Dyeing, Felicia's Notebook, SweetGeorgia

Creating a Custom Hand-Dyed Colourway for Eat Sleep Knit

Test skeins of SweetGeorgia Tough Love Sock yarn, hand-dyed for Eat Sleep Knit

One of our favourite things to do is to collaborate with other yarn shops and events to produce custom-designed colour ways and combinations for yarns or fibres. Very often yarn shops will invite us to design a new colour way for their special event like an anniversary or launch date. Even this past weekend at TNNA, we collaborated with the dyers at Lorna’s Laces, Anzula, Oink Pigments, and Knit One Crochet Two to produce a shawlette pattern called “Vegas Nights” and kit made up of hand-dyed mini-skeins from each of our companies.

Choosing that right combination of colours for a hand-dyed colourway or a set is a creative process and over the years of doing these special creative projects, I’ve recently found that leaning back on my old graphic design background has been immensely beneficial and has helped us avoid past mistakes and mishaps. In this post, I’d like to share with you our process of working with Eat Sleep Knit to produce a custom handpainted colourway and Party of Five mini-skein set for their 2018 Under the Sea series.

Hand-dyeing is a very personal craft and everything about how the final dyes appear on the yarn is a result of the judgement the dyer is making as he or she is observing the process of dyeing. Is it too blotchy here? Should I add more dye on this side of the skein or that side? Should I divide the next layer of dye into multiple layers? Everything is up to the dyer’s eye and that can very often be different than what the customer or client might envision. It’s tricky, making sure the client’s vision and expectations are in line with the dyer’s vision and what is possible. Communication and a shared understanding of the expectations are so vitally important to a successful process. We’re trying to couple the client’s vision with what is possible in the dye pot. We literally want everyone to be on the same page, and so recently, I’ve started using a practice that was foundational when I was a graphic designer… We start with a creative brief.

Part of the Creative Brief we used for the Eat Sleep Knit custom colourway project

Part of the Creative Brief we used for the Eat Sleep Knit custom colourway project

A creative brief is typically a short document that a designer will assemble from conversations with the client to determine what the goal is for any creative project. What is it? Who is it intended for? What message do you want to communicate? And so on. The designer cobbles together these answers to help guide and shape the direction of the work and the client signs off with approval and understanding.

As I mentioned in a previous post, it’s so challenging to ensure everybody is seeing the same colours as we are. Someone might describe to us that they want a solid, purple colour, but we have to try to extract out exactly what they have in mind. Is it a deep purple? Saturated purple? Muted or light purple? What is it that they are trying to get across. And so we ask the client about what this colourway is being made for, who is going to use it and how (is it going to be worked up in a sock pattern or a shawl pattern, for instance), and what is the story behind the colourway. What are we trying to communicate through colour?
One of the easiest ways to start off this shared understanding of what we’re designing for is to look at inspiration images. Sometimes clients provide us with these photos and other times, we go out and source these images as conversation starters. In the case of Eat Sleep Knit, we were invited to join their Under the Sea series of exclusive hand-dyed yarns for 2018 and we were given the topic “sunken treasure”.

Moodboard with colours and images to represent the idea we're trying to focus on

Moodboard with colours and images to represent the idea we’re trying to focus on

Given the theme to focus on, I set about finding a set of images that would visually express that idea of sunken treasure… Underwater scenes, treasure chests, abandoned shipwrecks, gold coins, jewels, deep blue seas, and diving bells all came up as potential sources of colour stories. There were tangents off into other underwater inspiration like mermaids and jellyfish, tropical coral reefs, and of course, fish, but I tried to remain hyper focused on the sunken treasure idea since I knew other dyers would have been assigned other underwater themes and I didn’t want to overlap too much.

Looking at the photographs, I knew I wanted to use a base of ocean blue greens for the palette with a shock of gold or jewel tones. I wanted it to feel like you were diving through the big, murky, deep waters of the ocean and stumble across the surprise of sunken treasure. That surprise or shock of colour, popping out of the blue. So I started to build a few proposed colour palettes with these themes in mind.

Colourway Proposals

Colourway Proposals from SweetGeorgia

In design school, I was given the advice to create no more than three creative proposals for presentation. More than three can be overwhelming and having so many options to choose from just increases the difficulty in choosing one idea to follow through on. But I just couldn’t keep it to three and ended up creating four palettes to propose to Eat Sleep Knit. Our Party of Fives are made up of five colourways and our handpainted yarns can include anywhere from two to eight colours painted in sections onto the yarn, so I created palettes that had five colours each.

Keeping track of all the details and making sure everybody knows all those details helps prevent errors or miscommunications, so I put everything together in the design brief — what it is, who it’s for, how many we need to dye, when it all needs to be delivered, and when it will launch for ESK. Then I added the inspiration images that I felt best represented the theme and then added the four colour palettes that I proposed. Clear labeling of the colour palettes was very important too. We’ve had our share of mishaps from a simple mislabeling of samples and proposals! Hopefully, clear labeling and multiple rounds of double-checking helps keep it all straight.

All four colour proposals, dyed and ready to ship to ESK for review and approval

All four colour proposals, dyed and ready to ship to ESK for review and approval

I sent this PDF off to Emily at Eat Sleep Knit for her approval and with her blessing and go-ahead to test the colourways, I brought it to our dye team who dyed two skeins of each proposed palette. Once the test skeins were dyed and dried, we photographed them all quickly and sent off a photo to ESK. After a quick review, ESK requested to see two of the test skeins in person so we shipped them off, and finally after seeing them up-close, they chose one of the original four options.

SweetGeorgia "Sunken Treasure" Custom Colourway designed for Eat Sleep Knit

SweetGeorgia “Sunken Treasure” Custom Colourway designed for Eat Sleep Knit

You can see the colourway that Eat Sleep Knit selected and the yarns that are available in this exclusive project here.

This creative collaboration process is ultimately very satisfying but can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months! The time and attention required for all the back-and-forth communication is also important and involved.

If you have an idea for a hand-painted or hand-dyed colourway that you would love to collaborate on, we’d be happy to connect with you! Send us a request here »


About Felicia Lo

founder + creative director of SweetGeorgia // designer + dreamer // wife + mama // dyer, knitter, spinner, weaver, youtuber + author // been writing this blog about colour and craft since 2004 // see what I am making @lomeetsloom and @sweetgeorgia.

4 thoughts on “Creating a Custom Hand-Dyed Colourway for Eat Sleep Knit

  1. Sandi Rosner says:

    Thank you for sharing this, Felicia. It is fascinating to get a peak behind the curtain. And I love your professional approach to your work – so different from the popular idea of the wild artist slinging dye in her garage.

    1. SweetGeorgia says:

      Thank you so much Sandi! I appreciate your feedback :)

  2. Jaclyn Pouw-Dagenais says:

    This is such and interesting process. Thanks for sharing!! What happens to the test skeins that don’t end up getting chosen? Some of them are so beautiful. Do you knit your own projects with them?

    1. SweetGeorgia says:

      Absolutely… we have TONS of test skeins and we very often sell them in our studio shop as discounted skeins (even though they are perfectly, structurally fine)… and other times we might over dye them and use them for something else. A lot of times we also donate these yarns for charity knitting. And yes, we sometimes knit our own projects with them… but there are too many for us to knit ourselves!

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