Saturday, May 2, 2015

Dye Theory

I'm often asked how I come up with my colorways / what my color theory is. I think this is an interesting question that every dyer has a different answer to.

When I first became interested in dyeing yarns and teaching color theory in my knitting classes I did a lot of research.

When you read about color theory, they start with science, presenting complementary colors, gradients, triads and such for you to absorb like a collection of hard rules. I find rules limiting. Then they tell you if you can't handle the rules to look to nature. Funny thing about nature is, she has a much broader palette to choose from than the average dye offerings. Yes, you can blend and mix up just about any color, but nature doesn't need to create 17 different dyes to present you with leaf green, and until you look at that leaf, really look at it, you don't realize that it is so much more than just green. Of course, then they tell you to watch out for false nature (gardens with non-indigenous plants located close to each other/designed landscapes) and to go with your gut - use what ever color speaks to you.  Ha! How many of you want to knit with construction cone orange?  It's a color I love, but I just don't see it being a big seller.

So what is my "dye theory"?

It's kind of complicated, actually. Intentionally even.

I'm a huge fan of J. Peterman.  Some of you may be familiar with the name from the show Seinfeld; Elaine worked for Peterman.  Some of you may know the name from the catalog.  Some of you may not be familiar at all.  J. Peterman - who, interestingly enough, was one of the founders of Job's Plant Fertilizer Spikes - is/was the owner of The J. Peterman Catalog Company, a seller of fine clothing, accessories and collectibles.  The catalog is known simply as The Owner's Manual, and it's from that which I get most of my inspiration.

The catalog is a non-standard size and featured, until quite recently, only hand drawings of the products beside the most wonderful, romantic, scene setting descriptions you've ever read.  Along with the product, these descriptions sold a feeling, an attitude, an entire world for you to appreciate them in.  They take: "Khaki slacks, 80/20 cotton/poly sizes 2-16" and make it: "Not just another day at the office, but the day. The day your report is selected for presentation to the whole board. The day you stroll in clean, crisp, prepared. The day you are promoted. No sweat. No wrinkles. No problem. Everyday khaki's for everyday success. 80/20 cotton/poly sizes 2-16".  Setting the scene and visualizing the product makes it so much more desirable, at least for me, than "Here. Take it or leave it."  Let's face it.  It's probably the exact same product.  It's the presentation that makes the sale.

So what has this got to do with "dye theory"?

Everything. I can't dye perfect matches of nature, nor can I sell an exclusive line of fluorescent orange yarn successfully. I can however dye the "sketch" - the semblance of something bigger and grander, and I can present the story of what I'm trying to represent in such a way that you'll fall in love with it (hopefully) as much as I am.

The first such of these yarns was Beach House. I had this idea about trying to capture the colors of driftwood. Mother Nature used somewhere around a billion colors to create this fascinating bit of discard. I worked with two. But then I had to connect that bit of wood to its setting: a beach, an ocean. Again, Mother Nature used another couple billion colors, I scrounged around and found.... ta da! two. And so I created a sketch with four colors of something grand and beautiful that takes billions of colors to present, and I aimed to share my story with words - "Crystal blue waves, creamy white sands, and rich, aged driftwoods dotting the seascape - cream, dove gray, pale browns, and blues ranging from pale sky to deeper water denim tones. You can almost hear the gulls and smell the salt air."

I hope my yarns invoke happy memories, warm romantic ideas and inspiration through the color sketches I create. I hope my descriptions help you visualize the colors more clearly so that you can choose the yarn that helps create a perfect piece for you.