7 tips for choosing yarn colours online

We all appreciate being able to buy wool online, especially during the pandemic. However, buying yarn you have never seen in real life has its pitfalls. Colour alone can be a minefield!

I regularly buy wool online & have had a few colour “surprises” over the years. Some of the wool pictured above has been in my stash for 7 years because the colours were not what I expected!  Here are my top tips for getting your shades spot on.

1. Don’t always judge a shade by its name

Sometimes yarn is perfectly named. You’ll open your yummy yarn package, squish your yarn & squeal ‘it looks just like TV static!’.

However, generic shade names are much more common with looser interpretations e.g. natural, heather, berry etc. Or the wool may use less literal naming schemes e.g. be inspired by moods, food or places.

The real fun starts with the seemingly obvious colour names that are completely misleading. So you can get “greys” that are brown, “greens” that are blue etc. I’m looking at you Drops 🙂

Bottom line: don’t assume the shade name accurately describes the true colour.

2. Search for the shade on Google Images

At a minimum, do a quick Google Images search for the yarn shade before buying online.

Search for your yarn, shade number and colour e.g. drops sky 10 heather. Switch to the images results tab & you should mainly see pictures of that yarn shade.

It’s common for retailers to use the official product images, but many sites do take their own photos. If you see any significant colour variation here, you need to do more research before you can buy online with confidence.

3. View Ravelry projects in the yarn colourway

To dig deeper, you can login to Ravelry and view projects in the yarn shade. If you don’t have an account, it’s free to join & you will be glad you did. 🙂

Click on yarns in the top nav menu and enter your yarn in the search yarns box at the top of the page e.g. drops sky. Click into the matching yarn page and click the colorways tab at the top. Find your colorway. You will see links to both ‘stashed’ quantities and ‘projects’ in that shade.

Here’s a video showing how to do this on Ravelry:

You can have a quick look at the stashed list to judge the colour variation there. Some of these may just reuse the official product photos, but many will be quick snaps taken post purchase.

Viewing the projects for the colorway is key. These project photos are taken with a wide range of cameras in all sorts of lighting conditions. It’s a great way to judge how the colour looks in the real world.

Do bear in mind that not everything is tagged correctly on Ravelry. We’ve all lost ball bands in our time so no judgement here! So if the odd project looks radically different, it’s likely just not using the same colourway in reality.

4. Test colour combinations out on Ravelry too

If you are using multiple colours in your knitting or crochet project, you also need to be sure that the colours will work well together.

Ravelry to the rescue once again! When viewing projects in a particular yarn shade, you can add extra shades to the colorway filter.

Just click on the pencil to edit the active colorway filter. A pop-up will appear and you choose the extra shade(s) from the dropdown, and change the “or” dropdown(s) to “and” to only see projects that use all shades.

Watch the quick video below to see this in action:

5. Look at yarn colours on different devices

Unfortunately different monitors show colours differently. So even if your yarn colour looks fairly consistent in the above tests, it’s worth checking the shade pictures on multiple screens if possible e.g. your phone and a laptop.

It’s better again if they are different brands (e.g. an Android phone and an Apple ipad), as the screens are likely to vary more then.

6. Buy a shade card if available

It’s rare enough these days, but if you are buying higher end yarn, a shade card may be available.

Similar to a paint shade card, yarn shade cards have real yarn samples of each colour on it. Brooklyn Tweed do shade cards for example.

Ordering one will delay your project a bit, but if you’re investing in a special sweater or heirloom project, it’s definitely worth doing.

7. Contact the yarn brand or retailer

If you are still in a muddle about the true yarn colour, ask either the yarn brand or your chosen yarn store for advice.

Depending on customer service resources, it could take a bit to hear back though, especially in these strange times.

I’ve always found independent wool shops happy to advise on shades. Their expertise can be invaluable, especially on more nuanced aspects which may not be accurately reflected in photos e.g. shade vibrancy or whether the yarn has flecks or extra colour tones in it.

Nothing compares to seeing the true colours with your own eyes at your local yarn store of course. But hopefully these tips might help solve your next online yarn shopping colour conundrum. 🙂

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