People often ask how we develop color concepts for yarn. In fact there are several paths that we follow. Life itself is the greatest inspiration, where color merges with underlying meaning. We may find a leaf or a pebble or peek through a fence at a garden, and this begins to shape a new yarn. We also keep a large wall filled with images from current fashion magazines, so that we understand the shades that our customers are seeing elsewhere when they shop. That helps us to think about yarn projects in the context of wearable ensembles, things that will be useful beyond a single fashion cycle.
Then there is art. We first started developing palettes from art and graphic images about a year and a half ago. We built a colorway for CAREZZA based on an Edward Hopper painting, Chop Suey. Dye is a very different medium from paint and precise results are incredibly elusive, but it went well. We were shocked and thrilled. Since that time we have done several dozen colors based on images, including most of the BJORK line, gradually building confidence.
ANIME is a new yarn with unique properties. The wool is treated to be shrink resistant, first by removing scales, then by coating each fiber with protein. The combination means that dyeing the fiber is a lot like dyeing silk — little movement of the dye is possible after it strikes the surface of the fiber. The yarn is made for us in Japan, where cartoons and animation are a huge part of popular culture. We saw the potential to relate shrink resistance, typically important in products for children, to the kind of intense graphic style of cartoons, a natural fit with the intense color patches that emerge from painting this unique fiber.
The world of Japanese comics (kommiku) and animation (anime) is enormous, so we asked where to look for inspiration. Our yarn supplier in Japan provided an expert, her 14 year old daughter, who recommended the films of Hirao Miyazaki. Miyazaki is probably the world’s best animator. His films are noted for deep reverence for nature and feminism, with a graphic style based around hand drawing and watercolor. We bought three Miyazaki films: Spirited Away, My Neighbor Totoro, and Ponyo, each based, a bit like Alice in Wonderland or the Wizard of OZ, on the adventures of a young girl in a supernatural world.
We watched the films on computer, where we were able to stop them frame by frame. Once we found frames that told a compelling color story, we began writing a recipe for the yarn dyes, directly from the screen image. We decided first how many colors to isolate for application to the yarn, then their relative emphasis. The last part is quite tricky, involving both the water amount for that dye and also the amount of dye powder. Typically each color is blended from several individual dyes, which have unequal strengths. It takes enormous experience with the dyes to be able to forecast the final color of a blend on a specific substrate. Remarkably, Noelle and I tend to agree quickly on these quantitative questions, and tend to be proven right by the final result.
The first image was a scene from TOTORO, probably the most famous scene. I don’t want to spoil the movie for you — please take the time to watch it. The star of the film, in many ways, is actually a sacred tree that has powerful effects on its surroundings. We chose this image because, while not of the tree specifically, its presence is implied, especially in the colors.
The next image is from the same part of the film. Much of the movie is green. We chose this frame because it emphasizes a different color range that Miyazaki uses elsewhere, based on a curry yellow. This was a learning experience. We did in fact nail the colors on the first pass. But we chose to be literal about leaving white areas, which in the yarn made it all seem disconnected. So we overdyed it with a golden shade that pulled everything together, but in doing so we lost some of the subtleties of the inspiration. What we learned was this: color in a scene is integrated by the meaning that we associate with the components. Strip out that layer of induced meaning and you no longer have the same coherence. This was an important thing to learn and we were grateful for the discovery. In the end, the yarn is quite pleasing too.
Unintimidated, we moved on to another film, Spirited Away. Watched frame by frame, it is just jaw-dropping gorgeous. Overwhelming. We chose an important scene where the young girl is entering the spirit world under protection of a spell. Doesn’t that sound interesting! Go see the movie, it’s far better than I could possibly describe. The scene is of crossing a bridge into the spirit world, very symbolic, with colors that are at once lively, subdued, and a bit alarming. A key shade was the red railing on the bridge, which we gave greater emphasis.
Update : PONYO — Two new colors
Color 7 was actually the first attempt at matching the “Mom in a storm” image. We adjusted the dye and water amounts but kept the same dyes — 8 paint colors comprised of 14 different dyes over an immersion-applied base tint. The second attempt was color 6, which lost most of the pink from the car door. It is actually there but was absorbed by capillary action from the deeper shades. Viscosity changes with temperature during the steam cycle, colors shift from the wet paint stage to final dry state, which means that what we paint is often not quite the final product. We liked both 6 and 7 as knit fabrics and kept them in the line. The object of the exercise is to find inspiration, not to become a fanatic about precise color matching.
But wait, we bought three more Miyazaki films (Nausicaa, Mononoke, Howl’s Moving Castle). Each creates an incredibly rich visual environment. This project could go on for a long time! Miyazake is already immortal as an artist — we hope that his physical person stays that way!