Colorwork and Computers

August 2, 2010 at 10:00 am 1 comment

The long-awaited Colorwork and Computers post (promised a month ago, but then life got in the way).

If you, like me, are too cheap to spring for KnitPro or other knitting-specific programs, never fear, you can still go far with the programs you may already have. Marnie MacLean has some very handy tutorials on how to use MS Excel to make colorwork charts and also for creating multi-sized patterns. But, let me explain what it was I really wanted to do, and how it wouldn’t work.

I wanted to make a fair-isle pattern, using 4 or 5 colors, and with only a handful of pattern motifs, but with different variations of where the colors appear. Simple enough. Something like this:

In this case, this is one of the many pattern variations from my Eric’s Hat (ravelry project page – login required), seen here in it’s uneven glory:

You’ll notice this pattern in the lower center there. I wanted to document it, and play with some of the other possible permutations of the design by shuffling the colors around. Marnie’s technique was great for completely altering the color palette, but what if I wanted to rearrange the 4 colors in a different order?

Two variant color schemes

No, you don’t have to resort to Photoshop layers and selective replace (I tried it, and it’s messy. Keep away). Instead, you just need to utilize two features of Excel that come standard – the Scrapbook function (a more intense clipboard), and the color swatch option.

So following Marnie’s advice, we make a spreadsheet, set the blocks nearly square, and make our pattern. For this, we only need to color by hand a small bit, because it’s a repeating pattern.

To color, we use the fill color option on the formatting toolbar. Make note of which colors you use to fill in, as we’ll be fiddling with them later.

Fill in your design with your colors of choice, and using Microsoft’s Scrapbook option (Tools>Scrapbook), copy the pattern piece (select, drag and drop). Then, with that color pallet saved, you can go into Excel’s color settings and start getting groovy.

Go to Excel>Preferences>Color, and find one of the colors you used for your design (they won’t move around, so click on the same box as when coloring in). Click “Modify.”

Now, if you want to use these same 4 colors in a different order later, it will help if you save the color to the small bar on the bottom here. So, click the color from the wide bar at the top, and drag down into one of the smaller cubes on the bottom of the “Modify” menu. It’s now stored. Before doing anything else, click “OK” and do this for all your 4 (or more) colors – saving them to the bottom menu via “Modify”.

Once you’ve done this, the rest is cake. In the Modify screen, just click the color on the bottom that you’d like to trade out for. Green goes to white, blue goes to orange, and so on. Once you’re all swapped, have a look at your image. Your colors should be all different.

Copy this to your Scrapbook, and do it all again.

When you’ve collected a scrapbook full of clips, you can start using them to build your pattern.

Voila. For many instances of fair isle, you’ll probably be content using the “Modify color” feature to swap colors around, so you can see your motif in shades of blue, or green, or red. The same concepts apply, you just don’t need to save the color to the bar at the bottom.

BTW: Having used both Excel and Numbers (Mac), and really wanting the Numbers to work, I found that it just doesn’t have the same functionality. Microsoft has us this time…

And one last note about fair isle theory, while we’re talking colors. It’s not just the hue that makes colors stand out against one another; it’s density as well. A bright fuchsia might look nothing like that lime green in “color”, but in fair isle they’re just not going to make a great contrast. The great Eunny Jang once mentioned using a black and white photocopier on your design – if you desaturate the pattern , by making it black and white, and the contrast still shows, you’re golden. If the b&w version looks muddy, you’re in trouble.

With computers, though, this becomes even simpler. Why go through the trouble of knitting a swatch of these colors and finding a copier, when you can just as easily print your charts out in grayscale? Or, even better, just desaturate the image using a graphics program. Like this:

Look at how little contrast remains between the green and orange! For this, I just copied the cells into Preview, and in the “adjust color” tool, took the Saturation slider all the way to the left, down to zero.

When desaturating the picture of the original, we see that the contrast is a little better, but not much:

For reference, the band is orange, the dark stitches blue, and the middle green – they start to blend in.

Hope this gives some food for thought when playing with colors and computers! There’s a lot you can do!

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Entry filed under: designs, knitting, techniques.

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