For the second day of the Nordic Knitting Conference in Seattle, I took an all-day class on color in knitting. I was drawn to the topic of colorwork more than the teacher. Although her color combinations are bold and masterful, Vivian Høxbro 's garment designs are rather too dramatic for me. And to be honest, at the beginning of the day, I wasn't optimistic about the class--I even considered cutting out at lunchtime to do a little Seattle sightseeing on my own. We received a handout with instructions for knitting a color wheel. Terrific, I thought. If this is the extent of the class, a boring talk about the color wheel and knitting an ugly thing, I'm out of here.
But we didn't have to knit a color wheel in class, to my relief. Vivian had us wind off mini-hanks of yarn in all the colors of the color wheel. This took a significant amount of time, but it broke the ice among the students because we had to keep trading yarn hanks around.
Vivian gave a presentation showing some examples of color combinations in fashion -- and many of them I didn't care for at all. Missoni may have color down cold, but its designs leave me cold. Plus, I think the projected presentation's color was off--Vivian commented a few times that we couldn't see what she saw on her screen. Not inspiring at all.
Things got much more interesting when we got to play with all the colors, not just the 12 in the color wheel. We were asked to pick a handful of colors that we didn't like or wouldn't normally use, as well as a handful that we do like. Then we had to knit a swatch using two "don't like" colors and one "like" color. I chose teal, kelly green, and ochre. The teal and green came together OK, and the green and ochre worked OK, so I was able to make some transitions so that it wasn't horrible. That was a learning experience. Everyone had to explain what they did and why, which was fun. Everyone does approach color differently.
The next exercise was to work with complementary colors from the color wheel; that is, colors that are opposite of each other. I had a hard time with this one--I believe that these combinations are usually garish and/or cliched. Blue and gold just reminds me of school colors and pep-rally rah-rah; red and green makes me instantly think of overbearing Christmas kitsch. One of the most valuable things I learned from the class is that those combinations can be more subtle--they don't have to be that bald-faced. Vivan's tip was to make one of the colors dominant and use its complement as an accent. One of her sweaters was a midnight blue with small yellow blocks. The effect was of stars in a night sky.
But I struggled with the complementary exercise. I couldn't come up with a definite set of colors that I liked and that worked together. I meandered. Plus, I was starting to notice that other people were doing fancy slip-stitch patterns with their colors rather than plain stockinette stripes, so I was feeling a little inadequate about that, too.
The final exercise was to pair up with someone and pick a color combination and knit a swatch for them. This was really challenging to do for someone you just met a few hours before, and we all felt pressure to make something really good. It made us observe, and think, and talk to the person next to us!
Vivian brought a lot of her sweater samples and used them as examples while she talked. She told us that she didn't bring any brown, or many shades of gray, because she thinks people use them as a safe fallback. I think for the purposes of this class, she was right. The point wasn't to make tasteful color swatches.
It was interesting to work with the line of Harrisville yarns that she designs with and creates colors for. Most of them are heathered, which gives them complexity and probably helps them work together. Also, they're so thin that they don't feel good in the skein, but I can understand that a double-thickness twined or stranded material would be a more manageable weight using this type of yarn. And it probably gets softer with washing.
She concluded by encouraging everyone to try on her samples, which everyone enthusiastically did.
I saw that the construction techniques were interesting and probably really fun to knit, even if the garments aren't my style. And it made me wish that there were an event during the conference where we could look at all the teachers' samples, because they all brought amazing things.(Maybe that did happen during Saturday night's happy hour, which I missed.)
The final thing I learned in class was that there is no substitute for color swatching. You can't know how two colors will interplay until you put them together.
After class I had coffee with some work friends, and then met Janine, Ryan, TMK, and Gail for dinner. Janine took a class on Bohus knitting, which sounded wonderful. I really wished I could have seen Susanna Hansson's examples.
To the best of my knowledge, I haven't got a drop of Nordic blood, so I couldn't claim that as my reason for wanting to attend this conference; I just wanted to learn about more traditional knitting techniques and traditions. Since this conference was a rousing success, I think the museum is likely to host it again--and I would strongly recommend it to any enthusiastic knitter.