I have been cogitating. Well, I should have been working, but I suppose cogitating counts. Hm, it does if it’s thinking about the editing project on which I am working, but not if it’s about knitting.
However, I’ve just finished a big slouchy sweater (on small needles, ouch), and that always leads to speculation about what next… this is, apart from the other two WiPs. Of course, what to knit next could – and doubtless should – include finishing the Fair Isle of Fate, but I need something I can knit in front of the TV. An already complex Fair Isle which you have adapted the hell out of just for the hell of it – well, that is not it. So I went diving into my stash. I know no fear:
And I did survive. But I still haven’t made up my mind. However the odds are that whatever the next garment is, it will essentially, be green. To give you some idea of why, take a look at three randomly selected stash photos:
This has got me thinking about colour. And editing, just in case one of my publishers is reading this. Editing (and writing, cough, cough, deadline, what deadline?) first and foremost. So why do we choose the colours we do?
First, there’s habit. Time after time I find I’ve bought yet another variation on green. Or, for a brief moment of insanity, scarlet. (BMoI caused by being told I looked good in red. Good, maybe; uncomfortable, yes.) This habit can, of course, be unconscious; the choices that led me to decide these would be great colours for my new glasses a couple of years ago also evidently led me to this yarn, a skein of fabulousness from Wonderwool this year. (This year! And I’m knitting with it already!) And I’m not the only one who defaults to habitual choices.
Then there’s – well, let’s be honest about it – fear. A large wool shop knows to order more of a colourway if the main (previously the only) photograph uses it. Model in a pink version? Order more pink. I say ‘previously’ because some magazines, some yarn companies, are waking up to this one and illustrating alternatives. But I have had customers say to me, even in my limited time, my half-day helping in a wool shop, ‘I like the pattern but I’d never knit it because it’s purple/ brown/red/pink [delete what does not apply] and it doesn’t suit me’.
This raises the question of how knitters managed when patterns were not illustrated in colour.
Take the two fair Isles, for instance. One, the vest, specifies the colours inside – and incidentally includes an early example of a chart, evidently hand drawn (click on the image for a larger view).
The other simply divides the two colours into ‘lighter’ and ‘darker’ shades – easier, though, because there are only two colours involved. And look at the instructions…
I can’t quite believe that I once – and not that long ago, thank you – knitted Fair Isle from instructions like these.
But there’s much more to colour choices than habit or temerity. Alison Lurie highlights some of these in her 1981 book, The Language of Clothes (worth digging out, and surprisingly undated). She looks at many other things than colour – in fact, the chapter on colour is quite late on. She stresses that some ‘aspects of the language of clothes can be read by anyone’, and says that the ‘first and most important one’ is colour. Lots of serious work has been done on the psychological effects and impact of colour (though some of it is decidedly monocultural), and Lurie illustrates some of these by citing opposites: consider, for instance, a male stockbroker in a pink satin suit or a bride in a black dress – I can’t be the only one thinking ‘Morticia’:
The messages are quite different. Of course one of the main messages is ‘sod stereotypes’… But convention does come into play. It may suggest, or even specify, certain colours: black for a barrister; dull hues for an office worker, who will probably not wear them with rainbow 14-hole DMs. The office worker in her navy suit may either cling to the colour away from work or rebel against it; the barrister might find she naturally gravitates towards monochrome in her leisure time.
Then there are our beliefs. We might avoid a colour because we think (or know) that t makes us look terrible, the way that a particular shade of grey-lavender which I love actually makes me look like a long-dead corpse. You can take the whole Goth thing too far. And of course there’s my scarlet. I’ve been told it looks good, but I ‘know’ that it doesn’t. Pity these are also in my stash, then.
I’ll give them a go, honestly I will.
Then there are trends provoking colour choices, as well: orange for this autumn and winter, apparently, and indigo (here are Pantone’s highly influential predictions, now a reality in many shops). If you can afford it, and if you can’t there’s always Primark, you can simply follow a colour trend. If you want something different, it could be problematic. I remember searching the shops for green when I was a teenager and being forced to fall back on black. Again.
How about weather? In summer, with its harsher light and high – well, this year anyway, and maybe many more – temperatures, pale colours look good on many people. Better at least than they do in winter, when they can drain any colour of skin of its tones. The net result of wearing pale colours in winter is that you can look more fragile and delicate than you might want… or maybe you might. Just putting that thought out there. And it might not necessarily apply to this trio. Or it might.
But these are summer suits, after all, and would therefore have been put away once September was over.
Oh yes, and don’t forget that colour isn’t a standalone thing. Well, most of the time. It’s influenced by the colours around it too. In my case, whether they will work with black. Black is summarised by Lurie as connoting ‘gloom, guilt and sophistication’. Hm. I’m not quite sure how that squared with the five-year-old me demanding to be made a black party dress (fair play to my mother, I got one with black in it), but I’ll go with the sophistication part. Or it could just mean that you’re an unreconstructed Goth.
Want to have a quick look at the completed sweater? Don’t hold your breath…