Liz Humphreys’ helpful Colour Palette Hack

Liz's deconstructed J&S shade cards

There are so many things I’ve loved about running the KNITSONIK & Friends: Colour to Knit Club, but a major highlight has been discovering what we can learn by better understanding each other’s ways of seeing.

Today I want to tell you about how Liz Humphreys – one of our club members – created a really enabling shade card hack. Several of us in the club found it really helpful; I asked if I could share it here in case some of you might find it useful, too.

Back in June, Liz shared in the club how she had been enjoying the opportunities to break out of perfectionism and pristine-ness offered by our creative sessions, and how this – in turn – had led her to think about how she might reorganise some shade cards to better meet her own creative needs and methods:

I have had a set of J&S shade cards for a number of years and always felt a bit intimidated by their form and structure, so have not used them (only looked at them and stroked them occasionally!!). I have spent the last few days transferring the samples to a Pantone-style set of cards which make them much more user-friendly. I’m pleased with myself for allowing myself to break out of the formal set-up. And it has been such fun looking at each strand and thinking “ooh how can I use this colour!”

The J&S shade cards on the left, with tiny pieces of yarn tied on in a special sequence. On the right, Liz's dismantled version, in which the colours are each tied onto their own small piece of card.

I love my J&S shade cards and years of using them in a very workaday way mean my set is already trashed enough that it gives me no sense of overwhelm or intimidation. I’m used to the way the colours are organised after using this range as the basis for three knitting books, countless workshops all around the world, and one very silly accordion song.

That being said… Liz’s wonderful hack of putting each individual sample on one big binder ring really got me thinking about times when I’d been fiddling with bits of white paper to try and blot out the interference of neighbouring shades when searching for just the right shade of green; times when I untied little bits of yarn to try and see them in isolation; times when I forgot that there’s another blue-ish shade, say, because it was on a different card than the one I automatically went to look at. I love that Liz found her own way to circumvent these issues by just reorganising all the colours to suit her way of thinking. I also love her description of how this act in and of itself familiarised her with the colours and enabled her to visualise using them in many different ways.

Liz’s hack also reminded me of a totally untouched and utterly pristine shade card from JC Rennie that I got some years ago and have never managed to use. It’s a truly beautiful thing and each of the colours in the yarn range is presented as a little machine-knitted swatch, so you have not just a strand of each yarn shade but a kind of field of its colour that enables you to visualise what it will look like when knitted up. I confess to being quite blown away by the shade card but also – like Liz – a bit intimidated by its amazing form and structure. Part of me wonders what I could possibly do with these colours that would be better than this.

The beautiful JC Rennie shade card; a thick card booklet, in which, ordered chromatically, appear all the different shades of yarn within their range.

Following Liz’s lead, I sat down one evening with a nice sturdy holepunch, a stack of thick ring binders, and a strong pair of scissors. I cut out each of the shades from its card, hole-punched them, and set them individually onto rings. I maintained the order (though playing with the individual cut-out shades since has subsequently messed this up). I immediately wanted – like Liz – to sit down and play with my newly liberated shades.

Bev – one of my fellow designers in the KNITSONIK & Friends: Colour to Knit club and eBook – also clearly found something of great value in Liz’s hack and used it to reorganise her J&S yarn shades. Once freed from the sequence and form in which they are ordered on the cards, it seemed to become much easier for Bev to find the different colours for knitting Cheers! by Nolwenn.

Bev's wildly variegated skein of yarn, beside a large collection of individual, liberated J&S yarn shades.

For our last club call, we were exploring colour-matching and finding shades within an inspiration source. Cutting up my JC Rennie shade cards enabled me to take a new approach to something I’ve been finding deeply inspiring lately – the Live Your Values Deck, by Lisa Congdon and Andreea Niculescu. These cards were a totally unexpected gift from a cherished friend and I love them so much for their deeply pleasing mix of form and function. As an inspiration source for knitting they are very interesting, as the whole deck uses a pared-back palette of just a few colours, judiciously used, and in different configurations on each card. There is something of deep interest here for the knitter who wants to explore lots of different colour combinations and pattern/shape ideas within a limited (and totally gorgeous) pre-determined palette.

Cards with bold graphic illustrations on them, each relating to a different value such as patience (a toadstool), openness (a butterfly), creativity (a pair of scissors), generosity (a bunch of flowers), inclusiveness (a plant); all the cards are worked with a limited palette of black, orange, green, pink and blue against grounds of either pale cream or pale blue.

I still can’t knit more than a few rounds a day at the moment (boo) so this phase of life is just all about the imaginary knitting and colour-play possibilities. With my hacked-up JC Rennie shade card and my deck of precious cards at hand, I went for it and put together an entirely new palette for a project.

Individual yarn shades from the JC Rennie yarn range, ordered on top of the cards, matched to the shades used in their printed design.

I did find there was a massive advantage in being able to reconfigure the little samples of yarn from the shade card so easily – to put them in and out of view in a way that’s much harder when they are presented all together on the card…

the Live Your Values Deck, beside a representative palette of JC Rennie Yarn shades!

…and so nice to give them their own little project palette binder ring at the end.

Yarn "colour chips" replaced onto their own special binder ring, beside the inspiration source that inspired this shortlist of yarn shades.

The selected palette resting on my KNITSONIK Bullet Journal.

I want to emphatically say that this post is in no way a criticism of any kinds of manufactured shade cards. Shade cards are amazing objects – they are beautiful and beguiling and glorious; and they are also expensive and complicated to produce. I HEART SHADE CARDS!!!! Having produced several printed products in the last few years, I can only imagine the complexity and expense of printing and then gluing or affixing yarn samples onto card. The cost, when it’s not glue, is one of human labour and it takes hours to cut up tiny bits of yarn and tied them onto card; I’ve watched Ella doing it and marvelled at the laborious nature of that task. In a way, knowing the labour that goes into producing shade cards, it feel a bit like sacrilege to cut them up (sorry JC Rennie! Sorry J&S!) on the other hand… isn’t there merit, too, in each of us finding ways to adapt the amazing stuff that other folks have created so that we can really make the very best use of it? I doubt there’s a single shade card construction in the universe that can accommodate all our different ways of perceiving and seeing colour.

For my work, Liz’s hack has proved very enabling. I love the ingenuity of interacting with shade cards in ways that empower us to play with them and – importantly – to make best use of them when it comes to choosing colours. I hadn’t really realised until Liz shared her experience of shade cards that I, too, can sometimes struggle with their form and order. In taking responsibility for our own creativity, in adapting the things we use to better meet our unique brains and ways of thinking, I feel we can really help ourselves and, by sharing our adaptations, help each other.

Thanks so much to Liz for this clever, simple hack and for permission to share it here.
If you use the platform, you can follow Liz and her work with colour on instagram where she shares things under the username @lizziehumphreys101.

Liz's deconstructed J&S shade cards

I have clearly been missing running the KNITSONIK & Friends: Colour to Knit Creative Sessions, as I’ve spent the last three days putting together an informal set of tutorial videos exploring colouring-in as an aid to stranded colourwork… I’ll show you my new videos in the next post; they are part of the groundwork I’m laying for the glorious return of The KNITSONIK System in my online school.

Until Soon –

5 thoughts on “Liz Humphreys’ helpful Colour Palette Hack

  1. Lovely idea! I framed mine, but I think it would be a really good idea to do this instead of dumping all the yarn balls on the floor and getting overwhelmed!

    1. Ooh nice – I love the idea of framing the shade cards! But you’re right that shade cards of your stash would be a brilliant way to be able to see it all at once without having to get it all out!

  2. Great song! You gave me a big smile on a very cold and gloomy day. Love all the ideas for using shade cards, too. I don’t have one, but I wonder if I could make a set out of my stash? That way maybe I wouldn’t have to burrow through the cedar chest to find something I need for a new project…Hmm

    1. Terry I think making a set of shade cards out of your stash would be a SUPER idea! What a great way to make all the colours you have more instantly accessible. So happy you like the silly song!

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