’s pastel. But from a coldly aesthetic point of view it will). If you are knitting something which needs a lot of colours, if you use yarn all from the same range, it doesn’t matter, in a way, what you pick, because generally they will have depth of tone/ presence of darker tones in common and this will make your finished object look coherent. The danger is that it might also look a little corporate (or, polished, depending on what you’re aiming at!).
A nice bit of bright blue in a slightly dull street
It is not just about saturation of colour, it is about shininess as well. Partner is very, very colour blind, and one of the things that throws him is when a surface is shiny: if it is shiny, he can’t tell what colour it is. This is something that becomes an issue if you are mixing fabrics, for example I often mix quilting cotton (matt) with silk (saturated and shiny). Here I find it difficult to visually integrate this car into a colour scheme although the dullness of the rest of it all tones together (I mean, you may not like brick red and grey, but it tones!).
Giant plug in Soho. This is Art and therefore is not Functional
I’m trying to experiment a bit more with the ways I combine colours, and one of the combinations I like is a very intense, almost neon colour with a natural, especially grey. I worry I make all my colour (and possibly indeed life) choices on the basis of ironic juxtaposition but hey, if we don’t have irony, what do we have.
I actually think they're starting to take over because there are no natural predators. I may write to the Cambridge Evening News. Look how it's eyeing up the cyclist, this picture is Cambridge in a nutshell, it just needs someone complaining about parking or how their green bin isn't emptied often enough
I find black very difficult to integrate into colour schemes – it always looks jarring to me. It’s not a colour I ever wear, either (although I often admire it on other people). I wonder how much our choice of favourite colours is influenced by what suits our skin tone (because if I wear black without a faceful of makeup I look as if I’ve been exhumed). I’m going to have some rainbow colours left over from the Epic Rainbow Throw (update tomorrow! Put it in your diaries!), and I’m thinking of making granny squares and joining them with black, I will see if I’m brave enough. Mum has seen a throw with these colours in the window of the Clay Cross Wool Shop and says it looks very nice.
I hope this is painted with Farrow and Ball, because if not this homeowner might be drummed out of Cambridge
I love black with yellow and silver here, though. I imagine wasps would agree with me.
This fabric was £165 a metre. Think how much wedding dresses cost though before you hyperventilate. I wasn't looking for a wedding dress (my family read this so I have to clarify in case I start rumours), Partner and I are going to continue our life of Sin
I think your perception of colours is really affected by the memories/ associations they have for you. For instance, even if pink and grey became devastatingly fashionable tomorrow and everyone was wandering about wearing it in wonderfully tasteful Miu Miu prints, it would still scream ‘cheap eighties curtain material for adolescent boys’ to me. Likewise brown, orange and cream is forever Seventies, and I cannot do combinations of cream, white, beige or ecru because I lived through the nineties where all the focus was on Naturals and if anyone had worn turquoise in public it would probably have made the national news. Oh God, that was a difficult decade for those of us who Do Not Get minimalism.

What colours are your go-to combinations? Do you ever get the urge to break out?

16 comments:

Maytheweed said...

Great post! :) I'm a big fan of rich, saturated colour too and as a gardener I think nature has the most intense colours out there! So I have to disagree with you a little... ;P At the moment I love rich purple with a good intense turquoise - I'm making a skirt in those colours and right now I'm wearing a crimson dress with green jewellery. Neutrals? Pah (except black, I like black). Pastels? Double Pah!

Mumma Troll said...

I feel all high and mighty and educated after reading that post Susie,it's like I know someone that knows something, so thank you muchly. It reminded me of a Damart catalogue I was flicking through during a very bored moment at work yesterday. Pastels are for whimps and I shall have none of it here so have to whole heartedly agree with you there.xxx

yvette said...

Love blue and orange too, and red/orange/pink together! I know just what you mean about colour combinations reminding you of certain decades - I had a brown and cream crimplene dress in the seventies, and I just can't warm to those colours now!

Ms C @ HappyElastic said...

I have come to the conclusion that no colour is ever bad as long as it is combined with the right other colour, though I don't always know what the right colour is. I do not like pastels much though. Baby clothes are bleh, I went out of my way to find them bright things to wear!

I love fuchsia and mustardy yellow together. I'm making a blanket at the moment and trying to get around the colour matching issue by using as many as possible.

Anonymous said...

I really don't like black with granny squares - I hate black when it is used in crochet - such as in stripes or ripples or knitting for that matter. It looks horrible with colours, especially brights - I've seen lots of blankets spoiled that way. I must admit too that wasps are not my favourite look. While it is alright for ladybirds I suppose (just). But my opinion only so please ignore - we are all different. The only colours I'm not keen on are black or white. Of course though there are exceptions. I can do rainbows or pastels or muddies or muted though. Like your first comment says there are very intense colours in gardens but I always wonder how 'natural' they are as we do rather interfere with plants and flowers don't we? There are no straight lines in nature though - everything like grass bends or has kinks in in like straw. Unless I am wrong you have to get a microscope to see all the geometry in nature. Doesn't stop humans being obsessed by straight lines and symmetry though.

Lisa said...

Great post! My mother has this great, very very '80s book on what "season" you are - which means basically what colours look good on you. I am a "winter" which means that my vampire-esque skin tone and dark hair *are* natural, thank you very much mean-hairdressers, although they did come in very handy when the emo-phase was in. Um, anyway, having dark hair and really pale skin apparently means I can wear black. I mean, I was doing that anyway so I guess that's quite good. And I look good in bright colours - turquoise, fushia, cherry red ... but awful in yellows and oranges.

Anyway, (finally getting to the point) maybe the colours people like are related to what looks good on them? I mean, I detest pastels, and they look terrible on me. And orange and yellow I can only bear in very small amounts, while black and bright red are may favourite colours, and look the best on me. Or, it could be that I like particular colours, and therefore think they look good on me. Who knows!

All that said, I do have a strong dislike of two colours of the same hue and very similar shades together. Like when people wear blue demium jeans with a blue top. Gah - awful! And red and green together, because people where I work and live seem to be obsessed with Christmas, and I don't need to encourage them anymore. I wore a t-shirt with a cuckoo clock on it, and they talked about Christmas all day. I'm interested in what they think Switzerland is like, do they think it's Christmas all year round?

Gracey is not my name.... said...

I just bought this amazing deep plum colored "fake" flower to use on a purse and I'm seriously considering a silver grey as the main color...I tend to be drawn to fall colors, greens and purples...I went to a workshop with Kathy Merrick, author of Crochet in Color and she advocates trying to work outside your color comfort zone...I don't dislike any colors, (well pastels are a group of shades, that are well pastel) except maybe coral, as it looks hideous on me...and a BTW, I just did my nails an electric blue...

mooncalf said...

I wondered if you'd seen this project because it stuck me you might like it. or hate it. Or be interested anyway:
http://www.purlbee.com/granny-stripe-blanket/

Susie said...

Thank you everyone for your comments, it's so interesting to hear about other people's colour preferences and experiences and things!

Anonymous, yes that's my default position on black in crochet and kind of why I'm interested to try it (I may wimp out, though).

Mooncalf, I love that blanket. I need to think of a project where I can experiment with something like that, because that would be really off-the-wall for me. Or pastels... O_O

Marushka C. said...

I definitely tend to like the colors that look good on me, which has meant years of ignoring everything in the beige, yellow, orange, brown parts of the color wheel, as well as bright greens and pale pinks. I was astonished to find that I like rooms painted in peach, brick red, or interesting tan shades - who would have guessed? I just made a dark orange shawl for someone as a gift and it was like a radical new experience -- orange yarn, who knew? I don't even see those colors in the yarn store, I'm so conditioned to go for the jewel tones.

My worst color association -- I get the shudders when I see purple & gold together as it reminds me of my unpleasant years in high school where those were THE colors.

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