Colour & Value in Crochet
Crochet is a medium made for colour. From simple stripes to tapestry crochet to intricate pieced motifs, the opportunities to play with colours are endless and unique. Due to the specific textural and structural properties of crochet, colour combinations may interact differently than in other fibre arts, so intentionality is key. In this article, we’ll look at an important aspect of crochet colour play: value.
Why Does Colour Value Matter in Crochet?
Value is the lightness or darkness of a colour. Like hue and saturation, it exists on an infinite spectrum with infinite tiny gradations. For a more detailed look at hue, saturation, and value, be sure to check out Tabetha Hedrick’s article for SweetGeorgia. This article will focus on value, since the way a colour’s lightness or darkness interacts with crochet stitches is slightly different than in knitting or weaving.
Crochet stitches have a ton of texture, with little bumps that cast tiny shadows on the surface of the fabric. While knit stitches and weave structures also cast shadows, even the smoothest crochet surface will have a bigger contrast between the highlights and the shadows than other fabrics. This intersects with value because value is all about light and dark.
When you pick colours for a crochet project, you’re working with two sources of light/dark contrast: the inherent texture of the fabric, and the values of the colours you’re working with. (Different fibres and ply structures also have their own impact on value, but that’s a subject for another article!) Both sources of contrast will impact the overall colour effect of the finished piece.
With that, let’s dive into some examples!
Low vs. High-Value Contrast
When choosing colours, you’re not just considering hues. You’re also choosing the level of value contrast between your hues. You’ll either end up with low-value contrast (colours with a similar lightness or darkness) or high-value contrast (colours with extreme differences in their lightness or darkness). Neither one is better than the other, but it’s helpful to know how each choice will impact your project.
In the example above, the same tapestry crochet fern motif has been worked in two colours with low-value contrast, and two colours with high-value contrast. The low-contrast combo has a soft effect, with the edges of the motif blurred. This is because the highlights and shadows of the crochet stitches themselves have a similar value across both colours. The high-contrast combo is crisp and the motif pops, because the highlights and shadows cast by the textures on the light colour areas are lighter than those cast on the dark colour areas.
In another type of fabric, such as a knit fabric, the effect of either value combo would be similar. But, it’s heightened in a crochet fabric because of the textural value contrast.
You’ve probably guessed that combos with high-value contrast are easiest to work with, particularly for intricate patterns. While that’s often the case, low-value contrast can yield subtle and beautiful results in crochet projects. I personally love the smoky, shaded look it creates. But it can also be frustrating if you’re hoping for patterning to show up clearly. If you’re not sure, save dark, low-contrast combos for simple patterns such as stripes.
Hue Can Be Deceiving
The beloved trick of taking a black-and-white photo of your colour combos to check value contrast is especially important in crochet. In the example below, the same tapestry crochet snowflake motif has been worked in a dark blue background colour and three different, lighter contrast colours. Notice how side-by-side, the lavender appears much lighter than the blue background colour, as do the coral and sky blue. But also notice how the lavender snowflakes show up much less clearly than the other two contrast colours.
Taking a photo of the same sample in grey scale shows that the lavender is actually much closer in value to the background colour than the other two contrasts. Because the hue of the lavender is fairly different from that of the dark blue, seeing them side-by-side can trick the eye into thinking they have a much stronger contrast than they actually do. Again, a high-contrast pairing is not inherently better than a low-contrast one. This just means that taking an extra step to verify your value contrast before starting a project gives you more control over the final result.
Value is Valuable!
This article just scratches the surface of value and its implications for crochet. But I hope it’s a helpful jumping-off point for you in your own value experiments! The more you play with colours and tweak value in your crochet combos, the stronger your sense of what you love will become. Happy colour play!