Make & Hue, Make & Hue // issue 001 // Colour

Where do colourways come from?

dye tests to find the new Spring 2018 colourways Candy Apple, Lollipop, and Racing Green

My four-year old son is starting to ask me all the big questions. Who made the sky? How do we get day and night? And how do you make people? Mama, when I was born, I was in your belly. How did I get there?
Honestly, I’m not exactly ready to answer all these questions.

One question, that I’m actually pretty good at answering is, “where do your colourways come from?”. I’m often asked about what my inspiration is and how the process of creating new colourways works. This question, I’m happy to answer.

Since starting to learn how to dye in 2004, the workflow has changed considerably, but the primary focus has always been the same — to uncover colours that are at once mesmerizing, seductive, and inviting. They might be bold colours, or they might be indescribably delicate and nuanced colours. In any case, I aim to find colours that are more than just pretty… but punchy and powerful.

The creative process is elastic. Forward and backwards.

Forwards. Sometimes it’s straightforward in that we develop a colour to match a source of inspiration. We often do this for yarn shops when we develop custom colourways. We might work from a photograph as a source of inspiration, drawing out the essence of that photograph by examining the hues and their relative proportions.

Sometimes the source of inspiration is more elusive and less explicit. For the past nine years, we produced a monthly Club where we designed a new colourway each month, inspired by the stories of our lives. Colourways that were palettes of colours used to express feelings of wanderlust, moments of gratitude, and the multitude of ways to understand love. Obviously, I don’t have a colour photograph of “wanderlust” or “gratitude”, but I try to coax the shared cultural understanding of colour into something that hopefully transmits the feeling. Wanderlust feels like I want to walk on the beach in the sun. Wanderlust feels like I’m boxed in but need open air. Wanderlust feels like I need to get lost in a jungle of tropical trees. A wanderlust colourway might include some seaglass blue greens with hot sun yellows and golds. Something like that.

Backwards. Most often, discovering colours is organic and flows from a place of wonder and curiosity. What would happen if I add this colour on top of that colour? What would happen if I mixed these two colours together? Then upon reviewing the dried and twisted skeins, I ask, “what does this remind me of?” And all the faded memories of places, people, tastes, and even smells float through to the foreground. This one reminds me of vintage lingerie. This one looks like a rainwashed beach chair. This one makes me think of fresh cut grass.

Collecting. It used to be that it was just me, dyeing all these samples and experiments. My very first colourways in 2005 were very random and often referenced TV shows like Buffy and Angel. It was a weird combination when these vampire-inspired colourways were juxtaposed with other more demure colourways like Orchid, Viola, Coffee Bean, and Chinois. My inspiration came from everything from surfing to citrus fruit, World of Warcraft to indie music. If I heard a song I liked, it came out as a colourway. If I experienced something in my life, it came out as a colourway. Someone left me a mean comment on my blog, it came out as a dark and angry green colourway splashed with brown and deep navy. And someone, somewhere, owns the only skeins I ever dyed called “Sunsets and Car Crashes”, named after a song by The Spill Canvas. Everything was super random.

The first time I truly set about making a cohesive collection of colourways was in the Spring of 2009. I was relaunching SweetGeorgia after taking a much needed sabbatical and came into the task with so much new-found energy and excitement. These colours were bold and confident. I believed so strongly in dedicating my life to SweetGeorgia and these colours expressed my belief in the direction.

Raspberry. China Doll. Saffron. Pistachio. Tourmaline. Saltwater. Orchid.

All of these colours are still in our collection today. They are where we came from and they set the direction and feel of our palette. I still love each and every one.

Over the years, we had to fill in the blanks and add the hues that seemed to be missing from the palette. Oranges. Turquoises. Neutrals. Greys. Blacks. Pale colours. Desaturated colours. Deep colours. And complex layered colours. Twice a year, we would add new colourways to the palette and I was reticent about removing or retiring anything. So the palette grew and grew.

Magician and Copper colourways created by Assistant Production Manager, Charlotte Lee.

Magician and Copper colourways created by Assistant Production Manager, Charlotte Lee.

Colourway test designed by Senior Precision Dyer, David Chung

Colourway test designed by Senior Precision Dyer, David Chung

Curating. Almost exactly five years ago, my husband and I were expecting our first child. Being a dyer and being pregnant don’t really go well together. There’s so many safety issues to consider and I was perhaps unreasonably anxious about health and safety. So it was imperative to me that I start teaching others in the studio to dye our yarns too.

After our son was born, and later our daughter too, I would try scheduling “hands free” time at the studio when I had help from grandparents so that I could try to do some dye experimenting for a couple hours. In desperate times, I would bring the babies into the dye studio with me and try to put them down for a nap in the stroller while I got maybe an hour of dyeing done. One time, I tried to dye yarn while I had baby Nina strapped to the front of me in a baby carrier. It was unsuccessful. I even wove a long, traditional baby wrap so that I could wear Nina on my back when I was dyeing and doing things in the studio. That never worked out for me either.

Dye sessions for me now are so different than they used to be. I’m much more focused and prepared before I begin testing dye colours for our collections because I have such limited time to experiment. I even built a dye studio at home in my garage, so that I could save the 25-minute commute to the studio each way. In this season, it’s been an incredible blessing that the skill, interest, and talent of our dyers at the studio has bloomed and each dyer often presents their own colourway ideas. This was always my dream. That we could together be a creative team that co-creates together.

Each dyer is so different and has different preferences and vision. I have been so proud to incorporate their created colourways to our main palette as well. They add texture and nuance to our visual voice and give the whole palette more depth and interest.
Since 2009, with the addition of the many colours from our gradient sets and the contribution from many of our dyers, we grew our palette from those first seven colours to nearly 180 colourways.

Strawberry Tea and Swamp Water colourways being reviewed for inclusion in the collection.

Strawberry Tea and Swamp Water colourways being reviewed for inclusion in the collection.

Culling. I’m calling 2018 the year of The Great Colour Cull. We’ve been reviewing the dizzying number of colour options and how it’s wreaked all sorts of havoc on the functionality of our website. It’s also made it increasingly difficult to choose colours for a shop, let alone a single knitting project.

With great power comes great responsibility. Having the power and ability to dye and produce nearly every colour imaginable doesn’t necessarily mean that we should. We should be judicious. And I’m a firm believer that having boundaries and limits can actually spur your creativity even further than by having limitless options.

So, in the coming months, we are clarifying our collection. Retired colourways might return for a re-run or reunion in the future. And limited edition colourways will be more special and novel. My goal is to present up to a maximum of 100 colourways that will collectively and cohesively express our voice and vision of a SweetGeorgia palette. Colours that together are expressive and emotive. Colours that are individually mesmerizing, seductive, and inviting.
And that is where our colourways come from.

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