Designing Colorwork

Every now and then I see something or read something and come up with an idea. I promptly turn to my husband and say “This is gonna be AWESOME!”

That’s usually the doom of my next project. Oh, it is awesome alright. Mr. Grinch’s sweater started off with that phrase and look how it turned out (well, pardon the lighting):


The problem with my “This is gonna be AWESOME” projects is that they are usually very complicated and something I have never done before. In the case of Mr. Grinch, I had never knitted a sweater. Never mind adding lights and stripes and bells and appliques. The GOOD thing about these projects is that I usually learn a TON and they are worth the frustration and effort that go into them.

What does this have to do with designing colorwork? Well, you’re probably going to start with “This is gonna be AWESOME” and feel horribly frustrated along the way. JUST DON’T GIVE UP! You’ll learn a ton and you’ll get an awesome work when you’re finished.

When designing colorwork, there are several ways to go about it. Some of them (like stripes) are easier than others, but you’ll have to pick the way that is most comfortable for you. Today I’m going to go over three ways to design colorwork and they all involve our grid, so pull that out. Oh, and I’m completely making up the method names on this one, so you may not find any more about them.

The Pixel Art Method

First off, what is a pixel? Well, a pixel is a phone by….wait, no. A pixel is actually “a minute area of illumination on a display screen, one of many from which an image is composed.” (citation link). In a picture like this one (which you may recognize):


each box outlined in black would be considered a pixel. If it helps you to think of them as little squares instead, that works too.

Designing color work using the Pixel Art Method kind of works two ways. If you’re following me on Pintrest, you’ve probably already seen my Pixel Art Board and any of those can be fairly easily translated into a knitting or crochet pattern by making a straight one to one piece. Meaning that each pixel on the drawing would equal one single crochet or knit/purl stitch. Pixel art is fairly easy to find online and if you’re creative, you can whip up something like this:


and lay your grid over it to turn it into a work. Just remember that you’ll need to match the grid size to the smallest pixel on there so that the rest works out (you can’t exactly make half a stitch).

The other way to do this method is to take a picture like one of these:

and lay your grid over it, adjusting curves where necessary. Since you’re dealing with a square grid, you will have to fudge the curves a little. My general rule is that if the color takes up half the square or more, then it counts for color. I did up the rocket scene for you and it looks like this in grid form:


You would may still want to add some thicker lines to mark it out for stitching, but this gives you a good start and hopefully the general idea for how to make a picture work.

Notice I stick to simple pictures with only a few colors. You COULD try out something like these:

which are very beautiful and complex, but have a lot of colors and a curves, and you would come out with either a HUGE work or with a work that was very disappointing. There’s only so much that can be done when you’re dealing with squares and knitting and crochet have their own limitations. Not to mention the limited yarn colors in this world.

Now, what you could do more easily with something like the boat picture there is use variegated colors and texture to make a similar scene.

The Natural Inspiration Method

If you’ve ever been walking around outside and see something that inspires you, you’re well on your way to starting this method. The idea is to draw inspiration from your environment. Your environment might be a busy office or workplace; a calm out door place or park; or even just your house with wild animals of all shapes and sizes (mine has two cats and a three year old with one on the way). Any of these places is a good place to draw inspiration from. Whatever you consider “your” environment.

For me, with a baby on the way, it has been easiest to draw inspiration from the coming boy. He’s already inspired a baby blanket for the shop (the crochet pattern is up too, if you want to make one!) and given me countless ideas for nappy covers, hats, shoes, and toys. Of course I haven’t had time to get ALL of those finished, so if you’re anything like me, it might be best to keep a journal of all your ideas so you can come back to them later.

This method really relies on quick sketches and KNOWING your craft. If you love design, but are new to crochet and knitting you may struggle with the practical application of this method. JUST DON’T GIVE UP! It will take time and trial and error, but when you get through it, the final product will be something you can be proud of.

Once you have your idea, sketch it out. Like I said, having a new son on the way has given me tons of ideas for him and for brother, so here’s one of mine:


Notice the INCREDIBLE amount of detail and the VAST use of color (I’m being terribly sarcastic here). The point is that your drawing doesn’t have to be the best thing that ever happened as long as it makes sense to you. For this method, you don’t need a grid as much, but it can help with planning out pieces. In this case I know that the insides of the ears are pink and the rest is grey, so planning the ears on a grid might be helpful. If you are a great artist and want to plan out a tapestry style blanket this way, using a grid may help you plot out where you want certain pieces to go.

When you get to the practical portion of this method (the actual pattern writing part) it may be helpful to go to a free patterns site for your chosen art and look up other patterns that are similar to what you want to do if you need help. I’ve never actually made a nappy cover, so before I try to put this one together, I’ll try to find a plain nappy cover that I can use as a base pattern and adjust it as I need to for sizing. I HAVE made stick on tails before, so I’ll just “wing it” for that part. Let your experience guide you and don’t be afraid to get help from friends, neighbors, or the internet.

Remember to take LOTS of notes as you’re putting you work together so you can write a cohesive pattern when you’re finished and try to make good friends with other knitters/crocheters so they can help you test out your new pattern.

The Freestyle Method

The idea behind this method is to almost literally make it up as you go. Like Abuela in the kitchen, there’s no recipe to guide, just skill and creativity.

For those of you who enjoy this, some beautiful works can be created. For those of you who don’t, no worries. Not everyone has that kind of creativity and your creativity may lie elsewhere. I am one who is able to do this, but ask me to make the wires behind the computer look good and I can’t. My husband on the other hand can take a bread tie and some tape and make wires disappear (not literally, I don’t actually know HOW he does it). Each of us was gifted with a certain kind of creativity. You just have to look at from a certain point of view.

Getting down to the actual work, the best way to start this method is to try out  a stitch or style of work that interests you.

If you’re a beginner, you may want to make a granny square blanket or scarf with your leftover yarn like this:


using black when you tie it together can create a nice contrast, but if you have a bunch of the same colors (different shades of green for example) tying them together with an opposing shade (purple) or a complimenting shade (brown) can be nice as well. It all depends on what you want out of the project.

If you’re to an intermediate level, taking on something like basket weave stitches might make an interesting throw. Adding in a contrasting color to your basket weave can make for an interesting effect as well. Colored checks or stripes are another good way to test out a new stitch.

For more advanced  level, try taking a stitch that is usually done flat and making it in the round. How would you make a sock out of that stitch for example. When I created the Mermaid Tail Blanket, I hadn’t ever seen Crocodile stitch, but I figured it out and put it in the round and came up with this:


The Freestyle Method definitely gives you the most freedom of all the methods, but it also requires the most effort and skill. Don’t be afraid of it, but don’t worry if your work doesn’t work out either. This method is VERY rewarding because you learn so much and you gain so much experience, but it’s not necessarily very fast and does take a LOT of patience.



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