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Kay Gardiner, Ann Shayne, and I started talking about the first MDK Field Guide about a year ago. Once we settled on the theme of stripes, it was my job to create a color palette for the issue. That way, as we spoke to designers and chose projects and yarns and prepared for the photo shoot with the photographer and stylist, we could be sure that the result would be cohesive.

There are a lot of different ways to create color palettes. Back in the early 2000s, when I was the editor of Interweave Knits magazine, I would tack paint chips from the hardware store and pages ripped from magazines, especially the fashion-forecasting periodical Textile View, to a bulletin board, then pull out the color stories I liked best from there. Today I mostly use my computer.


To create the palette for Field Guide No. 1: Stripes, I began by looking through my Pinterest boards. I knew the issue would be published in October 2016, so I kept the fall season in mind. I copied whatever images grabbed me and placed them in an Adobe Illustrator document. It was a stream of consciousness sort of thing. I kept doing it until I felt like I had a good group of colors with which to work. Although I’ve read about color theory and even edited chapters of books about it, in my own work, I tend to let my instincts and gut reactions lead the way.

Next I used the Illustrator eyedropper tool to extract colors from my images and make my own color “chips” (that is, little rectangles of color that I placed next to each other in my document). I added, subtracted, and tweaked from there. I knew I was done when the document I created looked cohesive and whole to me, a totally subjective judgment.

Each time I make one of these palettes, I feel like I have created a small, idyllic world, often one I’d like to live in. Of course, once we move from the pretend world of the palette to the real world, certain adjustments have to be made. For example, we need to work with the colors available in the yarns we have chosen, and we need to fine-tune the colors used in the graphic design so the text and imagery hold together.

When I look at Field Guide No. 1 and my original palette today, I feel like my unscientific process works. My palette acted as a roadmap. We didn’t know exactly where we were headed; we just knew that we wanted our destination (that is, our finished book) to feel beautiful, thoughtful, and timely.

Although images fly around Pinterest often without being credited to their source, I have done my best to identify the ones I chose.

Top row: Josef Albers, Color sheets and layout of the Never Before series, 1976. Metropolitan Museum.
Bottom row, left to right:
Striped dress from Suno Pre-Fall 2015 Collection.
Table against gray wall: source unknown.
Alabama Chanin appliqued and beaded skirts.
Gold Anve bags on white chair.
Woman with orange bag: photo by Ari Seth Cohen.

A Segue from Autumn to Winter

I developed the palette for Field Guide No. 2: Fair Isle during the same period that I was working on the palette for Field Guide No. 1: Stripes. This time I was able to draw all my colors from just two images pulled from my Pinterest boards, one a photo of eggs and the other a painting of a kitchen scene. My goal was to create a new palette that gracefully segued us from Stripes, which would be published in the autumn, and Fair Isle, which would be released in the winter.


This time my palette included a larger number of colors so, in order to demonstrate to Kay and Ann how they might be paced throughout a book, I created a “sketch” of the cover and few pages. At this point in the process, the three of us were still debating about many details of the Field Guides and we hadn’t chosen a graphic designer or a photographer, but we had begun to narrow down the types of projects and other imagery we wanted to include.

When I look at this document now, I see a clear connection between our original ideas and the final outcome. I also see some dreams we still have for future editions. I love the creative process!

Notes about the images included here.

The egg photo came from this blog.
The painting is by Kate Lewis.
The sweater is the Ingrid Pullover designed by Isabell Kraemer.
The fashion illustration is from Jenny Walton’s blog.
The sources for the other images are unknown.

About The Author

Melanie Falick has given the world of craft some of its most beloved books. We are proud and delighted to be working with her as editor and creative director of the MDK Field Guides. Her book, Making a Life: Working by Hand and Discovering the Life You Are Meant to Live, was named one of the 100 Best Books of 2019 by Publishers Weekly.


  • So very talented!!

  • Fascinating! I’m really surprised you don’t start with the yarn and the colors available in whatever line you want to use. Though maybe you have access to colors yarn brands haven’t released yet. How does the color choice decision interact with the yarn decision? I’d love to see a follow-up post on that.

    • Danielle, We don’t know what yarns we are going to use until later in the process. When I pick the palette, I like to feel really free to let my creativity wander. For a brief, shining moment, it’s a color utopia. The challenge of reality comes later.

    • I second your request.

    • That is a good point. I often find that many yarns are skimpy in range-greens for example. For colorwork, other than lopi, I find the color range very narrow. Do you recommend mixing yarns? Thank you!

  • I found this really useful. I’ve never been very good at combining colours and am often paralyzed with indecision when I need to make a choice. (This is the reason that Hansel hap has been in my queue for ages. I can’t decide on the colours.) Although I agree that it can be challenging to find the colours you want I think using Pinterest, which I don’t like all that much, as a starting point would be a great idea for me. Thanks for sharing this process.

    • There are so many great color combos for Hansel in the projects on Ravelry. I’d be happy copying quite a few of them! When choosing my own colorway, I had the recipient’s request for blue and gold as a starting point, and chose the other colors (taupe, pale gray, and nearly white) with the goal of contrasting with the blue and gold in the border. That’s why they are either duller or paler than the blue and gold. I think the most successful Hansels have a good contrast in the border colors.

      That’s it for unsolicited advice! Melanie’s method is great and would lead to much more originality I’m sure.

  • What an interesting and creative way to select color! I found the egg photo fascinating! I clicked on it and now know way more than I ever knew possible about chickens and egg color!

  • Love this approach! Are you familiar with the woodcuts of Cressida Campbell–I always want every single color she uses 🙂

  • Thanks for the explanations and a chance to see your color inspirations. I love the subtleties of those shades, being thoroughly tired of the crayon like and way-too-vivid colors in use nowadays, in yarn as in much else.
    My eye likes to linger on things that change color with the changing light, as these do.

  • I have always kept a cork board for anything I want to save. I love the idea of posting the paint chip samples ! Thanks so much

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