In praise of purple

Purple has always figured large in my family. It’s been my favourite colour since I was a child, and my maternal grandmother was completely obsessed with it. So much so that she would go to her weekly bingo nights dressed in an extravagant range of hues from lilac to deep violet (occasionally bordering on gaudy) but we loved her for her refusal to dress like an old lady, something she kept up until she was very old indeed. By the way, she never won at the bingo, due to her refusal to admit she needed to wear her hearing aid….

Last week would have been her birthday. I have a ritual of buying purple flowers for her on the day; they were in short supply this year for some reason, but I managed to find a sweet-scented hyacinth. She would have liked that. And I love coming into the living room in the morning and inhaling the soft perfume.


As I’ve got older, I still treasure purple. But I’ve refined my preferences to a particular area of the purple spectrum: towards blue rather then red, with my absolute favourite being that almost Yves Klein [link takes you to Tate website] violet/ultramarine hue. Funnily enough I don’t often wear purple, but I just love looking  at it.

According to the colour theorist and psychologist Faber Birren, in his work Colour and Human Response [1978], to show a preference for purple as your favourite colour indicates that you are “sensitive and have above-average taste. While vanity may be involved, the purple lovers have unusual endowments, are fond of all the arts, of philosophy, the ballet, symphony, and other such refined pursuits. They may be temperamental, but easy to live with if one is accepted by them. They carefully avoid the mores sordid and vulgar aspects of life and have high ideas for themselves and for everyone else- but to their standards.” Now, I’m not going to pretend that either my grandmother or myself spent a lot of time engaging in “the ballet” or “symphony and other such refined pursuits”. But I’ll take some of the other insights!

On the other hand, Birren says that to dislike purple indicates “difficulty separating spiritual qualities in others from that which is wordly” and people who dislike purple are “enemies of pretense [sic], vanity, conceit, and will readily disparage things cultural, which to them may be purely artificial”. I’d prefer to view Birren’s analyses of colour preference as something to be taken with a pinch of salt (as indeed, he also seems to) – but it’s nice to hear that purple is associated with the arts, at any rate!

Did you know that the origin of the word purple is Purpura, a mollusc that was used to dye purple cloth in ancient times, and one whose dye was very highly valued.

Purple is one of the few colours that has a similar message across many cultures: purple does tend to signify royalty, richness and empire, and sometimes piety. It has absolutely no sense of frugality or restraint about it. It’s associated with silks, satins, velvets and tulles. If you want a rustic hairshirt, look elsewhere.

There’s probably never been a time when I didn’t use violet or purple in my work, and I have to actually restrain myself from always gravitating towards it in a yarn shop. Here are some recent impulse purchases – notice a theme?


sized for toddlers age 1 to 3, all cotton

from top: sized for 6-12 months, 0-6 months, 1 to 3 years, all cotton: from my Cheese at Fourpence Etsy shop

So I was very happy to see that British Vogue are touting purple as one of their key trends for spring summer 2015. The perfect excuse to indulge myself in working with my favourite! Here are a few recent pieces I’ve made that are influenced by this trend and also the trend for geisha/kimono designs. I’m in the process of adding them to my online shops and I’ll be at craft fairs with them in the next few months, details to come soon.


I think my dog shares my love of purple: she singled this skein of yarn out for some naughty play when I was out recently…

Oh yes, one last violet indulgence for you: if you want the complete violet experience, seek out Penhaligons’ Violetta perfume, which is the absolute essence of Parma Violets.  Some might call it “a bit old lady” but when I think about the particular old lady it reminds me of, I’m proud to wear it.


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