Like the majority of knitters, I love working with colour – a little paradoxical as I almost always wear black. Nevertheless, colour (and all its possibilities) is one of my reasons for knitting, and is now a reason for spinning as well. I want to choose my colours, not have choice imposed on me by clothing manufacturers.
And there are some lovely yarns out there, easily available:
Many years ago I went to stay with friends in the Lake District. It was a glorious autumn – sunny and mild but with a sharp bite of cold in the early mornings. The colours in the landscape – browns, greens, oranges, reds, yellows – were astonishingly vivid. And I really, really wanted to knit them into a garment. Not in the sense of some 1980s-intarsia-leaves-falling-over-a-shoulder-pad way; I just wanted to capture the texture and tones of Underbarrow in autumn (despite sounding as though it should be in the Shire, it’s actually just west of Kendal, and worth visiting). At the time I didn’t have any way of doing so. My choice of yarns was limited by comparison to today, and I didn’t realise I could produce my own.
So I took about 85 reels of film instead, all consisting of autumn leaves. It’s a habit I have never lost.
I’ve taken some of my beloved autumn colours and used them in lace and Fair Isle (both of these were knitted in Rowan’s lovely Cotton Glace, and knitting Fair Isle in cotton is probably not the best idea in the world; it looks so much neater in wool):
It’s not just the natural world, either; I often connect images around me with my knitting.
It’s unconscious at first, and then I flick through some photographs and find similar combinations of colours in knitting pix and non-knitting ones. I must have squirrelled the colour combination away on my mental hard drive…
Look at that train – fab… I don’t know why Arriva picked turquoise for their corporate colour, and sometimes it does grate, but here it’s perfect. Well, in my opinion – of course, everyone’s perception of colour is different. And it wouldn’t be the same in different weather conditions, either – but for that particular moment it just worked.
Colour is glorious. It makes an immediate impact – think how easily you can spot a climber wearing red against a granite rock face (well, that’s quite Snowdonia-specific, a red post box against a green hedge, perhaps). It can indicate mood or change it; I had a bright yellow umbrella that never failed to cheer me up on grey days, for instance. It’s perceived differently across cultures – white for mourning in the Indian subcontinent, black in Europe – and across time. Laws have been passed restricting particular colours to particular social groups or occupations (an example would be Roman prostitutes, who dressed in flame-coloured cloth).
And it’s been important to humans for time out of mind. We don’t know if the people who lived in Europe during the last Ice Age decorated their bodies or the things they wore with colours, but I think it’s highly likely. They certainly painted their caves, using mineral colours – ochre and haematite for reds, yellows, shades of brown; manganese dioxide for blacks and darker browns, plus some charcoal. And there’s one of the little details I love: pigment was sometimes sprayed on to the wall through bone tubes – which have been found, still stained, at Lascaux.
The background rock there is white and ideal for showing off the earth colours at their best (or it was, before modern deterioration set in). I love the red ochre – in fact, I’ve just realised that the top I am currently knitting isn’t that far from it in tone!