Imagine that you want to knit a project in several colours so that the colours gradually flow one into another. The first solution that comes to mind – get variegated or space-dyed yarn.
Those yarns are perfect for creating random colour work, but they have one big flaw – you can’t control which colour changes to which colour, where this change happens or how smooth it is.
If you want to be in charge of your colour work (hooray to knitting superpower :-), here’s a simple way to make yarns in solid colours blend to create gradient and ombre effects.
This technique is really easy, and you can do it even if you only know the very basics of knitting because it has nothing to do with intricate stitching, but everything to do with choosing the colours and planning.
First, let’s discuss the difference between gradient and ombre. The difference is quite vague, but it exists. Generally, gradient effect is created by blending two contrasting colours, while ombre usually involves several colours that are close in shade to each other.
Because both effects heavily depend on the choice of colours, let’s start with
The simple rule is – the colours should look good together. There are lots of tools based on the colour wheel that can tell you which colours match according to the general rules of design. Those tools are quite helpful, but in knitting, you also have to consider the texture and the overall look of the knitted fabric. Most importantly, the colours, texture and general look should appeal to YOU, because like we decided at the very beginning, YOU are in charge of your colour work.
When I choose colours for my knitting, I don’t consult the colour wheel. I have a more hands-on approach. It works great for me, and hopefully, you’ll find it helpful as well.
1. Decide on the thickness of the yarn you need for your project. Because for both effects we’ll be using double stranded yarn, the yarn you choose should be thinner than the yarn you would use for the same project if you were knitting it with a single strand of yarn.
Usually, if a project calls for a Medium weight yarn (marked as 4 on the label), you will use two strands of Light weight yarn (marked as 3 on the label). For other yarns, you can use the information given in this article as a general guideline.
2. Now that you know the thickness, find the yarn in that thickness with the fibre content you like. You can choose from the yarns you have in your stash, or take a trip to your local yarn store.
It’s usually easier to match solid colours of the same yarn because the change in texture will affect the overall look of your knitted creation. So stick to the same yarn to avoid all sorts of surprises (not all of them pleasant … ).
3. By the time you picked the yarn, you probably already decided on the colour theme you want to use. It’s easier to match colours within same “colour families” – reds, blues, greens, purples, greys, etc. (those are not the actual scientific terms, so please don’t be harsh on me if you are a professional designer).
Take a ball (or a piece) of yarn in each colour that seems to be a good fit for your project (the more colours you find, the better) and lay them out on a table.
4. The next step is the most fun. Look at all the colours on the table and pick two of them that you like most. Take one strand of each of those colours and twist them together. If you like how the colours blend, congratulations, you found your gradient colour combination.
If not, substitute one of the colours and check how the new combination works together. Keep testing until you are satisfied with the look of the two colours used together.
For the ombre effect, you need to find 3 or more colours that can gradually flow one into another. The closer the shades, the smoother is the transition between colours. As you can see in the photo below, the colours of the smaller swatch blend much better than the colours of the bigger swatch.
If you use yarn that you have in your stash, make small swatches of each colour combination you picked. This way you will know for sure whether you like the look of the colours BEFORE you start working on your project.
Of course, you can’t make swatches if you are choosing your colours in a yarn store. In this case, you should rely on the look of twisted strands. It helps to look at the colour combinations from some distance, so take a step back and decide whether the colours you picked still look good to you.
Now, that we eventually picked the colours, let’s see how we can create the gradient and ombre effects.
This effect is the easiest of the two. It requires only 2 colours and 3 knitting steps. Let’s call the first colour – colour A, and the second colour – colour B.
Here’s what you need to do to make a swatch like the one shown in this photo:
1. With 2 strands of colour A held together cast on 15 stitches and work in stockinette stitch (knit all stitches in every right side row, purl all stitches in every wrong side row) for 8 rows. (Watch how you can use two strands from the same ball of yarn in this video tutorial)
2. Cut one strand of colour A leaving a small (10cm / 4”) tail, and tie one strand of colour B to this tail. Make the knot as close to the bottom of the stitch as possible.
With 1 strand of colour A and 1 strand of colour B held together work in stockinette stitch for the next 10 rows. To make sure the colours are distributed evenly twist the strands between your fingers after every 3-4 stitches. This is an extra measure to make sure you don’t get patches of one colour in this section of your knitting.
3. Cut the remaining strand of colour A, and attach another strand of colour B. Work in stockinette stitch with 2 strands of colour B held together for the next 8 rows and bind off all stitches.
These steps are also shown in this video I made for you.
Voila! You’ve just created a gradient effect using yarn in 2 different solid colours.
And you don’t have to use this effect exclusively on stockinette stitch. It works great with most stitch patterns. By all means, test gradient with any other stitch pattern. I made swatches in stockinette, garter and seed stitch (see the photo below), and I like them all. So go ahead and experiment!
All of the swatches in the photo are made with same colours. For simplicity, we can record this colour change in an easy formula – “AA – AB – BB”.
We’ll need this formula in just a moment when we talk about
If you want to take the colour blending up a notch and add more colours, you can do it in two ways:
1. You can make several gradient changes, like “AA – AB – BB – BC – CC – CD – DD and so on”.
2. Or you can let the colours seamlessly flow into one another, and that’s what is called an ombre effect.
The difference between gradient and ombre is shown in the photo below. The swatch on the left is made with the gradient effect, while the swatch on the right is made with ombre placed between two sections of solid colour.
The formula for the swatch on the right will be “AA – AB – BC – CD – DE – EE”.
The way you knit it is exactly the same as the one we used for creating a gradient effect. You simply cut a strand of one yarn and attach a strand of another yarn when you want to change the colours. The wider the stripes, the more subtle is the ombre effect.
The best part is – YOU are the one who decides when to change the colour, and what colour to change it for.
Have fun playing with colours 🙂
If you enjoyed this tutorial,
here’s something else you might find helpful:
“Neat Side Edges” Book
Learn twelve ways to make side edges of a knitted project nice and tidy. Plus, ways to fix side edges, and a way to improve edges of finished projects.
Dealing with Unfinished Projects
Dictionary of Knitting Symbols and Abbreviations – E-Book
Eastern (Russian) Knitting Simplified
Knitting Collection #6
Simple Socks in Any Size with Any Yarn
Top-Down Hat in Any Size with Any Yarn