Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The Trouble with Color

I love the beginning of fall, when the leaves start to drop one at a time, giving you a lovely crimson glimpse of things to come. Of course its breathtaking to see the golds and oranges dramatically splatter the landscape in October, but I think a fire-red leaf in the midst of all that languishing green is something special. Something to really ponder.

I've spent a lot of time taking little walks with my daughter now that Big Brother is in school. We collect little bits of color and shine and stuff them in our pockets to rediscover when we get home. She picks the few remaining dandelions or cornflowers(yes, there are still a few!) and hands them to me with wide, proud eyes: "See Mama, I picked it just for you!" Its because of these walks and their resulting treasures that I get the urge to pull out the dyepots and dye our world.

The real trouble with dyeing is getting the colors you want to turn out just so, to get them to look exactly like the picture in your head. When I am dyeing I like to take a few continuous sheets of paper towels and lay them out in front of me. Essentially I use this as my mixing pallet. Then i start mixing colors, adding a smidge of this or a dash of that until I think I've got the right color. During this mixing process, I use the paper towel to see how the dye will show up out of its container and onto a white background.

Dye testing

And of course it is quite the picture: there I stand, mixing and stirring like a mad scientist in my back yard, long white strips of wool laying prone and sopping wet in the sun. I'm sure the neighbors probably think I've officially lost my mind. Which may or may not be too far from the truth.

The trouble with color is that it doesn't always behave. Sometimes when a roving dries, it dries brighter or darker than you have anticipated. Once in a while, this is a very good thing--you might just have created a new and very popular colorway to add to your repertoire. Conversely, you may end up with what amounts to a heap of fuzzy mud.

Yes, of course this has happened to me and yes, it is tragic indeed. Those mishaps are the ones I keep for myself to spin up. And even though they don't look like much in roving form, they nearly always make an interesting yarn.

The trouble with color is that it can also remind you of things. It can take you back years or a week. Here is an example: think of the color avacado green. Did it bring up the memory of something in your childhood kitchen? Did you start smelling cookies or meatloaf or Tang? Let's explore what else color can do for you: think of the last time you were stuck in bed with the flu or a bad cold. What color is it, this ickiness? No fair saying avacado green--we've done that one already! Now think of your best friend or your First Great Love. Think of the place they occupy. What color are they? Every person has a color, you better believe it. I have dyed so many "people" rovings its not even funny. Everyone I know has one.

And what about the places, the scenes in your life that mean so much to you: what color are they? I don't mean your wedding or graduation or the birth of your kids. I mean those stolen moments that stick with you forever, the ones that don't seem like anything at the time. Like collecting leaves and sticks and lost earrings with your daughter. Those moments--these little snippets of time--are so sweet and delicious it is difficult to express in any other way.

The great thing about color is that it translates these things, people, and moments quite well. If you don't dye or paint or really do anything with color but appreciate it, go check out the myraid of online art exhibits like MOMA or SFMOMA. And go give someone you know a color.

new "babies"

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for this post- it's so interesting to me how roving is dyed, and where the dyers get their color inspiration. I think that dyeing is the next step into the fiber-arts madness for me. After that- sheep!