Finding Your Colours for Dark Skin Tones

“Finding your colours.” This is the first place many of us are told to start when picking yarn colours for our projects. Hypothetically, this should make things simple: use colour theory to figure out which hues work best with your personal colouring (skin tone, hair colour, eye colour, etc.), and build your project palettes around those hues. Some systems for “finding your colours” are even more detailed, dividing types of personal colouring into the four seasons of spring, summer, fall, and winter. However, no system is foolproof. Many of the methods out there work better for lighter skin tones, or are virtually impossible to use for darker skin tones. As someone with mid-tone skin and darker colouring overall, here are some of my favourite tips and tricks for finding your colours.

Finding Your Undertone

Your skin’s undertone—the underlying hue of your skin—is the key to finding hues that look best on you. A popular trick is looking at the veins in your wrist to see if they’re blue or green. In theory, this should tell you your undertone. But what if you have dark skin and can’t actually see your veins? And even if you’re like me and can see them, but just barely, vein colour isn’t necessarily the primary undertone for darker skin. The vein trick assumes that there are only two undertones—blue and green—but due to a greater amount of melanin pigmentation, darker skin tones frequently have red or yellow undertones rather than blue or green, since vein colour has less influence over skin tone.

This is where colour theory is your best friend.

Take a photo of your skin that’s as colour-accurate as possible. I photographed my hand on a white background and colour-corrected it using a basic, free photo editing software. As you can see, the white background is a little darker than reality, but I’ve stripped out any funky undertones using the white as a guide.

Finding your colours means looking for your undertoneThen, I uploaded my photo to Canva and used the colour picker to pick out my skin tone. It showed up on the colour wheel as a shade of yellow. (Yes, it really is yellow!) With that knowledge, I was able to use a basic colour wheel to pick out some complementary and complementary analogous colours for my skin’s hue. These hues are the easiest jumping-off point for me to choose yarns, which is why I knit so many purple sweaters.

What If You Can Actually See Your Veins?

As mentioned above, I can technically see my veins, which are blue. They’re only visible on the palest spot on my wrist and palm, so they don’t influence my overall colouring much. However, I can still use them to help me pick colours, with a few caveats.

a photo of a dark skin tone hand next to mini skeins of various blue yarnsAccording to conventional wisdom, people with blue veins have cooler colouring, and will look best in cooler colours, such as frosty blues. However, as seen above, I technically have warm colouring due to the yellow undertone of my skin. This supersedes my blue vein colour. Blues can still work for me, but this means I need to choose warm blues, such as teal (with green undertones, bringing it closer to yellow) or royal blue (with purple undertones, bringing it closer to red). Blues that are closer to a pure blue hue, such as the wintry blues that are usually recommended for people with blue veins, aren’t a good match for me.

Remember, for darker skin, skin tone trumps vein colour. So if you’re going to use your vein colour, make sure to factor skin tone into your considerations.

Miscellaneous Tips

The two sections above have covered the theory and primary considerations for finding your colours; if you take away nothing else from this article, take those! However, anecdotally, here are some other tricks I’ve found helpful when crafting for myself and for friends with dark skin:

  • Mid-tone skin, such as mine, tends to wash out when paired with ultra-light colours, such as pastels. Those with much darker skin can rock pastels because of the high contrast between their skin tone and the light colours. Mid-tone skin doesn’t usually have the necessary level of contrast. So if you’re like me, steer clear of pastels and try jewel tones or dark, rich shades.
  • Dark and mid-tone skin tones tend to play well with primary colour combinations. I.e. if your skin has red undertones, try pairing yellow and blue in your projects. These bold combos are often overpowering with a lighter skin tone, but could be perfect for you. The same goes for using pure hues in general.
  • Be careful when working with colours in the same family as your skin tone. I, sadly, find it best not to wear most shades of yellow, as they’re overpowering with the yellow undertone of my skin (similar to how many people with green veins avoid wearing green). It can be done, but be aware.
  • Generally speaking, the darker your skin tone, the more you can get away with. We all have colours that are theoretically “ideal” for us based on our undertone. But with dark skin, these undertones become less obvious, meaning that you could wear a hue that isn’t technically “ideal” for your skin tone, but they are less likely to clash. The same goes for saturation and value. Darker skin tones can usually wear a wider spectrum of desaturated to saturated and lighter to darker shades. For a deeper dive into the concepts of hue, saturation, and value, read Tabetha Hedrick’s article on this topic for the SweetGeorgia blog.

a hand with a strand of beige yarn draped over the top to help find your coloursConquer Your Colours!

So if you have mid-tone to dark skin and have struggled to find your colours, fear not! Just because conventional methods may not work for you, doesn’t mean you can’t find the perfect colours for your skin. It just takes a little science and colour theory. Be sure to check out Felicia’s Colour Mastery Course for the School of SweetGeorgia for a deeper dive into implementing your discoveries. And remember, choosing colours is all about what brings you joy.

These tips and tricks are just that—just like conventional advice on finding your colours. They’re tools for you to use, not rules to trap you. Forest green isn’t on the list of “ideal” colours for my skin tone, but I can wear it and do so proudly! At the end of the day, pick colours that you love and feel confident in. Hopefully this article can make that process a little easier.

Happy colour discovery!

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