Mags Kandis and The Language of Color

Mags Kandis, editor of Folk Style

"English," Mags told me during our phone conversation last Friday, "is my second language." I was puzzled—maybe she had spoken French or Greek as girl? I heard no trace of an accent in her voice, but the phone can be deceiving. Finally, I asked her: "Well, what is your native language?" "Color!" she replied, with a laugh. And looking at her Modern Quilt Wrap, and the beautiful Folk Style book that she put together (or "wrangled," as Mags says), I would have to agree: Mags is absolutely fluent in the rhythm and grammar of color.

Most of us, however, feel insecure when it comes to that particular language. Me, personally? I'm one of those folks who feels that color is an alien language. I balk at the idea of designing anything in colorwork, because I am afraid of saying something horribly wrong, making some awful Color Faux Pas. I wear a lot of solid colors; my knitting is the same way: lots of solids, where texture and lace form the interest, rather than color.

So I asked Mags: How does she choose the colors for a project like the Modern Quilt Wrap? I was hoping for the magic-secret formula that would turn me into a color-speaking genius. Her answer: Listen to the language of color you already speak.

Her exact words were: "Don't think too much about itJust do it! Let the colors come at you, and let them speak to you. Be fearless. You know when the colors work for you, and when they don't."

For those of us who don't feel fluent in the language of color, this Being Fearless stuff might take a bit of confidence building. Here's an exercise I've found really helpful: Flip quickly through a book or magazine, looking only at the colors, not the content. Stop when a page speaks to you solely because of its colors—and then spend a few minutes studying the colors that spoke to you. Could you design a version of the Modern Quilt Wrap based on those colors? This exercise is a way of having a Color Conversation with yourself, a way of developing your own "ear" for the language of color. Practice these sorts of color conversations (could you knit a sweater to match a favorite photo?), and you'll gain more vocabulary for, and more confidence in, your color choices.

The Modern Quilt Wrap and me

In choosing the colors for the Modern Quilt Wrap, Mags said that she had had eleven balls of Rowan KidSilk Haze in a basket, each a different color. She kept rearranging them, and then standing back to look at them, until it became clear that two of the colors just "didn't belong." She took those two colors out of the basket, and voila—the remaining colors were perfect.

What if you can't see the yarn in person, or don't have access to all the colors? Here at Interweave, the editors and designers work from color cards, sometimes called sample cards. You can purchase these color cards, made with actual snippets of the yarn in all the available colors, for a small fee either from the yarn company directly or through the shops that sell the yarn. Color cards are invaluable tools, well worth the small investment, particularly when you are working with a project where several colors are involved. Take the time to order a sample card first, and you won't have to stress over whether that red you saw on the Internet is really orange-red or blue-red.

And finally: Yep, that's me in The Wrap. I've been wearing it around the office for days.

Sandi Wiseheart is the editor of Knitting Daily.

My Red Scarf design for the Red Scarf Project is coming this Wednesday to Knitting Daily! The yarn for the Husband Sweater is on backorder and may not arrive for a while. I am in serious peril of ordering nine balls of KidSilk Haze for the You Know What. (Help me, Obi Wan).

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59 thoughts on “Mags Kandis and The Language of Color

  1. Dear Sandi,

    No wonder the Modern Quilt Wrap stole your heart– the photo (9/10/07) lets the rest of us know that you feel absolutely zingy wearing it! I have found the basket strategy (described by Mags K) helpful in choosing colors for afghans and baby blankets. You might also assemble several different colors of yarn balls and look at the collection through a Magic Marble teleidescope. This is a good way to find the odd color that makes the whole collection work, or the one that doesn’t belong.

    After seeing the Origami Cardi gallery, I’m thinking of knitting this sweater and a matching skirt for my first-ever knit suit. It might just work on my short round body. Thanks for an idea I never would have considered otherwise!

    Barbara Schwartz
    Richford, New York

  2. What a wonderful way to put working with color, it’s a language. I’ve always played with color, even having a kindergaten teacher call me in from recess to have private access to paints. To speak of it as being a language is a revelation. English, then is truly a second language for me too. Now how can we describe my insistance on substituting yarns….. hmmmm.

  3. Sandi, what is the “Husband Sweater”? I have seen one called that on the internet, but it was a modification of Elizabeth Zimmermann’s Seamless Hybrid (on and boy what a gorgeous sweater. By the way, I bought “Getting Started Knitting Socks” and I am so hooked on socks now. My family all knows what they are getting for Christmas.

  4. Oh Sandi! That wrap looks beautiful on you! Even better than on the model! I’m more of a wannabe knitter, so I’m planning on taking a refresher class, because your fun newsletter makes me ‘wannabe’ even more! Thanks!
    erica :)

  5. Dear Sandi,
    You look absolutely ravishing in the Modern Quilt Wrap!
    At first glance at the pattern I thought “How lovely! But those colors aren’t really my bag. I wonder how I could substitute?” Then lo’ and behold, ‘Adventures In Yarn Substitution’. So then I thought “OK, I guess I’m never going to knit that scarf. Too bad, it sure is lovely.” But after seeing how smashing it looks on you, perhaps methinks I might give it a whirl…

  6. Wow, all that gorgeous color makes you look fantastic! This is something you need to do more often. Wait, let me go look in the mirror and see if I need to do it too…I wear lots of solid colors too. Lots of blues, greens and browns. Usually with the top matching the slacks or skirt. What do you know, I do need some vibrant color! Thanks for leading me in that direction.

  7. Oh my . . . . this wrap/scarf sets you off BEAUTIFULLY!!! Not that you aren’t beautiful, without it, but you know what I mean, I can tell by the big smile on your face!

    The great thing about having a wardrobe of mix and match solids, is they are then easily paired with something like this; for someone like me, who is tentative but learning more about using visual pattern in my wardrobe, this is a great photo combined with the earlier ones of this scarf draped across your desk.

    It was “pretty” then, although I worried about it being too busy; it is BEAUTIFUL, now – in part because of who is wearing it, in part because you’ve set it off stunningly with simple black clothing, in part because of je ne sais quois – the end result just brings it to Life.

    I can feel the Life in this knitwork, now, whereas before I just thought, “Nice!”, or, “Pretty!”.

    I can see why you’d be wearing it there as much as you can.

    I think you need to make one. Yup.

    If I make one, I have different colors in mind; one of my favorite sources of inspiration is browsing the Print & Pattern blog, one of my FAVORITE blogs of all time; everything from Japanese cute, to Scandinavian design sensibilities, to retro, mod, funky, eclectic, anything and everything trendy, to classic, to . . . well, anyway, I love it.

    The way color is used is very much an ongoing lesson in itself, every time I see the blog in my reader.

    I’m not affiliated, it’s just a favorite of mine!

  8. See how elegantly the colours look on you, my dear? I, too, adore colour! Spinning & dyeing have made me even worse. LOL Have fun! Jennifer whose rt hand cast is now OFF! I think it will be a week or so before I can hold needles, tho’. Tendons are whining, silly things !

  9. I have tried looking through catalogs for color ideas. It works for me. I designed a vest and shirt for my daughter with tons of colors I would have normally never put together. When I laid out all the yarn for the project, my husband thought I was crazy. The outfit turned out great and looks wonderful on my vibrant 9 year old.

  10. This scarf is beautiful, but I can’t knit. I have knitted in the past, but can’t seem to get to hang of it again.

    Guess I don’t need to get these newsletters.

    Sorry! I did save the pattern, though, in case I get ambitious.

  11. Dear Sandi,
    I, too, am “color challenged”. I am an avid knitter, but I also work in a university costume shop with my girlfriend, Donna, who is a fantastic designer. We’ve talked before about color, and she said the way she started to learn color work was to look at colors in nature, like fish scales, feathers, animal fur, foliage, sunsets, etc., to see what the color combinations were. She would keep a notebook of what combinations she saw and tried to reproduce them with fabric scraps. I have yet to be so bold, but I think it’s a good place to start. As Mags said, “let the colors speak to you”.
    Jan O.

  12. We have decided as a group of knitters at our local yarn shop to each knit a Modern Quilt Wrap in the color language we speak and then have a grand swap with the leftovers and knit another with colors that “stretch” us a bit.

  13. Suddenly I can’t get the Knitting Daily newsletter through my email. When I click on the title in my inbox, I get an enlarged copy of my inbox! It’s happened 2 days in a row. My browser is Mozilla Firefox, but the same thing happened when I tried it in Internet Explorer. I can always Google it to get the latest, but the email was so convenient. . .Should I resubscribe – or what? Anyone else having a problem? Sally Trabulsi –

  14. Since I am not adventurous, I just looked up the color chart of the yarn I want to use. Then I made a chart, took my watercolors and played around a bit – eliminating the colors that didn’t work, adding others.

  15. Hi,
    When I flip through a magazine looking for nice colours I always turn the magazine upside down. If I didn?t do it it would be much too easy to begin studying receipes etc.

  16. Wow, Sandi!! Those colors look fantastic on you. Makes your smile glow. No wonder you’ve been wearing the wrap all week. And combined with the black dress, well it looks STUNNING on you. BTW, those who crochet & not knit could also do this pattern. It could very easily be translated into crochet. I plan to knit it tho and the colors Mags used spoke to me. Oooo-lala! Yarn is on order …

  17. I have a suggestion for fining your personal color language. Any time you see a color you like be it a snippet of ribbon or a piece of packaging etc, put it in a shoe box.You will eventually have a box of colors that speak to you personally.As is often the case with the things we love,the majority of them will make sense with each other and the ones that don’t may be okay in a certain proportion to the others.

  18. Just to affirm the post about “speaking color”…I do this with great enjoyment. My first experiment was with odd bits of yarn knit into what I call a ‘hug-a-round’. It’s about 175 stiches CO and worked for 80 or so inches. The colors tell me when to let them in. I wear my first effort all the time in cool weather. Took it to Stitches last year and walked away feeling like I had really done something because of the compliments. Now, my college sophomore granddaughter has askred for one and it is almost finished. We both love it! This one I did in seed stitch to avoid any curling. The edges are done in a simple crochet. The idea for this ‘hug-a-round’ (my name) came from an old issue of Vogue.

    I forgot to say that I used fingering weight yarn and #2 needles.

  19. Sandi, Love the wrap on you. One thing about working with colors is learning how to separate the warm tones from the cool tones. If you can wear gold with it then it is a warm tone if you can wear silver with it then it is a cool tone. Once you have mastered that cool tones go together and warm tones do too then you have mastered the simple side of multiple color matching. Of course there are more complex formulas for mixing warms and cools but for those just learning how to put multiple colors together this will at least get them in the ballpark and get good results.

  20. Thanks for the informative post, Sandi. I’m definitely intimidated by color and find that the intimidation limits my creativity. By the way, you look stunning in the Quilt Wrap.

  21. I worked up a coloring book page for the Modern Quilt Wrap, but I don’t know who to write to at Knitting Daily so they can have it to post. Or rather, I don’t know how to privately contact Sandi at Knitting Daily. Please do not ask for the coloring page as I don’t want to infringe on any copyright holders by handing it out. But if Knitting Daily would find it helpful I have it for the asking. Here’s hoping that someone sees this and can contact me regarding the pdf coloring book version of the full length of the stole.
    happy knitting addiction enablers, denise/deBRAT in Tampa Bay Florida

  22. To Sally T – I too had a blank E-mail screen but found the whole thing off to the right–just move your screen with the bottom arrow. Love the site and the WRAP!!! SEF

  23. I’m a former art teacher turned work-from-home mom who is a textile artist. Mags is right! You really just need to play with color. Don’t be afraid to try things. I even keep a selection of the paper paint chips the Home Depot has in colors that I am attracted to and play with them to create color combinations. When selecting colors for knitting or weaving, I might spend an hour in the store with cones and skeins moving them around to help make my decisions. The point is to TRUST yourself. You know what you like; and you can’t be “wrong” about your choices. It’s not math; it’s color! And you can always frog something to try again…

  24. Great suggestion! I’m going to try that. I too have shied away from colour-work, not because i’m afraid of colour but because I was intimidated by the skills needed in proper construction. Your suggestion makes it like an experiment or a game, or some other word indicating that finding the final result of my colour choices becomes more important than my fear of the actual knitting. I shall have to do some research now and choose a project.
    And – I have to say – you look POSitively RAVISHING in that outfit and that scarf!!

  25. Sandi and Knitting Daily friends,

    Go out and pick up a color wheel at your local craft store. They are probably in the art department, but there’s prolly one in the scrapbook section too. I love the one by EK Success. It has some great info in the booklet that comes with it. Another great source of inspiration is paint swatches. I use them all the time in my paper crafts. All the work is done for you, all you have to do is find the yarn to match.

  26. Not sure what the “block” is but I can’t seem to do color combinations with wool as easily as I can with fabrics. May take a look at an old log cabin quilt and try to match some wool. Oh well, the wrap is so tempting!

  27. I just love this quilt wrap pattern – and it does look stunning on you Sandi!!! I too am tempted to go online and purchase this wool. I have projects up the wahzoo that are begging to be finished…must have will power!

  28. Sandi, I have to agree with evryone else. That wrap looks like it was designed with you in mind. It’s vibrant colors illuminate your face and you look absolutely fabulous in it. I am in the business of color and don’t have any difficulty choosing colors that enhance each other. My problem is choosing pattern that flatters (or doesn’t). I have made a lot of mistakes by knitting the patterns I love for the body I don’t. I stick to simple for myself now and add the pattern in accessory items like shawl and scarves. The more I read Knitting Daily the better I get at it. Janet P

  29. Sandi, a solid-color person is exactly the kind of person who looks good in a scarf like that. That way there is a definite focal point. You NEED that scarf :) What colors would you choose? (I think it would look wonderful in greens, blues, and maybe a brown.)

  30. Ooh, and how could would it be if the pattern included a printable template that you could rough out the colors on using crayons or colored pencils? It wouldn’t be that hard to be fearless that way!

  31. Sandi,so many other people have said it, but I need to add that I agree. The wrap looks fantastic on you, especially the way you wear it. And the black sets it off to perfection.

  32. Hi Sandi…Just a general comment, I love knitting daily!! I signed in originally for one of the free patterns, completely expecting my email to be filled with junk I didn’t want but, ya know, anything for a free pattern :) I’m pleased to say, You’ve completely changed my outlook, I look forward to your messages every day! Thanks for all the hard work!

  33. Hi all – I am a tad disappointed in the announced Color Wisdom from Mags Kandis. Basically her wisdom was to do what feels right … that’s all very nice, but I would have expected a little bit more hands-on advice on how to harmoniously combine colors, e.g. large blocks of one light color vs. small blocks of darker colors (wonderfully executed in the Quilt Wrap). To say: “do what feels right” is rather uninformative.

  34. Just an FYI for all those wannabe Modern Quilt Wrap knitters on a budget, Kid Merino by Crystal Palace Yarns is a lovely substitute for Kidsilk Haze in this design. Here’s to knitting in color!

  35. Everyone’s said it already..the wrap looks fantastic on you and now I’m even more intereted in making it. It looks elegant against your black outfit and I love the way you’re wearing it.
    I’m already dreaming and scheming for a green version so I had hoped to find out some guideline about using light, medium and dark colors against each other and what the proportions would be. I was wondering if Mags used a color formula for both the individual and adjoining squares because the scarf is so balanced. Either she is incredibly lucky and has the eye for it or she uses some type of guide.
    Maybe you could convince her to comment on a general rule..hint, hint.
    Thanks again and I love checking my email.

  36. Ok, any yarn substitution suggestions in a non-wool yarn? I have a friend who is very allergic to wool who would love this wrap and I’m not a fan of mohair either. Help me out fellow knitters and enablers.

  37. I love this project & would love to make it in the yarn used by Mag Kandis but the Swish has been discontinued. I don’t know of any LYS that I can get to that carries the full range of this yarn & it is very difficult to tell colors online. Would you know (or could you ask Mag) if the new color Putty would be an adequate substitute? It looks similar in the online photos I’ve seen but it is so hard to tell.

  38. When I am starting a color project, I choose something that has a combination of colors I like, such as a piece of fabric (I’m a quilter too) or a photograph. Some fiber artist has already done the colorwheel work for you. Then I pull out all the colors in the fabric, including some darker and lighter. A range of values (dark, medium, and lights) will give depth to the project. I recently redecorated my bathroom using a photo and knit a felted rug for it and it looks terrific.

    BTW..I have tried getting color cards for Mag Kandis’ yarn with no luck. Where do you find these?

  39. I just found a bunch of the discontinued gold color at my LYS so I bought one.

    Lately I’ve been using a method of buying 1 or 2 colors at a time for multi-color projects. I figure I’ll buy 1 skein a month and make it next year. Yay!

  40. I wasn’t really that into the wrap, but when I saw your picture today I thought you looked beautiful in it and it was really spectacular atop the all-black outfit. Now I have to rethink the wrap. Like my mother always says, “you have to try it on to know if it’s pretty.”

  41. Sandi,

    Hope you read this.
    I’m with a lot of other readers who would like to create this scarf using different colors.

    To help me figure out what colors to use, I created a template. The basic idea is that now I color in the template first and decide what colors I really want to use and THEN I can go buy the yarn I want.
    I thought this would come in handy for other knitters out there who have fallen in love with the Modern Quilt Pattern as well.
    Please contact me and I’ll email you a copy so you can see what I’m talking about.
    Thought you’d like to share it in a future Knitting Daily.
    I love reading your daily emails by the way!


  42. I could write a 3-page letter about this blog…but I won’t. Just let me say that in my view Sandi’s writing style is beyond criticism: don’t change a thing. The comments, however…I could do with a lot less of the “thank you thank you thank you”, as heartfelt as it is. But I will continue to plow through it, looking for the gold nuggets that are also there. Love to all…

  43. I ordered the yarn to make this, but I have found it is just too thin for me to enjoy knitting with it. I don’t have all the colours yet (two are on backorder, so I am attempting to cancel them), but I have 7 of 9, including the discontinued one. If anyone would like to buy them from me, get in touch. PLease note, I am in the UK. I am happy to send them to the US (or wherever), but if you are UK based, it might make the whole thing easier.
    Email me: keys am AT mad as a fish DOT com

  44. HI..I work part time in a knitting shop. One day, I was really tired from putting all the new yarn away…I propped up my feet, pulled out my knitting..and I was thinking about this wrap…BUT..I didn’t want to make it in mohair. As I looked up, the brand new yarn I had shelved..Frog Tree laceweight alpaca..was arranged in a rainbow progression..and it was exactly the right number of colors as Mags’. I used a light pink in place of the gray…and I started it this past weekend! I can hardly put it down! THe interesting part for me was actually following MAGS chart for I am a colorist and generally do it “my” way…Can’t wait til it’s done! I also have two modular sweaters (same pattern, way different yarns!) on the needles….love color–and modular stuff!! They’re addicting!
    Sandi in NM

  45. P.S. I originally printed off the “free” pattern..and then I decided to buy my own copy of the book when I bought the yarn…I use the printed internet copy as a sloppy copy..thanks…Sandi in NM….